In the aftermath of the election, many people at Duke and elsewhere have flocked to demonize the Electoral College. In an environment of immense partisanship, it seems that the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on is the atrocity of the Electoral College: it is undemocratic and seems to predict the popular vote winner as accurately as a coin flip. And so the matter is decided. Or is it?
Many of these critiques seem to be justified. Twice in the past five elections, the winner of the popular vote has not assumed the presidency. How could anyone defend that unequivocal inequity? These tensions have reached a boiling point after the Electoral College declared Donald Trump the winner on Nov. 8. The thought that the Electoral College could have handed Trump the presidency despite Clinton’s decisive win in the popular vote struck many people as morally and politically reprehensible.
The response to the Electoral College’s decision has been swift and decisive. Commentators have repeatedly emphasized Clinton’s popular vote win, calls for a popular vote have resounded, and online petitions calling for electors in states won by Trump to vote for Clinton have even emerged.
These efforts to delegitimize the Electoral College are both ungracious in defeat and undermine American democracy. A pillar of democracy is one’s obligation to accept the result of a fair election guided by a pre-determined set of rules. In the United States, the Electoral College constitutes that set of rules. Adopting a popular vote system would drastically affect the way candidates organize their campaigns, which suggests that Secretary Clinton’s ostensibly insurmountable lead in the popular vote is more tenuous than one might imagine. We simply do not know who would have won the presidency under a popular vote.
While accepting (if not supporting) the result of an open and fair election represents an obligation that all citizens share, I will go even further and contend that, despite the immense controversies of the 2000 and 2016 elections, the Electoral College represents an inherently superior system to any sort of popular vote.
Two reasons in particular that buttress the case for Electoral College are its formation of swing states and its assurance of a legitimate mandate to govern. In a popular vote system, candidates would solely preach to their base, the metaphorical choir per se, in states like Texas and California. Whereas in the Electoral College, candidates must not only turn out their base but convince undecided voters in swing states across the nation of the viability of their message.
The Electoral College also amplifies the result of the election, giving even a candidate with a razor-thin margin of victory a legitimate mandate to govern upon taking office. Regardless of what party holds the White House, a mandate to govern allows the President to be decisive in his action and maintain the viability of the Executive Branch, a hallmark of our government.
In the United States today, approval of the Electoral College is only slightly higher than support for Donald Trump among college students. That said, the wisdom of the founders resounds even in today’s fractured political environment. Many people at Duke are upset with the result of the election and attempt to cast blame on the Electoral College. However, the result of the 2016 election came not from an flawed Electoral College, but from the deficiencies of Secretary Clinton and the fervor the silent minority and disenfranchised voters across the country.
Ian Buchanan is a Trinity freshman.
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