U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at a town hall event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

U.S. Senator, and Democrat presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren declared recently that her goal if elected is “to be the last American president elected by the Electoral College” and her “second term to be elected by direct vote.” The debate is not new to American politics—whether the Electoral College should be replaced by a direct national popular vote for president—but the question goes deeper. It goes directly into the heart of our constitutional Republic. The Electoral College is fundamental to our constitutional system of limited government, federalism, equal representation, checks and balances, and separation of powers. 

When the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787, they designed a Constitution with a republican form of government that that limited the powers of the federal government. The Founding Fathers were students of history and political philosophy and understood the dangers of direct democracy. Therefore, in deciding how to elect the executive, the Framers developed one of their most inventive and clever designs — the Electoral College. Rejecting a direct popular election, they looked for a way to protect the states and provide every citizen with a voice. The Electoral College must be preserved, because it not only reflects the traditions of American constitutionalism but provides the best avenue to elect the President and Vice President. 

The simple argument for keeping the Electoral College is the fact that it works. More importantly we are a nation of “United States.” It is important to remember that the individual states created the Constitution and not the other way around. In addition, through federalism, the Constitution gives states sovereign power and the powers of the national government are limited. In Federalist Paper 45 James Madison wrote: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” The Electoral College is an essential part of federalism.

Historian Allen Guelzo, Director of the James Madison Program Initiative in Politics and Statesmanship at Princeton,  recognizes the obvious: the Electoral College was developed by the Founders not to benefit slaveholders, or to give unfettered power to the wealthy and politically connected; it was developed for one simple reason: to preserve and protect the constitutional foundation of our republican democracy. The Founders recognized, perhaps more than political experts today, that left unchecked, a national popular vote would undermine the constitutional checks and balances, and disrupt, if not collapse, the federal form of government that is still the most effective governance system in the world today. It is important to keep in mind that even though the presidential campaign is national, the actual vote is taking place within the individual states. 

A major compromise in framing the Constitution was balancing the interests of large and small states. The Congress reflects that compromise with the House of Representatives based on population, while each state has two Senators. Larger states have greater representation in the House, while every state has equal representation in the Senate. As columnist George F. Will argues: “Do critics want to abolish the Senate as well? Delaware, the least populous state in 1789, was understandably the first to ratify the Constitution with its equal representation of states in the Senate: Virginia, the most populous, had eleven times more voters. Today Wyoming’s senators’ votes can cancel those of California’s senators, who represent sixty-nine times more people. If that offends you, so does America’s constitutional federalism. The electoral-vote system, like the Constitution it serves, was not devised by, and should not be revised by simpleminded majoritarians.”

The term democracy is overused and misunderstood; the United States is a constitutional republic, not a direct democracy. Federalism is already in danger with the national government involved in numerous policy areas that are to be left to the states. Unfortunately, states have become overly dependent on the national government to support their budgets. Abolishing the Electoral College will not only result in harming citizens in small states, but it will contribute to the dismantling of federalism. “Federalism is in the bones of our nation and abolishing the Electoral College would point toward doing away with the entire federal system,” says Professor Guelzo.

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  1. The 8 smallest states (i.e., those with 3 electoral votes) together received only one of the nation’s 952 general-election campaign events in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections.

    With the National Popular Vote bill, when every popular vote counts and matters to the candidates equally, successful candidates will find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. Instead of playing mostly to local concerns in Pennsylvania and Florida, candidates finally would have to form broader platforms for broad national support. Elections wouldn’t be about winning a handful of battleground states.

    Fourteen of the 15 smallest states by population are ignored, like medium and big states where the statewide winner is predictable, because they’re not swing states. Small states are safe states. Only New Hampshire gets significant attention.

    Support for a national popular vote has been strong in every smallest state surveyed in polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group

    Among the 13 lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in 9 state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 5 jurisdictions.

    Now political clout comes from being among the handful of battleground states. 70-80% of states and voters are ignored by presidential campaign polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits. Their states’ votes were conceded months before by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns.

    State winner-take-all laws negate any simplistic mathematical equations about the relative power of states based on their number of residents per electoral vote. Small state math means absolutely nothing to presidential campaign polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, or to presidents once in office.

    In the 25 smallest states in 2008, the Democratic and Republican popular vote was almost tied (9.9 million versus 9.8 million), as was the electoral vote (57 versus 58).

    In 2012, 24 of the nation’s 27 smallest states received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions. They were ignored despite their supposed numerical advantage in the Electoral College. In fact, the 8.6 million eligible voters in Ohio received more campaign ads and campaign visits from the major party campaigns than the 42 million eligible voters in those 27 smallest states combined.

    The 12 smallest states are totally ignored in presidential elections. These states are not ignored because they are small, but because they are not closely divided “battleground” states.

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections.

    Similarly, the 25 smallest states have been almost equally noncompetitive. They voted Republican or Democratic 12-13 in 2008 and 2012.

    Voters in states, of all sizes, that are reliably red or blue don’t matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

    1. I oppose NPV for the simple fact it’s an end-around the constitution. Want to get rid of the Electoral College? Do it by constitutional amendment. NPV will likely be struck down in federal court if and when it goes into effect.

  2. I’ve been advocating for the Electoral College (current function) for nearly a decade and this is among the very best explanations I have read. It lays out the context that is no longer taught. People who want NPV unwittingly seek to see our republic unravel. It must never happen.

  3. States lost their only direct voice and the reason for 2 Senators for each state when the 17th Amendment overturned the Constitution’s method of Senators being selected by their State Government.

  4. I am a Constitutionalist. I must register Republican because there is no Constitution Party, although I throw one every September 17th! Speaking of 17, let’s repeal the 17th Anendment! Our Republic was dealt a great blow by nullifying each State’s voice in the Federal Government by removing selection of Senators from State Legislators.

    Warren is not stupid. She just wants ALL future Presidents to be elected only by large radically left leaning Coastal Metropolitan cities and states. Individual rural citizens’ votes are an affront to power-hungry phonies like Warren. Thank you for this article!

  5. This piece captures the defense of our Electoral College perfectly!

    Almost ALL of our Domestic self-governance is SUPPOSED to happen at the State (and Local) levels – where the Consent of the Governed can best be granted, or withheld.

    Those on the Left seek to satisfy their genetic urge to order the affairs of others from afar by doing away with the influence of these pesky State things! They want Washington, DC to call every shot!

    But the President of the United STATES is elected by the STATES. Efforts for this terrible National Popular Vote Interstate Compact scheme (NPVIC) is nothing less than a very radical USURPATION of the vital role that our States play to counterbalance this runaway tyrannical federal government!

    Does the Big City in YOUR State call all the shots for your State? That’s because of the statewide popular vote rules in your State. Imagine that when the Electoral College no longer functions as our Founders designed it to! Small States will be destroyed, just as the Founders feared.

    That is the same thing that the Left is after by pushing for this dangerous NPVIC and neutering the Electoral College.

    And THAT is the true purpose behind this diabolical plot to dismantle our American Federation and Constitutional republic!

    Thanks for authoring such an excellent article!

Comments are closed.

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