The Electoral College: How to Defend?

Someone on my Facebook page (which I hope you will ‘like’) asked about defending the electoral college: should he make the argument that electors will have more sober and impartial judgment than the fickle masses, etc.?

I wouldn’t. Given that the electors are nearly always party machine people, almost none of them will be independent minded, so the arguments the Framers of the Constitution may have made for this institution no longer apply.

I think the most logical way to defend it is unfortunately unlikely to resonate with the kind of people who oppose it, since those people know little and care less about federalism. But I would say this: the Constitution consistently refers to the United States in the plural, and the key thing that’s supposed to distinguish the U.S. from other countries — remember that idea we keep hearing that the U.S. is supposed to be unique? — is that it is fundamentally a collection of societies. The evidence for this claim is pretty overwhelming, as I show in chapter 4 of Nullification. (Click here for a few of the relevant points.)

Now hold that thought for a second, and consider this. During the World Series, we don’t add up the total number of runs scored by each team over the course of the series, and then decide who won on that basis. We count up how many games each team won.

Game 1: Red Sox 10, Mets 0
Game 2: Red Sox 15, Mets 1
Game 3: Red Sox 5, Mets 2
Game 4: Red Sox 1, Mets 2
Game 5: Red Sox 0, Mets 1
Game 6: Red Sox 2, Mets 3
Game 7: Red Sox 3, Mets 4

In this imaginary series the Red Sox scored 36 runs while the Mets scored only 13, yet everyone would acknowledge that the Mets won the series. Not a single sports fan would be running around demanding that we count the total number of runs instead, or insisting that the way we determine the World Series winner is sinister.

But I think this is the correct analogy with the electoral college. How many games — e.g., how many political societies, albeit weighted to some degree by population — did you win?

Also, the electoral college puts an upper bound on how much support you can earn from any one state. Even if your whole campaign is geared toward taxing the rest of the country and handing the money to California, you still can’t get more than 55 electoral votes from that state. So to some extent, the electoral college forces the candidate to run a national race more than would be necessary otherwise.

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