When America won its independence, the Founding Fathers were tasked with a dilemma: they needed to unify the thirteen colonies’ unique ambitions and characteristics under a single government. For example, smaller colonies like Delaware and New Hampshire feared that the federal government would ignore them and serve the needs of the more populous states. The Founding Fathers appeased all the colonies by striking a balance between the federal and state governments – they sought to create a robust central government yet preserve the rights of individual states. Our Senate and House of Representatives were born out of this compromise: the states possess equal power in the Senate but proportional representation in the House. The Founding Fathers distributed the powers of governance between these two units: the federal government is in charge of the war, foreign policy, and the army while the states are responsible for education and public safety. Another offspring of this compromise was the electoral college.
Arguments against the electoral college center around one belief – this system is inherently undemocratic. Even as a supporter of the electoral college, I understand and accept this viewpoint. After all, a simple mathematical calculation would prove that a Wyomingite has approximately 4.3 times more influence than a Californian in electing the president. However, the electoral college was not designed to fully embody democratic principles, but to balance states’ sovereignty and the people’s preferences. Each state’s electors are determined by adding the number of Representatives to the number of Senators, combining elements of states’ equality (Senate) and proportional representation (HoR). For example, Nevada, which has two Senators and four Representatives, has six electors.
Why should we put the state’s rights on a pedestal and strive to give more power to Wyoming than California in proportion to its population? Although the federal government has incrementally usurped authority from the states and Americans are becoming less devoted to their state identity, the states still play a pivotal role in governing the country. The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the states’ importance in fighting the health crisis. Since the federal government has been unable to effectively distribute resources and plan effective measures to curtail the spread of the virus, the states have assumed the reigns of command and become the true sources of authority. The states are assembling specific responses that take into account local case rates and precise demographic conditions. The states are balancing their economies and public health to schedule their re-openings. The states are scrutinized when their policies increase the number of cases and are praised when their cases drop to record-low levels.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump won the electoral college, and subsequently, the presidency, even though he garnered 2.9 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario where the popular vote determined the election. Sure, since Clinton won more votes, she would better represent the dominant views located in major population centers, such as Los Angeles and New York City. However, these large metropolitan areas would suffocate the aspirations of marginalized groups, such as Iowa farmers or Pennsylvanian frackers, who would be inadequately represented under a Clinton administration. The electoral college is designed to empower marginalized groups while diminishing popular views – a corollary of this dynamic magnifies the power of small states and weakens the larger states. Donald Trump organized a coalition all across the country, from the icy tip of Alaska to the forests of Maine to the jungles of Florida to win the support of thirty states, as opposed to Clinton’s mere twenty. Clinton managed to carry the major population centers, but her message failed to penetrate beyond the city limits.
Abolishing the electoral college would be a direct assault on states’ rights, as these two institutions are incredibly intertwined. Since all states’ elector count starts with a base value of two before the states’ representatives are tallied up, this system allows small states like Wyoming to compete with enormous states like California to preserve the Founding Fathers’ vision of states’ equality. As the Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, the states are crucial in governing the country – they focus on local conditions to compile state-specific plans. The states form the backbone of the United States; they uphold the core principles of our democratic nation by concentrating on their constituents' needs. If elections were decided based on the popular vote, Hillary Clinton would fail to represent the thirty states that voted against her – violating bedrock principles inscribed in the Constitution. Thus, the electoral college – a system upholding states’ rights and illuminating small states in the shadow of larger ones – should indelibly remain part of our elections.