A strong case for the Elec­toral Col­lege

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE -

— De­spite the fact that we are go­ing to the polls to cast our bal­lots, we won’t ac­tu­ally be vot­ing for Hil­lary Clin­ton, Don­ald Trump, Gary John­son or Jill Stein.

We in­stead will be vot­ing for “elec­tors” who will cast the ac­tual bal­lots for pres­i­dent. Those bal­lots won’t even be counted un­til De­cem­ber. That is when the “real” pres­i­den­tial elec­tion takes place.

The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is ac­tu­ally de­cided by 538 elec­tors who make up the Elec­toral Col­lege, a cu­ri­ous ar­ti­fact of our Con­sti­tu­tion. Some peo­ple want to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion to elim­i­nate the Elec­toral Col­lege; they in­stead want the pres­i­dency to be de­cided by a straight-up pop­u­lar vote. Their ar­gu­ment is that a pop­u­lar vote by its very na­ture en­sures that the can­di­date with the most votes wins. There have been in­stances in his­tory where a pres­i­dent as­cends to the White House by win­ning the Elec­toral Col­lege vote, but not the pop­u­lar vote (Ge­orge W. Bush won this way in 2000).

Also, it is ar­gued, the Elec­toral Col­lege cre­ates many ar­eas of the coun­try that are non-com­pet­i­tive, and there­fore the votes of peo­ple in the mi­nor­ity don’t count for much (Repub­li­can vot­ers in deep-blue Mas­sachusetts, for ex­am­ple, have lit­tle rea­son to cast a bal­lot for pres­i­dent).

De­spite these ar­gu­ments — which are no doubt im­por­tant — I pre­dict that many Amer­i­cans will wake up Wed­nes­day morn­ing and be grate­ful for it. Here’s why: First, the Elec­toral Col­lege makes elec­tion rig­ging dif­fi­cult. If the na­tion elected its pres­i­dent with just a pop­u­lar vote, rig­ging could take place any­where in the coun­try. And be­cause of that, schemes would be hard to de­tect. Di­vid­ing our na­tional pres­i­den­tial elec­tion into 50 smaller elec­tions frus­trates the schemes of would-be cheaters and lets of­fi­cials know where to con­cen­trate their ef­forts on en­sur­ing ac­cu­racy.

Sec­ond, the Elec­toral Col­lege pro­vides de­ci­sive vic­to­ries. There will be about 130 mil­lion votes cast this year. Num­bers this large are hard for most peo­ple to com­pre­hend, and the dif­fer­ences be­tween the two ma­jor can­di­dates can seem neg­li­gi­ble.

In 2012, the dif­fer­ence be­tween Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s and Mitt Rom­ney’s vote to­tals was only about 5 mil­lion votes out of 127 mil­lion cast. Some elec­tions are much closer, and such small mar­gins can seem un­clear and in­con­clu­sive. The Elec­toral Col­lege tends to make vic­to­ries ap­pear clear and mar­gins dis­tinct. In 2012, de­spite the 4 per­cent mar­gin in the pop­u­lar vote, the Elec­toral Col­lege vote was a de­ci­sive 332 to 206.

Such num­bers are easy to in­ter­pret and pro­vide newly elected pres­i­dents with the le­git­i­macy they need to gov­ern. This year, Don­ald Trump has flirted with the idea of not con­ced­ing the elec­tion to Hil­lary Clin­ton, be­cause ac­cord­ing to him, “It’s rigged.” If the cur­rent opin­ion polls stay true, Hil­lary Clin­ton likely will win. Her vic­tory in the Elec­toral Col­lege, which is cur­rently ex­pected to be large, will make any claims of “rig­ging” look lu­di­crous.

Third, the Elec­toral Col­lege iso­lates prob­lems — if there are any — to spe­cific states. If there is to be a ques­tion about the sanc­tity or ac­cu­racy of the vote count, the Elec­toral Col­lege ef­fec­tively iso­lates those ques­tions to spe­cific states. In 2000, when there were ques­tions about the out­come, the sub­se­quent lit­i­ga­tion and re­count were iso­lated to a few coun­ties in one state (Florida).

In 2004, there were ques­tions about the close out­come, but again, those ques­tions were iso­lated to Ohio. Imag­ine if the re­count in 2000 were to take place in ev­ery precinct in ev­ery state across the coun­try. There would be wide­spread and end­less chal­lenges, lit­i­ga­tion and chaos. The Elec­toral Col­lege pre­vents this.

Amer­i­can elec­tions are messy busi­ness. There are pri­maries, cau­cuses, gen­eral elec­tions and elec­tors. There is noth­ing sim­ple about our sys­tem. But the Elec­toral Col­lege, de­spite its faults, makes the busi­ness of elect­ing a pres­i­dent much less messy. And it just may be a life­saver this year. Joseph E. Uscin­ski is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami. This col­umn orig­i­nally ap­peared in the Mi­ami Her­ald.


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