Home / Blog / Article


April 8 2019

Keep the Electoral College: A National Popular Vote Would Be Destabilizing

by Jennifer C. Braceras

Progressives who believe that we should choose our president the way we select winners on American Idol continue their all-out assault on the American electoral system.

On Tuesday last week, Sen. Brian Schatz, along with fellow Democrats Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, and Kirsten Gillibrand, introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president directly by the national popular vote.

The very next day, New Mexico became the 14th state to adopt legislation requiring its electoral ballots be cast for the winner of the nation’s popular vote -- even if a majority of voters in that state supported someone else.

The legislation makes New Mexico a signatory to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which takes effect when the states representing at least 270 electoral votes have passed such measures. As of today, the compact has 189 of the 270 electoral votes needed. National Popular Vote, a well-financed progressive organization, is spearheading this state-by-state effort to circumvent the Constitution and eliminate the Electoral College through the back door.

But over at the National Review, Dan McLaughlin has a terrific piece on why a national popular vote gives too much power to populous regions and has the potential to create destabilizing results.

According to McLaughlin, 13 percent of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 votes came from California, and her 4.2-million-vote margin in that state “more than accounted for her 2.9-million-vote plurality nationally.”

Imagine, McLaughlin suggests, an election where a candidate wins more votes than any other candidate nationwide due to high voter-turnout in California but is decisively rejected by 48 other states (out of 50). Mclaughlin argues that handing victory to the winner of the popular vote in the face of such massive state rejection would undercut the very foundations of our Democratic Republic.

"This is not just a matter of coloring in a lot of empty red land on a map,” Mclaughlin writes. Rather, each of the states "is an independent entity that has its own governor, legislature, laws, and courts, and sends two senators to Washington. The whole idea of a country called the United States is that those individual communities are supposed to matter.” (emphasis added)

Critics of the Electoral College are largely upset that in two elections this century Republicans (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016) won the presidency despite receiving fewer votes overall than their Democratic opponents. But partisan angst over the Electoral College is short-sighted. 

The truth is, it’s rare for a candidate to lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College. (It has only happened 5 times in our nation’s history). 

More commonly, McLaughlin notes, a candidate wins the presidency with a mere plurality of voter support. Since 1824, there have been 18 elections in which the winner received more votes than any other candidate but still failed to garner a majority of ballots cast. Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon, all won popular vote pluralities although a majority of voters preferred somebody else. And in four plurality elections (1880, 1884, 1960, and 1968) the popular-vote margin was less than a single percentage point.

And yet, McLaughlin writes, “the system legitimized [these candidates] as the victors.” And rightfully so.

Were our elections to be decided by national popular vote, rather than Electoral College, two things might happen: First, in elections decided by razor thin margins, there likely would be high demand for recounts nationwide. Remember Palm Beach, Florida? Now imagine that circus on a national scale. Clear Electoral College outcomes make this nightmarish possibility unnecessary.

Second, under a national popular vote, a plurality president would have less legitimacy.

This would be true not only in the case of plurality presidents (where the majority did not support the winner) but in any close election -- which is most of them. (According to McLaughlin, only 16 elections since 1824 have produced decisive popular vote outcomes, where the winner captured 54 percent or more of the vote. The last time this happened was 1984, when Ronald Reagan secured a second term.)

The Electoral College, therefore, is important for institutional legitimacy, which is crucial to the long-term stability of our Republic. And this should appeal to all Americans -- regardless of party affiliation.

You can read all of Dan McLaughlin’s excellent piece HERE.

 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us