The Electoral College is one of the most misunderstood aspects of American government and historically it has come under fire for being “un-democratic.” The most recent attempt to undermine the Electoral College is from The National Popular Vote Movement (NPV).
NPV’s objective is to change the Electoral College system to be based upon the winner of the national popular vote. The NPV campaign is attempting to get state Legislatures to pass legislation to commit their state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. According to NPV, Legislatures in eight states as well as the District of Columbia have passed legislation to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Advocates of the NPV claim that this approach to electing the President is more “democratic.”
Under the current system most states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which have proportional systems, award the electoral votes based upon a winner-take-all basis. In total, there are 538 electoral votes and a candidate must receive 270 to win the election.
The first argument in favor of the Electoral College is that it works, but more importantly, it is a vital part of our federal constitutional structure. Electing the President based upon a direct national vote, which the Framers rejected, would undermine the small states. Candidates would only need to campaign in large urban centers; small states, such as Iowa, would be bypassed completely.
The Electoral College requires both presidential candidates and political parties to build broad coalitions in order to win elections. For example, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan built political coalitions that were broad-based. A national popular vote would undermine stability in presidential elections, resulting in undermining the two-party system, confusing and drawn-out ballot recounts, and higher chances of voter fraud.
Iowa and the nation should seriously think about the constitutional implications for supporting a direct popular vote of the President. Preservation of the Electoral College is a vital necessity for our constitutional republic.
John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.