The Electoral College: A Safeguard for Stable Elections
This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published September 29, 2017 by The Sacramento Bee.
Those who want to junk the Electoral College now claim that it’s a “threat” to our national security. This argument should persuade only those ignorant of how our federal system of elections works, as well as those who entertain invalid assumptions about the 2016 election.
In an article in Politico, a former Obama administration official and a Stanford University student repeat a familiar mantra to explain Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump: that “an enemy state —- Russia —- was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness.” This is an unproven claim that ignores the issues and personality characteristics that led to Trump beating Clinton.
That loss simply followed a trend that has been occurring for the past decade. Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party lost more congressional, state legislative, and governors’ seats than under any other president in history —- more than 1,000 —- putting the party in its weakest position politically since the 1920s. Russia didn’t have to do a thing.
The Electoral College is a very carefully considered structure the Framers of the Constitution set up to balance the competing interests of large and small states. It prevents candidates from wining an election by focusing only on high-population urban centers (the big cities), ignoring smaller states and the more rural areas of the country —- the places that progressives and media elites consider flyover country.
The College forces candidates to seek the support of a larger cross-section of the American electorate —- to win a series of regional elections. The Framers’ fears of a “tyranny of the majority” is still very relevant today. One can see its importance in the fact that despite Hillary Clinton’s national popular vote total, she won only about a sixth of the counties nationwide, with her support limited mostly to urban areas on both coasts.
The crux of the national security argument is that the Founders could never have imagined the supposed power that “foreign powers” have through social media to spread propaganda and fake news. The critics obviously don’t know the history of the American newspaper business and many examples of fake or incorrect articles. As Ken Paulson of the Newseum recently said, “For all the talk of media bias today, it can’t compare to the overt partisanship and personal attacks appearing in papers in our nation’s early years.”
The Founders also had a lot of experience with foreign powers that wanted to influence the relatively new American republic. In 1793, President George Washington demanded the recall of the French ambassador, Edmund-Charles Genet, because of Genet’s actions in trying to manipulate American politicians, officials, and the public into supporting France’s war with Spain and England, which included recruiting American ships and crews as privateers.
The Politico authors claim it would be “more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country than concentrated groups of tens of thousands of voters in just a few states.” But that is, in fact, an argument for the Electoral College. If the national popular vote determined the winner, it would be much easier for a “foreign entity” to influence a close election by focusing their attention on manipulating the results in just one big urban center such as New York City or Los Angeles.
They also say, “It would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts.” But that is also an argument for the Electoral College for the same reason. Want to steal an election under a national popular vote system? Just concentrate on hacking into a big city such as Chicago’s election system to add to the total. That would be much easier than trying to hit several states whose Electoral College votes could potentially swing the election.
Our Electoral College system has provided us with orderly elections and a stable government for more than 200 years. Modern technology provides no reason to change a system that balances popular sovereignty with protections for state government and minority interests.