While New Hampshire maneuvers to maintain first-in-the-nation primary status, a new Gallup poll reveals many Americans don’t care who New Hampshirites want to be President. In fact, they don’t care who any state wants to be President. A majority of those polled—62 percent—would prefer to amend the Constitution so that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide becomes President, while 35 percent of Americans would keep the Electoral College.
With the spirit of the times supposedly against the Electoral College, why preserve the Founders’ constitutional design?
The Electoral College preserves federalism, encourages candidates to build national coalitions, and grants definitive electoral outcomes. It requires a presidential candidate to win simultaneous elections across 50 states and the District of Columbia. Here is how the Electoral College works: Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to the number of Representatives for the state plus the number of Senators. (Per the 23rd Amendment, the District of Columbia has the same number of electoral votes as that of the least populous state—currently three votes). Each state except Maine and Nebraska has a “winner-take-all” system, whereby the presidential candidate who wins the state receives all the state’s electoral votes. A President is elected when one candidate obtains a majority of these states’ electoral votes (currently 270 electoral votes).
As Tara Ross explains in “The Electoral College: Enlightened Democracy,” the selection system ensures that Presidents build nationwide coalitions and demonstrate that they will be good representatives for a diverse nation composed of both small and large sovereign states. Candidates who focus too narrowly on a handful of states, regions, or metropolitan population centers will not be successful in the Electoral College.
The Electoral College magnifies the margin of victory for presidential candidates and, therefore, confers a sense of legitimacy to the new President. In 1992, Bill Clinton did not get a majority of the popular vote (only 43 percent) but he received 70 percent of the electoral votes. Most elections have not been close in the Electoral College, even when the popular vote is close. For instance, in 1960, John F. Kennedy won only 49.7 percent of the popular vote, compared to Nixon’s 49.5 percent. However, Kennedy won 56.4 percent of the electoral vote, compared to Nixon’s 40.8 percent. The magnification of the electoral vote can work to solidify the country behind the new President by bestowing an aura of legitimacy.
The Electoral College suits our federal republic, rewards candidates who build national coalitions, and confers a mandate to govern. The Electoral College ensures that the President represents Americans of every state, from the Lone Star State to Hawkeye State, the Empire State, and the Old Dominion. What more could Americans ask for?