Many people consider the electoral college “undemocratic” because it does not allow us to directly vote for our president. When we stand in our voting booths, we are actually voting for the 538 presidential electors who will represent what the people want. (The process is somewhat long and complex to explain here, so feel free to check out attorney Tara Ross’s video explanation for Prager University.)
Regardless of what people say to the contrary, the electoral college is extremely important. It does, in fact, give every single American representation, and protects us against what Ross refers to as “the tyranny of the majority” that usually occurs in direct democracies.
The United States is not a direct democracy: our country does not make legislative decisions based off what the majority of 318.9 million people want. America is a representative democracy, which means that we elect representatives to make decisions or laws on our behalf.
The reason our system works, especially when it comes to the electoral college, is quite simple: if we voted solely using the popular vote, voters in smaller states simply would not matter. Census data confirms that half of the United States’s population is clustered in just 146 big counties out of over 3000 nationwide. The other half of the population lives everywhere else–including 14 states that don’t have any of the biggest counties at all.
If candidates only had to worry about getting a majority of the votes, they would have no need to travel anywhere other than those 146 counties. Voters in states like Montana and North Dakota would not impact the outcome of an election. Thousands of counties with small populations would be overshadowed by people in states like California and New York, purely based on where they happen to live.
That’s not fair, is it?
What would not be “democratic” is having votes not matter during presidential elections because 50% of the population is located in only 146 counties. With the current system, candidates must travel to every state in order to receive the amount of delegates they need. Their platform and personality have to appeal to a diverse array of voters, not just voters from specific swing states like Florida.
Part of the election system is, in fact, already democratic: the first phase that nominates electors from each state and from D.C. It gets complicated, as different states can use winner-take-all systems, caucuses, or proportional systems to assign final delegates, but the electors or caucus representatives that are selected are meant to represent what the majority in their respective districts wants. A candidate needs 270 votes from the electoral college in order to win.
Thomas Jefferson once said that democracy is “nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Mob rule is exactly what would occur if our presidential elections were determined purely by popular vote. So next time you hear someone saying the electoral college needs to go, remind them why the Electoral College exists: without it, if they don’t live in one of the 146 most populous counties, their vote won’t matter one bit.