Electoral College safeguards federalism in political process

Aaron Lassmann

As the entire nation is aware, Donald J. Trump is the president-elect, set to become the 45th president of the United States, winning the electoral college with 306 votes to Clinton’s 232. Yet, Trump lost the popular vote by over a million votes so far, resulting in calls by Clinton supporters to abolish the Electoral College and an online petition encouraging members of the electoral college to be “faithless electors” and cast their votes for Clinton instead of Trump. However, these protests and attacks against the electoral system undermine the basis of our system of government.

Trump is not the first, but the fifth, person to win the presidency but lose the popular vote. The two most recent occurrences of this are George W. Bush in 2000 and Benjamin Harrison in 1888. Obviously, this is not the most common occurrence, but, as it has transpired in two of the past five elections, concern for the system is understandable, especially from the losing side. Yet the American system is designed with this in mind. Our government is built upon the concept of federalism, providing for a balance of power between the state and national level.

Federalism emerged as part of a balance between states with strong individual interests and the need for unification under a strong national government in the writing of the Constitution. Federalism protects individual states by providing them with various methods to impose influence at the national level despite being smaller in population size, which would normally, under straight popular vote, result in little say. The most recognizable manifestation of this principle is seen with the Senate, where each state has two senators and two votes, regardless of size.

Various reasons exist for the creation of the Electoral College, with the need for an election to be decided by more qualified citizens most commonly cited. Though, despite other potentially stronger reasons for its initial existence, the Electoral College was still partially designed with federalism in mind, as the number of electoral votes per state is slightly unweighted with the determination being based in part on the number of Senators as well as the number of representatives. 

Today, the electoral college has developed to where it is in effect solely an institution of federalism, since in all states except for two (Maine and Nebraska) all electors are bound together on a winner-takes-all basis with the popular vote of that state. The modern system provides for many other states besides the most populous to have a greater say in the choosing of the president. This balance of power to less populous areas allows for their interests to be heard and encourages candidates to develop platforms and policies that appeal to the populous coasts and rural “flyover” country.

Federalism is a core component of our government, and an attack on the Electoral College is an attack on it. The devolution of federalism would be harmful for the balance of power between various groups that has characterized and provided stability to our system of government. If concern for the small, occasional discrepancy between popular vote and the winner is of paramount concern, then we might as well abolish the Senate and change House elections to strict proportionality by party, destroying the balance that makes our system work for everyone. 

Lassmann is a biology freshman from League City, Texas.