This is a guest post by our coalition partner, Andy Prior of America’s Party of Texas. This post represents the views of the author, and not those of TVC or its other members.
Every four years there is some confusion about the Electoral College. In 2016, after Trump was elected President, we saw claims that the Electoral College “rigged” the election, and disenfranchised voters. These claims fail to consider that the Electoral College was created to give states balanced representation and maintain the republican foundation to our Constitution.
Republican Form of Government
Modern Americans constantly forget that we are supposed to have a republican form of government, not all-out, mob-rule democracy where the majority dictates everything. It’s why Delaware and Texas have the same number of US Senators. Our Founders knew the problems with direct democracy. Direct democracy — a system in which voters directly select candidates and policy — has a fatal flaw called the “tyranny of the majority.” Hamilton describes the thought-process behind creating the Electoral College in Federalist Paper 68.
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
Hamilton’s goal was to give an educated body of citizens more time to consider the qualifications of the Presidential candidates. Hamilton wrote that “the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors”– but when only major party Electoral College delegates are an option, then the purpose of the Electoral College is corrupted by requirements that Electors vote for the popular choice. The political parties set criteria for their delegates and therefore have the power to set criteria for Electors. Once again, the infiltration of political parties has sullied the framework of our government.
The Electoral College prevents a tie when the popular vote isn’t definitive. Take, for example, the 1860 election as the most extreme example in American history of the Electoral College helping us to identify the winner of a Presidential election. The Electoral College worked, despite a lack of a majority by anyone in the popular vote.
In 1860, Lincoln received 39.4% of the popular vote and won the Electoral College vote with a healthy 59.4%.
Compare that to Bush/Gore in 2000, when Bush received 47.9% of the popular vote and 50.4% of the Electoral College vote. (Just in case you forgot, Gore didn’t receive 50% of the popular vote, either. He received 48.4%.)
Ultimately 2016 was no different than 2000, in that neither of the major party candidates received a majority of the popular vote, although Trump’s share of the Electoral College exceeded Bush’s, but came up short of Lincoln’s.
However, if we take all three of Lincoln’s opponents and add them together, we find that only two States would have flipped to the opponent and Lincoln would still have had 55.8% of the Electoral College vote… with less than 40% of the popular vote.
The simple explanation is that Lincoln received outright majorities in all but two of the States he won, while receiving zero votes at all in the 28% of the States in which he wasn’t even on the ballot. The extended explanation takes into account that significant numbers of Southern States had disproportionate representation thanks to the disenfranchisement of slaves under the three-fifths representation rule.
In reality, Lincoln won 17 out of 33 States, or just over half, which justified his Electoral College win. However, in my hypothetical, two-person 1860 election, Lincoln would have only won 15 States and yet still managed to win the EC!
In today’s parlance, I would say that this is feature of the Electoral College, not a bug.
A critical flaw with the criticism of the Electoral College is that most pundits only consider an election with two candidates. The Electoral College was created to declare a clear winner out of a multi-candidate landscape. Many Americans have forgotten that purpose because we have been fooled into thinking only two candidates are “valid” or that third party and independent candidates “steal” votes from the “legitimate” Republican or Democratic candidates.
Hamilton wanted Electors to think carefully about each candidate’s qualifications for serving as President. In 2016, several Electors resigned or otherwise refused to cast votes for Trump. Those Electors were correctly fulfilling their duty as described by our nation’s founders. Yet, the Republican Party of Texas requires Electors to sign a statement that they will support the winner of the popular vote. Electors could have voted for a qualified third party, independent or write-in candidate– except that the Republican Party prevented them. (The Democratic Party has the same requirement.) Additionally, in the aftermath of the 2016 Electoral College vote, several Texas Republican politicians proposed making it a crime for a party’s Electors to vote for any other candidate than the popular choice.
As long as candidates have access to the correct combination of States to potentially earn the 270 Electoral College votes to win, either by being on the actual ballot or via write-in, they don’t need to be on all 50 States’ ballots.
Eight Qualified Candidates in 2016
There were a eight candidates in 2016 who had enough ballot access to pull off the scenario I’m describing, as long as one counts both ballot access and write-in efforts. Three were on the ballot in all 50 States, plus DC, and the rest were reliant on a combination of ballot access and write-in States that equaled a minimum of 27 States with at least 302 Electoral Votes. Two additional candidates either failed to reach a majority of the States or a majority of the Electoral College votes available. They wouldn’t have mathematically achieved a majority as intended, but they came really close.
If you want to vote for a “viable”, “winning” ticket, then I encourage you to do the research on these types of candidates in the future and begin voting according to your conscience. Helping these candidates, and the parties they represent, achieve ballot access prior to future elections will increase their “viability”, improve their exposure to the general public and hopefully return us to a more original understanding of the Electoral College.