The Electoral College has been in the news a lot lately. Part of the reason is because, again this year, the winning candidate did not have the most popular votes of all the candidates. Another recent time this happened was in 2000, when Bush beat Gore in the Electoral College (and the Supreme Court), but not in the popular vote.
In fact, studies have been done that show that a person can win an election with as little as 27% of the popular vote. It does not seem to make sense that a person can be elected when 3/4 of the people think someone else is better.
The counter argument to that is that if the candidates knew the election would be decided by popular vote and not electoral votes, they would have run their campaigns totally differently. States that would get a lot of attention in a popular vote election are largely ignored in an election decided by electors.
When I was in high school, our social studies teacher said that it is not a good idea to scrap the electoral college because there isn’t a better system. I used to think the Electoral College was a better system than a simple popular vote. A candidate could campaign in the six largest cities, promising all sorts of things to people in urban centers, totally ignore the rural parts of the country, and still win the election. The electoral college mitigates that, somewhat.
Lately I have been hearing arguments that with the current Electoral College, the same thing is happening. Certain states, like CA, TX, and NY, are largely ignored because they are solidly in one political camp.
The original reason for the Electoral College, in addition to creating a compromise between individual rights and state’s rights, was because at that time the Founding Fathers thought the average citizen didn’t know enough about political issues to make an informed choice. News traveled very slowly, so the average citizen couldn’t possibly know about all the goings-on in election campaigns. They elected people (electors) who would devote time to understanding the issues and vote in the best interest of the people who elected them.
Today’s citizen is much more informed, and can get news quickly, so the argument that electors are needed because they are more knowledgeable than the general public is no longer true. The average citizen has as much information as any elector, and can make his own informed decision.
That’s what I thought. Then I read this:
Fake news has been a scourge since before Facebook; the existence of that social media platform has only made the situation worse. And people are being taken in by these stories hook, line, and sinker. (The president-elect himself has referenced some news stories that turned out to be wrong.) The article claims that the average student does not have the critical thinking skills to distinguish real news from fake news and to seek out primary sources to verify or refute stories.
So maybe we do need electors who know more about the process than the average person.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way electors are chosen. They are politicians or party faithful who will vote for their party if their party wins.
Maybe we do keep the Electoral College, but modify choosing of electors. Have potential electors run for the position and campaign for it. Maybe, even among electors for the same candidate, one will have a better grasp of the issues, or at least the better ability to identify fake news stories.
Of course we will need to iron out the details. First and foremost, can we handle another 2000 candidates for electors? But as a thought exercise, it is worth considering, and may give us ideas on how to change the current system.
I also have other ideas for voting differently. They will help with the situation like we just had where a lot of votes were not as much for candidate A as they were against candidate B. I will save that for another blog.
In the meantime, I’m sure there will be a lot more talk about the electoral college in the near future.