Friday, April 5, 2019

Elizabeth Warren is Wrong About the Electoral College

“Voting is the only way to make change in a democracy.” 
-Christine Todd Whitman

I was mad when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore to become President, despite getting less votes. I was in my twenties and viewed life simplistically, in terms of outcomes I liked or disliked. At the time I did not care to understand why we needed an Electoral College which in my mind clearly suppressed the will of the majority and prevented the right outcome.

In 2016 Mr. Trump again won the presidency despite getting fewer votes than Mrs. Clinton. Her margin was five times greater than Mr. Gore’s had been over Mr. Bush. However, now I am in my forties and the intervening years have instilled wisdom and maturity that was missing before. I am not a supporter of Mr. Trump’s, but instead of questioning the outcome simply because I did not like it and crying foul about the Electoral College, I decided to try and understand why our founding fathers had incorporated this seemingly unfair mechanism into our election process.

The simplest way to explain what I have come to understand is as follows. Imagine a family of five that has two sons and a daughter. This family aspires to have a democratic process within the household and allows the kids to vote for family outings, movies and vacations with the majority vote determining the outcome; all good so far.

However if we look beyond the simple vote tally we will notice that the boys, being closer in age and interests, always gang-up against the sister and vote together. As a result the little girl never gets to have her activities picked because she is always in the minority. This no longer feels like a fair system.

In our example the parents now serve as the Electoral College. They are an added layer in this family’s democratic process, not because they control purse strings, but in order to maintain fairness in the voting. Their role is to ensure that the minority voice is heard and has the ability to affect outcomes. Without this parental check our little girl would never have her voice heard.

Senator Warren recently called for the abolishment of the Electoral College. Interestingly, she said “I believe we need a constitutional amendment that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and makes sure that vote gets counted…” Understandably, this idea is popular among Democrats who feel they were cheated in 2000 and again in 2016. However, if we look beyond simplistic vote totals it becomes clear, like with our family, why we need the Electoral College to ensure that every vote actually counts.

Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2.8 million votes but the majority of these votes came from one state; California. If we eliminate California from her vote total she loses the national popular vote to Mr. Trump. This means that if we get rid of the Electoral College, the most populous states would always determine the outcome. Conveniently, the populous states happen to be coastal states with dense urban populations which are liberal and reliably blue. If this transpires then the votes from Red states across the rural heartland, which have small populations, would no longer matter. How does this help every vote count?”

Eliminating the Electoral College would also ensure that candidates no longer needed to waste money or time campaigning beyond two or three states with large population centers. Mrs. Clinton was criticised by her husband and President Obama for not spending enough time in the rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. She assumed that she had votes locked down in these blue wall states and along with her guaranteed coastal majority, she had an automatic path to the White House. 

We now know that the reliable blue working class voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were feeling so neglected by the Democratic Party, that this small minority banded together to swing the election in favour of Mr. Trump. That is exactly what the Electoral College was designed to do - give the minority a voice. 

Had Mrs. Clinton bothered to campaign there she might have picked up on the depth of their disenfranchisement. She could have broadened her message to appeal to the 8.4 million voters frustrated enough with Washington elites to hold their nose and vote for Mr. Trump. These were people who voted for Mr. Obama, many of them twice, before breaking for Mr. Trump in 2016.

I did not like the outcome of the 2016 election, nor do I agree with the reason people felt they needed to vote for Mr. Trump, but I refuse to get rid of a check simply because I am unhappy with the outcome. As someone who values fairness and integrity above all else, I understand why we need the Electoral College. At a time when we see deep political and ideological divisions across our country, it is one way to ensure that every candidate running for President is forced to appeal to a broader national coalition and cannot get away with lazily appealing to voters in a few large states.

The irony is that, while Mrs. Warren is suggesting we eliminate the Electoral College, she is also championing the breakup of big tech companies. Her argument goes that monopolies are harmful for society because human beings are fallible and power concentrated in a few hands inevitably leads to corruption, selfishness and greed. Yet, in the same breath she wants to remove the most important check in our electoral system, one designed to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

Liberals claim to fight for the rights of minorities and to get these voices is heard. By removing the Electoral College they will be taking away the most important right for minority populations across America - to make their votes count. I am not suggesting that the Electoral College has no flaws or that it must not be updated, but such recommendations must come from an independent commission of scholars and professors and not partisan politicians. What is clear is that by simply eliminating the Electoral College we will create a less fair and representative democracy.

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