Electoral College Abolition | Part 2
In my first piece in this series on the Electoral College, I did my best to refute (or at least address and dismiss) the most common arguments that I normally see used to defend the Electoral College. In this piece, I hope to lay out the benefits of replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote (and by default, lay out the weaknesses of that institution). In a future third piece of this series, I will further explore the actual structural, political, and institutional reforms that would be needed to best replace the Electoral College. All that to say, if this article fails to address something that you think is relevant to the discussion of Electoral College abolition, look for it in Part 1 (or look forward to it in Part 3).
The National Popular Vote Would Increase Political Equality
I want to start out with the disclaimer that one of the key anchors of my ideology is egalitarianism, the belief that all people are equal, that equality is good, and that increased equality is always something to strive for. This obviously applies to electoral politics as well, which leads to what I personally think is the best case for abolishing the Electoral College and using a national popular vote model in presidential elections: this change would greatly equalize the weight and power of each voter’s vote.
The Electoral College by its very nature produces inequality in electoral politics and results in everyone’s vote being unequal, and trashing the very concept of “one person, one vote”. To easily show this, let’s look at three states: California (the most populous state), Kentucky (the state with the median population) and Wyoming (the least populous state).
- California has population of 39.51 million and has 55 Electoral College votes. This means California has 1 Electoral College vote for every 718,364 residents.
- Kentucky has a population of 4.48 million and has 8 electoral votes. This means California has 1 Electoral College vote for every 560,000 residents.
- Wyoming has a population of 578,759 and has 3 electoral votes. This means California has 1 Electoral College vote for every 192,919 residents.
This means that in presidential elections, the Electoral College grants Wyomingites nearly three times the power of Kentuckians and nearly four times the power of Californians. How can “one person, one vote” be anything but a lie when the reality is more aligned with “one Californian, .25 votes” and “one Kentuckian, .33 votes”? Even if egalitarianism is an idea you shy away from, this is just an affront to the basic idea of political equality that is allegedly a tenet of the Western “enlightenment” that our country was founded on.
So while this is the point that matters the most to me, it is also arguably the most simple. It boils down to this: political equality is good, and no one’s vote should be worth more than anyone else’s.
Now, some might say that this can be remedied without Electoral College abolition, that the system can be reformed to make it more equal. But this is impossible — like I said, inequality is a part of the Electoral College’s nature. This is because the way that Electoral College votes are divvied out is based on the number of House representatives and Senators each state has. If electoral votes where only given out based on House members, then reform might be plausible but since it is also takes into account each state’s US Senators, it is not. That is because the United States Senate is itself an inherently anti-democratic institution (but that’s a whole other topic for another time).
The National Popular Vote Would Empower Political Minorities
Another benefit of abolishing the electoral college and implementing a national popular vote for presidential elections is that it would empower members of political minorities within each state.
At present, a Republican voting for president is largely wasting their time. Same with a Democrat in Alabama. Same with me when I voted for Biden in Missouri last November. Political minorities (within states) are not only under-powered but unpowered. Every Democrat vote in a red state and every Republican vote in a blue state does nothing to actually help a candidate win, and those votes may as well just be thrown away and not even counted.
(Of course, there are exceptions even under the electoral college where the popular vote matters. I would argue that the 2020 election was one of these occasions — Trump’s attempt to steal the election would have been much more serious if he had won the popular vote, or at least hadn’t lost it by nearly 10 million votes.)
This is again a fairly basic point: replacing the electoral college with a national popular vote would mean that not only was everyone’s vote equal, but that everyone’s vote mattered. Of course, the extent that a vote matters is directly tied to how equal votes are, and by making everyone’s vote matter the equality of everyone’s vote is increased as well.
The National Popular Vote Would Encourage Civic Participation
As a result of everyones’ votes being more equal and everyones’ votes actually mattering, civic participation in politics — especially presidential elections — would increase in a healthy way.
If you are asked to do something, but you know that your efforts won’t matter, are you motivated to do it? Likely, you are not. But, if you know that your efforts will be truly impactful to the task at hand, will your motivation increase? I’d bet so.
When voters know that their vote will actually go towards helping their preferred candidate achieve victory regardless of whether they are a member of their state’s dominant political party, they will be more likely to vote. When voters truly believe that their vote counts just as much as anyone else’s, that that our shared political institutions value them just as much as everyone else, then they will be more likely and more enthusiastic to vote.
There are numerous factors that led the rise of Trump and general authoritarian, anti-democratic sentiment in America. One of the largest, I believe, is a loss of faith/interest in civic involvement at a mass scale. Once people become so totally disengaged with civic rituals and involvement out of a sense of disenfranchisement and hopelessness, one of their options is to just be apathetic. Another option though — the one that led to Trump in the U.S.’s case — is to go the anti-civic, anti-polis, anti-institution route. I am not foolish enough to claim that implementing a national popular vote in presidential elections is enough to fully reengage a critical mass of the population in healthy, collective civic participation, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
People want to feel like they matter and that they matter equally. If we don’t have that feeling, some of us will grow resentful against those who do, and that’s how society splinters, institutions crumble, and democracy fails.
The National Popular Vote Would Hold Candidates Accountable to More of the Country
I touched on this point a good deal in Part 1 of this series, but I want to reiterate just how meaningful that a national popular vote would be to how Presidential candidates campaigned and how Presidents governed. With the Electoral College, candidates have very little motivation to campaign outside of a small number of battleground states while the ignore the rest of the country. Likewise, presidents have little need to govern in a way that pleases voters in solid red or blue states (i.e., the vast majority of states).
I’ll look at the 2020 election as an example for two reasons: first, it’s the most recent so it’s the easiest for me to reflect on; second, it’s an election that had a very high number of battleground states, and I want to be as generous to those I am arguing against as possible.
Both Trump and Biden spent the overwhelming majority of their time and money in the swing states of the 2020 race: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, neither one of them paid barely any attention to the rest of the country. Neither candidate had any reason to care about the concerns of voters in other states, and frankly, Biden won’t have any reason to care about those concerns as President either (Trump certainly didn’t).
But it doesn’t have to be this way, we don’t have to live in a country where the majority of the states and people are neglected in presidential politics and executive branch governance. Under a national popular vote system, no candidate could win by just visiting the same 3, 4, 5, even 10 states over and over and over. Republican candidates would be inclined to visit Vermont and Massachusetts to hear out and take heed of every conservative there. Democrat’s would have to go to Mississippi and Idaho and actually pay attention and act on what more liberally-inclined voters there had to say. Republicans would visit Wyoming and Democrats would go to California to make sure they were fully mobilizing their bases in their core geographic areas.
In other words, the national popular vote would force both candidates and presidents to give a shit about all of us. Or, at the very least, more than just 10–20% of us.
There are many more reasons to support the implementation of the national popular vote, but these are the ones that most resonate with me, and they ones that I believe are the simplest and most approachable.
As I mentioned at the start of this piece and in Part 1, the final part of this series on electoral college abolition will be a discussion of the civic and institutional structures that would could be theoretically erected to make sure that a national popular vote system would work as ideally as possible. I want to really get into the nuts and bolts of how that sort of system could work and how bulwarks could be built into it to make sure it remained a positive system for all of us.