This is the second time since the year 2000 where the winner of the popular vote has not won the U.S. presidential election and the outcry was somewhat predictable. People are outraged at how horrible the electoral system is. They say it is outdated, they say it is obsolete, they say we have to get rid of it. I thought I would say a couple of things on the issue.
Firstly, many democratic systems have this same “flaw” as a major feature. In any country where the Prime Minister is selected from the Parliament, for example, a Prime Minister can be selected who does not represent the majority of the people. Consider, for example, the case where there are 100 members of parliament and the parliament is dominated by a party that has 51 seats. If that party won each of its elections 51% to 49% and the other party won its elections 99% to 1%, then the Prime Minister represents as little as 30% of the population. This is the power of gerrymandering and it has been a potent weapon in the hands of incumbent parties for a long time.
Secondly, it should be noted that Bill Clinton did not have a majority of public support in either of his presidential elections. Is it necessary for a person to have a majority in order to be president?
Thirdly, the electoral college system was put in place to prevent simple majority rule. The purpose was to give smaller states a greater say so that their interests would not just be trampled on by larger and more populous states. Is this a legitimate idea? It seems to me that it is even if it was originally put in place to protect slavery, which seems to me likely.
Fourthly, one impact of eliminating the electoral college would be to make elections more expensive. A candidate could no longer ignore large and expensive media markets where he was losing badly like California and New York and focus on smaller markets where his message would resonate. Instead, every candidate would have to advertise everywhere and this would favor candidates with larger coffers funded by the monied interests.
Fifthly, those who want to get rid of the electoral college system are ignoring group dynamics. In a large urban center where “everyone” is voting for a given candidate, critical thinking is often suspended in order to feel like part of the group. This “mob mentality” means that voters concentrated in areas with other like-minded people do not think as clearly as voters who are not part of such a concentration. Do we really want to increase the influence of “group think” by eliminating the electoral college?
For myself, I believe that we should overhaul the entire U.S. government. As things currently stand, the two party system is completely corrupt and broken. I would prefer to see a system where there are three different types of elected official at the Federal level. The first type is the Senator which I would keep unchanged. The second type I would call the “ombudsmen” who represents the people to the government and is given a budget to redress the grievances and problems that come up in a local jurisdiction.
The third type would be the “representative” and this person would not have any geographical representation at all. Instead, any person who could get X number of voters to agree that he is their representative would be in the House of Representatives. The President would then be selected from the House of Representatives as in a standard parliamentary democracy. The primary advantage of this system to me is that everyone has a representative in the government at all times in contrast to the current system where some 50% of the people feel as if they have no voice in the government. A secondary advantage would be that people would be more inclined to pick their representative based on ideas and not on the other factors that make someone a successful politician in the television age and this should have the effect of elevating our political discourse. A third advantage is that people would only vote for someone who is very close to them on the issues. If a person is against war, for a balanced budget and believes that climate change is important, for example, there will be a candidate who aligns very closely with those beliefs. This would make the government much more representative of the people in terms of the diversity of our actual beliefs. I don’t know how well this would work, but it seems to me as thought it would be a better system.
Matt Christiansen has done an excellent video on this topic.