By Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith
In presidential election years, we debate the issues our country faces. Increasingly, the way our country chooses the president has become an issue up for debate.
The Electoral College was the mechanism decided upon in the Constitution to elect the chief executive. It gives each state a vote for president and vice president equal to its combined number of U.S. senators and representatives (as well as three votes to the District of Columbia granted by the 23rd Amendment).
Generally, the presidential ticket that wins the statewide popular vote receives the entirety of a state’s electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska allocate votes to candidates who win individual congressional districts.
On a few occasions, a presidential ticket has lost the nationwide popular vote and still won in the Electoral College and thus the election. As a result, some argue that the Electoral College should be tossed aside.
I believe the reasons the framers created the Electoral College are still sound and call for it to be maintained.
One of the divides the young United States confronted was between large and small states, and bridging it was a persistent theme of the Constitutional Convention. States like South Carolina, Delaware, and New Jersey, which were less populated, feared the Union would be dominated by the more populated states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
This is displayed in the structure of Congress, with House of Representatives membership established by population and Senate membership guaranteed equally between states at two senators apiece.
The Electoral College also balances the interests of larger and smaller states. Since larger states have more representatives, they carry more weight in the presidential vote, but smaller states have enough weight that presidential candidates cannot afford to overlook them.
Compromises such as the Electoral College created the glue that bound the Union together. Without this constitutional compromise, the United States may never have united at all. Foreign powers then could have picked off individual “states” or parts of the continent piecemeal, leaving whatever independent “states” that remained weak and divided. We would likely not have become the prosperous superpower that has no equal in world history.
Getting rid of the Electoral College today would greatly weaken the bonds of the Union.
If the popular vote became the basis for electing presidents, less populated areas of the country would likely not see candidates at all nor feel represented by them once elected. A few urban areas, chiefly in the Northeast and California, would decide everything. Rural areas and even smaller cities would be ignored.
Because the office of the president has become even more powerful than anticipated at the time of the constitutional compromise, those areas which felt ignored likely would rethink their commitment to the Union.
Critics of the Electoral College believe simply electing a president by popular vote is most important. They cite the occasions when the electoral vote winner diverged from the popular vote winner, but they overlook the fact that the Electoral College has often actually amplified a president’s authority to lead the country.
Among the presidents who failed to collect a popular vote majority in one of their campaigns were Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and Bill Clinton each won two terms without obtaining a popular vote majority either time. Victories in the Electoral College gave these presidents their mandates to govern.
Electoral College opponents also criticize our system as being one of a kind. They note that no other country picks its leader in the same way.
But the facts are that each country has its own traditions, interests, and values. Ours are served by the Electoral College. Those of other democracies have led them to their own systems, many of which do not elect their leaders by popular vote.
For example, Britain’s prime minister takes office as the leader of the party with the most support in the House of Commons. In recent years, some prime ministers have held the position for years only after winning the party leadership, not a general election with themselves as party leader, or having the largest share of parliamentary supporters but not a majority.
In many democracies, such as Germany, no party has a majority and a coalition of parties rules through backroom deals.
In Norway, although the Labour Party has more seats than any other single party, a coalition led by the Conservative Party and the Progress Party currently leads the country.
The Electoral College serves important constitutional purposes. Schemes to eliminate it fail to account for our system, which provides both for majority rule and minority rights. This balance remains essential to preserving our Union.
Contact me at my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.