Analysis of the Electoral College: A Performance-Driven Assessment
The Electoral College has not done the job it was intended to do, and was changed in the time since its inception in ways that vitiate the initial design. When the Electoral College goes against the popular vote, it has always been a bad choice. It’s time for it to go.
The constitution set out mechanisms by which it could be amended, the founders knowing that any set of rules must be subject to change as circumstances changed. We know what the founders thought the Electoral College would do. Here is Alexander Hamilton’s take on it in Federalist #68:
Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.
Over time various policies in states have undercut the Electoral College’s ability to do those things. One of those was the imposition in many states of using a winner-take-all approach to seating electors. If you go back to what was written about the Electoral College idea at the time, it was expected that representation would be more granular, down to the district level. Another was state replacement of “faithless electors”, those who failed to vote as expected or projected, with an elector who would stick to what the state demanded. The Electoral College, as can be seen in the above quoted passage, was not meant to be a rubber stamp on an election result. In particular, Alexander Hamilton saw the electoral college as a bulwark against manipulation by a foreign enemy. It has utterly and spectacularly failed in that role.
We know that the Electoral College has failed twice within the past twenty years to prevent the placement of people who should never have had the presidency, with disastrous consequences. In all four cases where the Electoral College has selected a president who lost the popular vote, those presidents have ended up being judged to be in the bottom half of our presidents. In other words, the Electoral College has a 100% record of picking duds when it comes to overriding the popular vote.
The Electoral College doesn’t work now, and has never worked to our country’s benefit in the past. It has failed in the choices it has made counter to the popular vote. And it failed in its one overarching goal, to keep any puppet of foreign interests from attaining the presidency. I see no compelling reason to keep it. If the argument about the wisdom of rural America were correct, the record of the electoral college would be better. It’s time for the Electoral College to go. Four iterations of incompetence are enough.