For the 2nd time in 5 elections, the person who did not get the most votes won the Presidential election. With Trump winning the election while looking like he will lose the popular vote by about 1.5% when all the votes are counted. This has some people calling for an end of this system because the “wrong” person won.
First off, it is really unfair to Trump to say that he didn’t really win, he did, fair and square. To judge who ran the better campaign on something other than what determines the winner really makes no sense. Trump clearly had a strategy, which was to take the close swing states and break though the “blue wall” in the Midwest. He could have got more popular votes I am sure with another strategy (of course Clinton could have gotten more popular votes too). The way to become President though is to get 270 Electoral Votes, not a plurality of the popular vote.
I want to go through why the Electoral College works.
#1 The Electoral College makes a candidate appeal to a wide variety of interest.
The United States is a huge country. For any one person to represent all of America really is an impossible task. What the Electoral College does is it forces each candidate to appeal to a wide variety of voters and understand their concerns. Take this election, there were swing states in each region of the country. Both candidates spent a lot of time in New Hampshire, in the Northeast. Same for North Carolina and Florida in the South, Ohio in the Midwest, Nevada in the west. Without the Electoral College, the Democrat would spend almost all of his or her time raking up votes in the ACCELA corridor (Boston to DC) and California. It would make sense to literally fly over most of the country, apart from Detroit and Chicago. The Republican would do the same thing, except in the suburbs of the same cities. People in Appalachia care about Coal, so the candidates are forced to care about their concerns if they are looking for votes in Southeast Ohio or Western Pennsylvania.
Even on the same issue it forces the candidate to consider a variety of perspectives. The view on NAFTA is different in the Rust Best than in the Pacific Northwest. It really helps with people who hold a strong minority interest. For example every candidate takes a position on ethanol subsidies since it matters so much in Iowa. In a pure popular vote campaign, the candidate would never be in a place that cared about the issue.
#2 The Electoral College creates mandates & pinpoints close elections
Donald Trump looks like he will get over 300 Electoral Votes with 47%. Ronald Reagan won 525 Electoral Votes with 59% of the votes in 1984. This helps a President move the country forward and install policy. It makes the country more stable. If what he does not work, he gets the blame for it. At the end of the day, the country votes and that person gets to lead.
If we have a close election, it is really even more useful. The election of 2000 is considered a nightmare election because of how close it was. The election was so close that we really don’t know who actually “won” the election. Of course Democrats claim it was stolen from them, and Republicans claim this is false. The truth is every election counting method has some degree of error, and it is impossible to say for sure who got more votes. The beautiful thing about the Electoral College is that is brought the electoral crisis down to 1 state, Florida. All of the lawyers ended up in the same place because of the Electoral College. The state laws were followed and a winner in the state was declared.
Think of what would happen with a similar scenario if the President was chosen by national popular vote. An election so close would be open to interpretation from precincts all over the country, not just a particular state. There would be no confidence in such a president. Of course this person would win by the narrowest of margins with under 50% of the vote and would be able to do nothing after getting into office. When you look back at 2000, there was a lot of yelling and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, but in the end George W. Bush was able to run the country and the small mandate that was created by the Electoral College was able to help move the divided country forward.
The Electoral College is far from perfect. If you really want to select purely on the majority, it is not the best way to go. From the founding of the country though, laws are put into place to protect the minority. The Electoral College fits well into this tradition. It forces the presidential candidates to go places and see people they would not approach without it. It really is beautiful in how it protects the minority and creates mandates. Does this come at the risk of the will of the majority? For sure, but the American system of government bends over backwards to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. I am more than happy we still use it today. For me, coloring in the states on the map and swing states, that is just fun too.