We’ve posted two exchanges about the Electoral College.
Here are a couple more items for your consideration.
By modern American democratic political thinking the winner of an election ought to be the person who won the most votes. Indeed, that is the case for every other office in American government, federal, state, and local. Now some modern thinkers offer various justifications for the Electoral College, but none of them withstand rational analysis, in my opinion, and none of them would be persuasive if we were to think about redesigning our presidential election system from scratch.
Thus, in this election the will of the voters has been frustrated. Not only did the next president not receive a majority, which is not unusual when there are third party candidates, but he didn’t even win a plurality. This is not a close matter. Here’s a report of the situation as of November 20. Hillary Clinton has more than 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, and votes from Democratic leaning states remain to be counted. This journalist estimates that Clinton will end up with 2 million more votes than Trump, out of more than 120 million cast. What modern theorist of democratic politics would propose that this should be the outcome in the presidential election and only in presidential elections? If this is a good idea for presidential elections, why isn’t it a good idea for elections for state governor or city mayor?
A key argument that I made in our earlier discussions was that the Electoral College failed in this election to achieve the purpose for which the Founders created it. It was their intention to protect the office and the nation from a populist demagogue by shielding the selection of the president from the popular will. The voters of that day, the 1790s, with the franchise limited by property requirements, were to choose electors, not presidential candidates, from among the natural governing class. The electors would then consider candidates, not doubt from the “best” of society, that is from among themselves, and chose one.
I put this argument forward from my own reading and thought as an amateur student of American history. Here is a report by a knowledgeable journalist, Peter Beinart, writing at Atlantic, The Electoral College Was Meant to Stop Men Like Trump From Being President. Here’s one paragraph from this essay:
Michael Signer explains, the framers were particularly afraid of the people choosing a demagogue. The electors, Hamilton believed, would prevent someone with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from becoming president. And they would combat “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” They would prevent America’s adversaries from meddling in its elections. The founders created the Electoral College, in other words, in part to prevent the election of someone like Donald Trump.
Beinart says that many early state legislators selected their state’s electors with no popular vote at all! He also cites the Federalist papers and scholars to support his and my argument.
What he doesn’t mention is that in this election not only did the Electoral College fail, but the voters decided rightly against Trump.