Once again a president-elect was decided by Electoral College while failing to get the popular vote. Once again the voices of the outraged citizens cry foul and seek to abolish the Electoral College system. This phenomenon has occurred four times in our history in 1824 (neither candidate won the Electoral College and the decision was made by The House of Representatives), 1876, 1888, and 2000. The last time this happened was George W. Bush versus Al Gore in 2000 where Gore beat Bush by about half a million popular votes but failed to get the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election. In the 2016 election Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a higher margin than any of the previous times this split occurred.
Before we get to the Electoral College, I want to discuss popular vote statistics and some “facts” that need to be put in better perspective. The mainstream media makes the claim that Hillary Clinton won more votes than any other candidate in history after Obama. This may be true, however, it is also irrelevant. The total number of votes is not the same as the total number of votes as a percentage of the population, which is the true measure of popularity. Obviously candidates now should get more votes than candidates of the past since the total population is larger now than it was in the past. Here is a table that shows some recent election candidates and the popular vote as a percentage of US population.
(Total vote count/population)
As you can see, both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were popular with a higher percentage of the population than Hillary Clinton in her campaign. Also notice that Ronald Reagan was more popular, by percentage, than Barrack Obama. So lets put to rest the narrative that Hillary Clinton is more popular than all past candidates, Obama excluded. I even gave Hillary all the 2016 population and not the rounded down number she would have had if I had rounded like the other years. If you went purely by numbers without taking the U.S. population of the time into account, then George Washington our very first president was the least popular with only 43,782 votes although he carried 100% of the Electoral College votes.
Now back on topic and the three reasons why we need the Electoral College.
1. The Constitution
Our constitution lays out the rolls of the different sections of the Federal Government. It also lays out how these representatives are elected. In Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution the process for electing the President of the United States is described.
“Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.”
That is how the States appoint their Electoral College. The Legislature, not the citizens, of each state picks the actual individuals who will represent the State in the Electoral College. When the citizens of that state vote for the President on election day, whom ever wins the popular vote for that state gets all the Electors except for in Maine and Nebraska where it is a little more complicated.
Article 2 Section 2 and 3 explains the roll of the President. No where in these two sections of the Constitution does it say the President’s job is to represent the individual people of the United States or protect them from their individual states laws. The President, for the most part, is simply the head of the Executive Branch and a representative of the State governments when dealing with foreign nations. That is why the office is called the President of the United States and not the President of the United People.
2. State Population not equal to State Representation
The next reason that we need the Electoral College is that the individual state populations are grossly unequal in some instances. An individual state population is more homogeneous than the population of the United States and each city population is more densely homogeneous then the rest of the state. If popular vote was all that mattered then there would be a cultural bias in every election and that would be a pure democracy instead of the republic which the United States is and has always been. In order to win the presidency all you would have to do is win the most dense population centers of the United States, at the top are New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Seeing as how these population centers and many others like them are similar in their cultural views they tend to vote the same. So if the contest was simply to win the popular vote then who ever promised the best deal for the dense population centers would win every time and the rest of the country would be left unrepresented. Candidates would truly fly over the fly-over states. This brings me back to my first point. The President’s job is not to represent the individual people but to represent all the states. So if California and New York decided the winner of the election every four years then we might as well not have individual states at all and without states we don’t need a Constitution either and we will no longer be the United States of America.
3. Testing the Commander in Chief
The final reason for having a Electoral College is something I came up with on my own but I think it is a valid point. Presidential candidates are not only running for the office of the President, they are also running for the job of Commander-in-Chief of the armed services of the United States. Commander-in-Chief is one of the major rolls of the President during a congressionally declared time of war. The last time this happened was World War II. During a war the Commander-in-Chief must lead the Armed Forces and therefore must be a proven strategist and a good judge of leadership.
During their campaigns presidential candidates must choose their staff and come up with a strategy for winning the Electoral College. This is a more complicated matter than just being the most popular person or most loved person in the United States. Choosing a campaign staff can be likened to choosing generals who will lead your troops in a war. Coming up with a campaign strategy is similar to coming up with a strategy for winning a war. A war is comprised of many battles that a force must fight. Each battle has a different weight on the outcome of the war. Commanders must choose their battles wisely and come up with a strategy that will win the war.
I am reminded of a sign that I would see in Kuwait on the roads leading up to the U.S. bases where we would stay before going to Iraq. Most were about safety but one sign read “Leadership not Likership”. I equate “likership” to winning the popular vote and leadership to winning the Electoral College. If you can be both loved and be a good leader then that is great but if you can only be one then you must be a leader first! This is just as true for the Commander-in-Chief as it is for a military leader at the most basic level. In order to win the Electoral College you must be a good leader and judge of talent.
In this way the Electoral College helps us to vet our Commander-in-Chief by presenting each candidate with a strategic dilemma (winning the Electoral College) and allowing them to choose their generals (campaign staff). They must figure out which battles (states) to fight in order that they may win the war (the election). In order to win the Electoral College a candidate must, to paraphrase the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, fight the enemy where they are not. The candidate must take many complex factors into account. They must take easily the states they know they will win, focus their main effort on the swing states, and forgo much of the fight in states or cities they know they can not win. This strategy combined with a message that will resonate with the greatest number of people is the essence of a successful campaign.
A war is not won through brut force of personality alone. A future Commander-in-Chief must also be a strategist and leader and this is proven by the Electoral College test. Without the Electoral College we might end up electing a pop-star instead of a Commander-in-Chief.