Electoral College debate

Over the course of the history of this country the usefulness and fairness of the Electoral College has come into question many times, most recently in the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote.  This led to numerous calls for its elimination.  At one time I even espoused this view.  I have since changed my mind and here’s why.

The Electoral College was ostensibly developed as a means for preserving the rights of individual states.  What is so hard to believe in today’s world is just how independent each state was when the nation was formed.  For instance, Georgia nearly opted out of the new nation while New Brunswick nearly opted in.  To some extent, rather than a single cohesive nation the early history of the United States is one of a collection of loosely affiliated and often fiercely independent states with a weak central government.  The idea was to keep some semblance of balance between the smaller states such as Rhode Island and Delaware and the larger ones such as New York and Virginia.  Over the course of several decades, the power of the Federal government was increased to the point at which it exceeded the powers of the individual states collectively (some argue this transformation happened under Andrew Jackson).

Over the intervening years states have lost more and more rights to the Federal government.  In addition, the nation has become more urbanized with the majority of the population living in urban or suburban environments.  This has caused a drop in population in some very rural states.  In many of these states, the Federal government is one of the largest – if not the largest – landowners.  While these states maintain two senators, many have only one representative (the minimum number).  The only other direct representation they possess – often amounting to the only other way they can make a statement about their own land – is through the Electoral College.  While these states have very few Electoral votes, because the total number is low (538), as we’ve seen in several elections, states with relatively low numbers of Electoral College votes become important battle grounds, e.g. Nevada (5 votes), New Hampshire (4 votes), New Mexico (5 votes), etc.  Thus, despite the fact that California has 70 times the population of Wyoming, it only has 18 times the number of Electoral College votes.

While in some sense this may smack of socialism, note that originally the states were far more independent and this simply guaranteed everyone had a say in the theoretically weak Federal government.  While the latter is no longer weak, the Electoral College is one of the last vestiges of the original intent of a weaker central government.  A nation as enormous as ours has so many competing needs that often differ greatly based on geography needs a weaker central government in order to govern efficiently.  Trust me.  I lived in Maryland where there are no townships – just counties and postal codes.  Everything is county-run (school system, etc.).  As such, needs of certain areas are routinely ignored since they may not end up with enough (if any) representation.

In short, I’m all for keeping the Electoral College at this point – and returning more power to the states.  I doubt either of the present presidential candidates would offer to do that, whatever they might say, but it’ll happen someday one way or the other because the present bloated central system is unsustainable.  That’s it.  There’s no catchy punchline to this post.

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