The Founding Fathers established the Electoral College (EC) to resolve an unfair advantage the more populous states enjoyed over rural (sparsely populated) states in the Union. Electing a president based on electors (rather than popular vote) allowed a slightly greater voice for the small states. The framers considered this an appropriate trade-off to protect minority states from the majority.
Article II, Section I of the Constitution instructed each state legislature to determine how their electors are appointed. If not for the EC, four states (Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia and New York) could have easily overruled the smaller states on every issue.
Here’s the rub. The Massachusetts legislature has enacted a bill this week to bypass the EC, favoring instead the award of all their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. Yes, even if that candidate did not win the majority of Massachusetts votes.
Five additional states (Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington) have previously approved legislation similar to what Massachusetts adopted. For an individual to be elected president, he/she needs at least 270 electoral votes. These six states have a total of 73 electoral votes (27% of the number required). By my count, if the EC is abolished, candidates could campaign in fewer than a dozen states of the 50 to reach 270 electoral votes. Consider this scenario: winning only in CA (55), TX (34), NY (31), FL (27), PA (21), OH (20), and MI (17), a candidate could be assured election, by receiving the additional 73 electoral votes from the “popular vote” states.
And here’s an irony: why would any candidate expend the time and expense to campaign in Hawaii (4 electoral votes) when that state has already promised to award their votes to the national popular vote winner?
Elections can be messy. In spite of the things that go wrong, there are orderly remedies and eventual resolutions. Elections also can be contentious, but differentiating candidates is essential to the American electoral process.The notion of one-person, one-vote sounds good (fair) but it’s a specious notion. Eliminating the EC will disenfranchise voters in all but the most populous states. Don’t be hoodwinked by the rhetoric.
In a 2008 Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby observes: “the Electoral College remains the best system for picking a chief executive suited to a nation like ours: a geographically large, ideologically diverse, socially complex federal republic.”