In defence of the electoral college

By George Singleton

Hate the principal, not the college.

No – before you ask – this isn’t a call for Dave Harper’s impeachment. Rather than a defence of Mildert, I hope to impart the virtues of another oft-misunderstood college, the electoral college. True, its capturing of the White House for the second-most popular candidate does seem like number-wangling of the highest order. Even Trump isn’t a fan. However, more direct democracy is ill-fitting for the country’s particular brand of republicanism; the electoral college is the best system for American values and should not be scrapped simply for yielding Trump.

The founding fathers cared deeply about the will of the people, naturally, but they valued limiting unchecked power over pure democracy. It was feared that direct election would be misread by a president as a mandate for dictatorship, or worse: effective monarchy. Having just fought for independence from George III, James Madison and his pals didn’t really fancy crowning someone else. And fair enough – if the shudders induced by a King Donald don’t sway you on the college debate, little will. For all the fears of demagoguery, we should remember that the US system ensures that Trump’s grip extends only to a single arm of government.

This Republican spirit of curbing power echoes throughout American government: its three branches and devolution of power to states stem from this idea too. The college is an affirmation of the republic therefore, not some anti-democratic relic. Abolishing it would be to reject these values: and so naysayers may as well go the distance and ditch the senate and constitution too, as these are built upon this same power-checking foundation. In this despotic-wet-dream America, even states would have little function past administrative ease.

Also, consider the senate. Wyoming’s inhabitants only number about eleven Durhams (the standard unit of population), and yet it has as many senators as California. Part of the college’s function is to counteract this misallocation. Whilst colleges do slightly overvalue votes in less populous states due to malapportionment, this is outweighed by the winner-takes-all system. Larger states have far more value to presidential candidates, and so receive far more attention. In this way, the senate and electoral college over-represent the interests of small and large states respectively, roughly causing equilibrium. Both or neither should be maintained, therefore. Most who want to axe the electoral college do not fall into the latter camp, so fall to inconsistency.

Whilst not perfect, the electoral college is integral in limiting the individual’s power, which is the American system’s goal, so it should be kept.


Image by Erik Drost via flickr.

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