The Electoral College (Why We Use It and Why It Matters)
Calls to fundamentally change the Electoral College reached a peak after Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in the tightly contested 2000 election. Gore narrowly won the national popular vote, and many of his supporters howled that the system—even without the Supreme Court stepping in—was unfair.
One organization, National Popular Vote, has worked toward eliminating the Electoral College through an amendment to the Constitution or a state compact. National Popular Vote argues that the current system encourages presidential candidates to spend most of their time in “swing states” rather than campaigning for votes across the entire country.
This plan for a national popular vote has received a moderate level of support, but Heritage’s von Spakovsky has called it bad policy, based on mistaken assumptions. Swing states, he wrote, “can change from election to election, and many states that are today considered to be reliably ‘blue’ or ‘red’ in the presidential race were recently unpredictable.”
Many states have signed on to a bill that essentially would tie a state’s electoral votes to the national popular vote. Those states will pledge to swing all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national vote.
But this is because the incentives would be to appeal only to the biggest population centers. Swing states change over time, and the 2016 election could be a prime example of swing-state unpredictability and erosion of the traditional partisan political map.
Additionally, if the president were elected by unfiltered national vote, small and rural states would become irrelevant, and campaigns would spend their time in large, populous districts.
Over 200 Years of Success
Unneeded tinkering with a process that is over two centuries old could destabilize one on the steadiest political systems in the world.
As author and Texas lawyer Tara Ross wrote in a Heritage Foundation memorandum:
America’s election systems have operated smoothly for more than 200 years because the Electoral College accomplishes its intended purposes. America’s presidential election process preserves federalism, prevents chaos, grants definitive electoral outcomes, and prevents tyrannical or unreasonable rule. The Founding Fathers created a stable, well-planned, and carefully designed system—and it works.
On Election Day, Americans should appreciate the great and long-lasting constitutional tradition bequeathed to them—including the quirky Electoral College system created by the nation’s Founders.