The Electoral College vs. Mob Rule
November 1, 2004
Tuesday’s presidential election is likely to be relatively close, at least in terms of popular vote totals. Should either candidate win the election but lose the overall popular vote, we will be bombarded with calls to abolish the electoral college, just as we were after the contested 2000 presidential election. After all, the pundits will argue, it would be “undemocratic” to deny the presidency to the man who received the most votes.
This argument is hostile to the Constitution, however, which expressly established the United States as a constitutionally limited republic and not a direct democracy. The Founding Fathers sought to protect certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, against the changing whims of popular opinion. Similarly, they created the electoral college to guard against majority tyranny in federal elections. The president was to be elected by the 50 states rather than the American people directly, to ensure that less populated states had a voice in national elections. This is why they blended electoral college votes between U.S. House seats, which are based on population, and U.S. Senate seats, which are accorded equally to each state. The goal was to balance the inherent tension between majority will and majority tyranny. Those who wish to abolish the electoral college because it’s not purely democratic should also argue that less populated states like Rhode Island or Wyoming don’t deserve two senators.
campaign in a purely democratic system would look very strange indeed, as any
rational candidate would focus only on a few big population centers.
A candidate receiving a large percentage of the popular vote in
California, Texas, Florida, and New York, for example, could win the presidency
with very little support in dozens of other states.
Moreover, a popular vote system would only intensify political pandering,
as national candidates would face even greater pressure than today to take
empty, middle-of-the-road, poll-tested, mainstream positions.
Direct democracy in national politics would further dilute regional
differences of opinion on issues, further narrow voter choices, and further
emasculate political courage.
Those who call for the abolition of the electoral college are hostile to liberty. Not surprisingly, most advocates of abolition are statist elites concentrated largely on the east and west coasts. These political, economic, academic, media, and legal elites overwhelmingly favor a strong centralized federal government, and express contempt for the federalist concept of states’ rights. They believe in omnipotent federal power, with states acting as mere glorified federal counties carrying out commands from Washington.
The electoral college threatens the imperial aims of these elites because it allows the individual states to elect the president, and in many states the majority of voters still believe in limited government and the Constitution. Voters in southern, midwestern, and western states- derided as “flyover” country-- tend to value family, religion, individual liberty, property rights, and gun rights. Washington elites abhor these values, and they hate that middle and rural America hold any political power whatsoever. Their efforts to discredit the electoral college system are an open attack on the voting power of the pro-liberty states.
Sadly, we have forgotten that states created the federal government, not the other way around. The electoral college system represents an attempt, however effective, to limit federal power and preserve states’ rights. It is an essential part of our federalist balance. It also represents a reminder that pure democracy, mob rule, is incompatible with liberty.