The Democrats’ Opposition to the Electoral College Reveals Their Distaste for Real Democracy

By: Ryan McMaken
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That didn’t take long. Now that the Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college.

Cohen surely doesn’t expect the bills to pass. But now that the Democrats have the Speakers’ chair and committee chairmanships, Cohen can now get more political milage out of the bill rather than have it immediately “disappeared” by a Republican House leadership.

The bill does little more than revive the longstanding claim among leftwing populists that the US presidency ought to go to whichever candidate wins a majority of all the votes from all the states added together.

The effect would be to lopsidedly favor heavily urbanized coastal regions over other regions of the US. Without an electoral college, it becomes far more economical for candidates to focus their views and election efforts on a small number of highly-populated regions, while ignoring the rest of the country.

In an age when politicians continually decry how the US is so “divided,” abolishing the electoral college would only serve to further drive apart politically distinct regions of the US by eliminating a political institution that encourages candidates to take positions more likely to appease voters outside the areas with the most heavily-concentrated populations.

Moreover, in an age when we’re told to decry populism, and embrace a politics of “compromise,” a rejection of the electoral college seems rather odd indeed.

After all, the purpose of the electoral college is to ensure that a successful presidential candidate appeals to a broader base of voters than would be the case under a simple majoritarian popular vote.

This, by the way, is a big reason that Hillary Clinton lost, and why the Democrats are convinced the electoral college is stacked against them.

The electoral college makes it harder to win by doing what Clinton did during the 2016 campaign: focus on a thin sliver of rich Hollywood and business elites, coupled with urban ethnics.It’s true that those two groups can offer a lot of votes and a lot of campaign dollars. But they also tend to be limited to very specific regions, states, and metro areas.

The groups Clinton ignored: the suburban middle class and working class make up a much larger, more geographically diverse coalition. This can be seen in the fact that Trump won such diverse states as Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In 2016, the electoral college worked exactly as it’s supposed to — it forces candidates to broaden their appeal. Or as a cynic like myself might say: it forces politicians to pander to a broader base.

There’s Nothing “Undemocratic” About the Electoral College

The party-line on the electoral college, of course, has long been that it’s undemocratic. In its coverage on Cohen’s bill, the Huffington Post editorialized:

Another bill would get rid of the Electoral College, an archaic system of electing presidents that allowed Trump to win the presidency despite his rival, Hilary Clinton, receiving millions more votes.

The conclusion you are supposed to draw here, of course, is that the electoral college works against what we can all see is common sense: that the candidate with the most votes ought to win.

Unfortunately, many supporters of the electoral college adopt this line of thinking as well, and many think the primary benefit of the electoral college is that it’s undemocratic. These claims are often accompanied by tiresome bromides about how the United States is allegedly “a republic not a democracy.

The truth, however, is not that the electoral college is undemocratic. It is, in fact, more democratic.

It’s true that the electoral college prevents Clinton-style demagoguery. But 50 separate presidential elections (plus DC and the territories) is not somehow less democratic than holding one big national election. It’s simply a democratic method designed to ensure more buy in from a larger range of voters, not less. Other similar tactics include “double majorities” as used in Switzerland. And for all these reasons, as I note here, the electoral college should be expanded:

Double-majority and multiple-majority systems mandate more widespread support for a candidate or measure than would be needed under an ordinary majority vote.

Unfortunately, in the United States, it is possible to pass tax increases and other types of sweeping and costly legislation with nothing more than bare majorities from Congress which is itself largely a collection of millionaires with similar educations, backgrounds, and economic status. Even this low standard is not required in cases where the president rules via executive order with ” a pen and … a phone .”

In response to this centralization of political power, the electoral college should be expanded to function as a veto on legislation, executive orders, and Supreme Court rulings.

For example, if Congress seeks to pass a tax increase, their legislation should be null and void without also obtaining a majority of electoral college votes in a manner similar to that of presidential elections. Under such a scheme, the federal government would be forced to submit new legal changes to the voters for approval. The same could be applied to executive orders and treaties. It would be even better to require both a popular-vote majority in addition to the electoral-vote majority. And while we’re at it, let’s require that at least 25 states approve the measures as well.

These sorts of measures mean more voting, more debate, and more public buy-in. It prevents knee-jerk policies designed to attack unpopular minority groups. Eliminating the electoral college, on the other hand, moves in exactly the opposite direction.

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