As a Catholic, I have a lot of thoughts about the Electoral College vs. Popular vote, etc.
OK, so being Catholic has little or nothing to do with that, but since this is called Catholic Diatribes I figured I’d remind everyone that I’m Catholic.
In no particular order of points, here we go:
- The debate about whether or not the Popular Vote should be the determining factor in deciding the winner of the Presidential Election is understandable if viewed from a high-level perspective without a lot of deeper thought. Sure, it’s simple enough to think in terms of the democratic process – one person, one vote, most votes win. But actually, this is not at all how our country is constructed. And to view it in this way completely dismantles the way our citizens are represented, and the way our country actually operates. We are not simply one country as a singular unit. We never have been. We are a country formed of fifty states plus the District of Columbia, joined together to form a country, but with each of those units having a say. As I discuss some of the other points, this is the underlying issue that must be considered. We are not, never have been, and barring a rewrite of the Constitution never will be a pure democracy. We are a Republic. Each unit in that Republic engages in a democratic process, but only to elect those who will then represent us. We don’t vote on every law or regulation or issue – we elect someone who will on our behalf. So we are not a pure democracy.
- Making the argument that the Electoral College is unfair because it doesn’t amount to perfectly proportional weight of each individual’s vote can be extended to representation. Right now, every state, no matter how big or small, gets equal representation in the Senate. Because of this, the folks who live in the least populous state actually have the largest voice in Congress on a per capita basis. And even though the House of Representatives is proportional representation, there is still a minimum of 1 representative for the smallest states. So, even in the House, the smallest state has the weightiest representation per person. Our entire system is designed to make sure that the most populous states have a lower overall weight so that a small area of the country that has a high population density is less able to dictate policy to the rest of the country, potentially extending to large geographical regions.
- Making the argument that the Electoral College is unfair is arguing that the states do not matter, and that – for this exercise, anyway – the country is a singular entity. This is simply not how we operate on anything. Yes, there are federal laws and regulations, but those layer on top of state laws and regulation. In this case, we are saying that we need to replace state elections with a federal one. Maybe this is reasonable, maybe it isn’t, but it is a very fundamental difference from how we operate today.
- There are some fun facts around the latest results that help demonstrate the wisdom of the Electoral College. Probably the most amazing statistic is this: There are 3,151 counties in the United States. Donald Trump won 3,084 of those counties. And yet, Hillary Clinton is going to win the official Popular Vote. That is actually really amazing. And while I can sort of understand this whole “popular vote” argument, I simply cannot fathom how someone can’t see the wisdom in having a system that allows for the case where the candidate that wins 97.9% of the counties really deserves to be the President, even if he/she loses the total popular vote.
- Another thing that needs to be considered as well is whether or not the actual results of the Popular Vote would have been the actual result if the winner was determined by Popular Vote. People are suggesting – either correctly or incorrectly – that the results of the election would be the same regardless of how the winner is determined. This is far from certain. Think about the fact that Donald Trump spent ALL of his time campaigning in the swing states. California? New York? Almost no time at all, even though they have the highest two populations. Illinois? Since that state is driven by the results of Chicago, very little time was spent there. The reason is simple strategy and resources. Donald Trump may well have been able to get an extra million votes or two had he needed to spend money and time in those popular areas. But he didn’t. Why? Because it made no sense with the Electoral College. Losing California by 100 votes is no different than losing California by 3 million votes. While this may not seem fair, because it means the candidates don’t go to fight for votes in those states, that’s just the flip side of what would happen if elections were driven by popular vote. In that case, it wouldn’t just be a particular state getting ignored, it would be most of the United States. The vast majority of campaigning would be in all the most populous areas. Not necessarily the states, but just those zip codes or counties. There are 45 counties in the United States that have 1.0 million or more people living in them. Those 45 counties represent about 25% of the total population of the US. County #100 has over 600,000 residents. The top 100 counties represent just over 3% of total counties in the US, but you can bet that the majority of campaigning would be in those counties. If ALL campaigning was centered on urban areas, the President would end up being even more out of touch with ordinary Americans than they already are.
- Another fun map to look at is a red/blue map of who won which counties and overlay that with a red/blue map of highest crime rates. Just sayin’.
- If you still need to be convinced about this, suppose we don’t talk about counties but we talk about a single state that has 51% of the population and all other states having an equal 1% share of the remaining population (for this exercise ignore Washington DC). Theoretically speaking, that one state could dictate who the President would be for the remaining 49 states. While it may be a stretch to think that everyone in that state would vote similarly, it certainly isn’t a stretch that the difference in popular vote could be gigantic – all one need to do is look at the fact that 4 counties in NYC contributed over a 1.5 million vote advantage for Hillary Clinton – nearly 75% of the total popular vote gap. California alone is going to have a 3 million vote difference.
- The reason the Electoral College works is because it is a balance of Popular Vote and equal representation of the states in selecting the President of the entire U.S. – not just a few counties. The Electoral College count is 538, which is the total of Representatives and Senators (plus 3 for Washington DC, which in my opinion was unnecessarily overstated – I’m not sure why they felt it was necessary to treat that like a full state – but whatever). The House generally represents the states in proportion to population, while the Senate does not. So, the Electoral College lands in between the two – balancing geography and population. Quite frankly, it’s genius.