Friday, December 16, 2016

A reason for the Electoral College...

Delegates to the Electoral College meet next Monday, December 19th, to cast their ballots for the 45th President of the United States, and barring any unforeseen and highly unlikely machinations to change the expected outcome, Donald Trump will be that person.

This will happen in spite of multiple recount efforts.  No recount has ever overturned an initial result as large a difference as those in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, and the odds of Clinton winning all three by recount were infinitesimally small anyway.  This will happen in spite of Hillary Clinton handily winning the national popular vote.  At this writing on Monday she was up by over 2.8 million votes million votes.  This will happen because the Electoral College, not the national popular vote, is how we elect the President in this country.

While it may be unpopular to say and while it certainly seems unfair in a purely small-d democracy sense, for a country as large and diverse as the United States the Electoral College provides a very practical system for selecting the nation’s highest office holder.  The system requires candidates to appeal to as many of the regions of the country as possible – regions that in many ways have distinct cultures and values.  With its weighted voting that slightly favors small states over large states, the Electoral College forces Presidential campaigns to focus on states all across the country, not just the most populous.

Imagine, if election after election all candidates in both parties focused solely on the handful of large population states and a few select cities.  Over time, that could be corrosive to the level of national cohesion necessary to hold together a country such as this.

Here are some numbers from the Cook Political Report that may illustrate the point.  These are as of December 7th.

National Popular Vote: Clinton 65,746,544; Trump  62,904,682

13 Swing States: Clinton  21,429,661 ; Trump 22,247,375

States Won: Clinton 20; Trump 30

California: Clinton 8,753,788; Trump 4,483,810

As you can see Clinton won the national popular vote while Trump won the popular vote in the collection of swing states.  Cook defines “swing state” as any state that switched parties from the last election or was closer than 5% in the state popular vote.  Trump also won the popular vote in 30 states to just 20 for Clinton.  Finally, you can see that Clinton’s sizeable national margin was more than covered by just one state, California.  In fact, Clinton’s margin in California increased significantly over what President Obama received in 2012 both in raw numbers and percentage of the state electorate.  It was by far her best state on both counts when compared to the last election cycle.

All of those extra votes in California were “wasted” in an electoral sense because they don’t impact the Electoral College.  Another way to look at it is if just over half of those wasted votes were spread out to the Plains States and even fellow electoral giant Texas, Clinton would have won all of them and easily won the Electoral College.  She didn’t do that however.  Instead, her campaign focused on a message and issues that pumped up her vote totals primarily in one state, and it was a state she was going to win anyway.

By contrast Trump was only able to win by coming up with a message and campaign that played well in most of the country including the Upper Midwest, a region that had been a Democratic bastion in recent decades.  He also had millions of “wasted” votes above and beyond what was needed to win the states he won – just not nearly as many as Clinton.

The question becomes should a national election rest on a candidate doing exceedingly well in one state like Clinton did in California while losing a solid majority of the others?  The Founders didn’t think so, and this election provides of good example why the Founders implemented the Electoral College system instead of relying solely on the national popular vote.

This post first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at

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