John Faso: Defending The Electoral College

Apr 16, 2019

The last time I looked, the list of Democratic Party presidential candidates had grown to 18, reminding us of the GOP free-for-all with 17 candidates in 2016.

The multitude of candidates surely makes it difficult to receive public attention, but just as Donald Trump proved last time, someone – perhaps someone unexpected – will emerge from this scrum to become the Democratic candidate. 

While the name of the ultimate candidate will only become clear many months from now, what is clear is that most Democratic candidates are embracing a set of proposals which could radically transform long-established institutions of our federal government.

Perhaps the most significant proposed change is the abolition of the Electoral College, the oft-maligned way through which the people of the respective states choose our chief executive.  While a popular vote majority or plurality seems logical to many, ending the Electoral College would actually bring unintended political consequences which would change the way candidate’s campaign for the presidency and would likely bring instability and uncertainty when the popular vote is very close.

Today some complain that presidential candidates truly contest only those states – think Florida and Ohio - where the popular vote is likely to be close and ignore states such as New York, Texas and California where the outcome is virtually certain. While there is merit to this criticism, such concern ignores the fact that over time, the political dynamic will change in individual states.  For instance, Wisconsin and Michigan were thought likely to vote for the Democratic candidate until 2016. Conversely, North Carolina, Arizona and Colorado trended Republican in recent decades but are now up for grabs in 2020 by Democrats. 

Abolishing the College would also likely mean candidates would spend a disproportionate amount of time in highly populous states, thereby ignoring smaller states. The disadvantage to small states makes it highly unlikely the constitution will ever be amended as three-quarters of the states would have to agree.  That is simply not going to happen.

Moreover, abolishing the College would potentially result in electoral chaos if the national popular vote were very close, as happened in the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960. 

The 2000 Presidential contest in Florida is a perfect example why abolishing the College could bring electoral instability.  For weeks, the campaigns fought in court over the validity of ballots, ballot formation, hanging chads and eligibility of certain voters.  Eventually, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 votes out of 5.9 million cast, winning the College and the Presidency.

In a close national election, this spectacle would be played out in every state, in every county, in every election district.  The result would be chaos.  Were ballot challenges to last beyond the January 20th date for inauguration of the President, the outcome would be determined the House of Representatives with every state delegation casting a single vote.

The current effort to adopt a nation Popular Vote Compact among the states, where the state electors pledge to vote for the popular vote winner, regardless of the outcome in each state, is certain to be successfully challenged, as such a change would require amending the constitution.

The Electoral College on the other hand, has the advantage of confining electoral disputes to one or perhaps two states where the outcome is in doubt.  The votes in states where there is a clear winner are moved off the table, allowing the focus to be on a single state or states where the vote was close.

The Electoral College proves the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who wanted to create a republic, with a lasting and stable governmental system. While not perfect, the College insures a final, definitive outcome to our presidential elections. We should keep it.

And that is how I see it.

Former Representative John Faso of Kinderhook represented New York's 19th House district in the 115th Congress.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Tags: