The Electoral College Safeguards American Democracy by Yifei Shen @Boston University
On November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump officially won the Presidency of the United States, beating his opponent, Hillary Clinton, by a count of 304-227 Electoral College votes. However, Trump lost to Clinton in terms of “popular votes” by a margin of almost three million votes. Therefore, many people argue that the Electoral College silences people’s voices and thus makes America “undemocratic.” On the contrary, this system matures the American democracy by preventing a majoritarian rule from occurring.
The Constitution originally states in Article II Section I: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.” Later, Congress introduced and installed the Twelfth Amendment to further perfect the Electoral College system.
When the Founding Fathers were in the process of writing the Constitution, they wanted to avoid a majoritarian rule in America, which asserts the full decision-making power in the majority of the citizens. Under the majoritarian structure, the majority of the population rules every aspect of society, overwhelming the minority. By creating the Electoral College system, the Founding Fathers ensured that the minority also gained a voice in the voting booth. As a result, the general elections behaved like a “pendulum” swinging back and forth from the majority to the minority, especially in recent years.
If we break down the 2016 Presidential Election results into individual towns across the United States, one can see that the country is more “red” than “blue” in terms of area. However, the popular vote suggests otherwise. In this case, one can argue that conservatism (Trump voters) is the majority in terms of area but minority population wise. And so, the Electoral College plays a significant role in striking a balance between the loosely defined term “majority” and thus making the American democracy a unique and mature one.
Especially nowadays, the United States has been more politically divided than ever. In fact, polarization can threaten the stability of democracy as an institution. Milan W. Svolik has stated the following in his work When Polarization Trumps Civic Virtue: Partisan Conflict and the Subversion of Democracy by Incumbents: “In line with classic research on the role of societal cleavages in democratic stability (Lipset 1959, 83-96), our arguments imply that elites with authoritarian ambitions succeed in subverting democracy only when given that opportunity by a factious public” (37). In short, the politicians tend to follow the will of their voters more under a “centrist” political atmosphere. In other words, polarization produced more extremist and uncompromising politicians who tend to not conform to the will of the public.
The Electoral College system again solves the problem of polarization undermining democracy. To reiterate, it resembles a pendulum that swings back and forth from both sides of the aisle in order to strike a balance. Therefore, the states can vote out a president if they do not like his or her political decisions and ideologies.
The Electoral College gives the minority a voice at times. Without it, states like California, New York, and Illinois get to decide the Presidency of the United States. Moreover, it recognizes the existence of the conservatives in those populated blue states. Even though Trump is a populist who did not win the popular vote; he won the General Election fair and square under the Constitution. And also, his victory reflects the idea that some people are tired of “the establishment.”