Long-live the Electoral College! All of the Reasons to Keep It

Long-live the Electoral College! All of the Reasons to Keep It

John W. York

Politics,

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., recently proposed killing it on the grounds that the presidential selection mechanism leads candidates to focus on just a handful of “swing states” that are most likely to determine the election.

The Electoral College is under fire. Again.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., recently proposed killing it on the grounds that the presidential selection mechanism leads candidates to focus on just a handful of “swing states” that are most likely to determine the election.

If presidents were picked via a nationwide popular vote, she implies, candidates would journey more widely, going anywhere there are potential votes to be won.

While it’s true that presidential candidates concentrate on swing states, there is no electoral system that would push them to tour all of the nation’s 3,007 counties, 64 parishes, and 41 independent cities.

All electoral systems, including the Electoral College, enshrined in the Constitution create incentives to home in on a limited set of places that are most likely to determine the outcome.

The question is not whether it is better for presidents and presidential candidates to care about, and travel to, the entire country or just a portion of it. The question is whether it is better for presidential hopefuls to focus on winning over swing states (as they do under the Electoral College) or big cities (as they would if a nationwide popular election was instituted).

Given these two realistic alternatives, the Electoral College system is far healthier for the country as a whole.

Warren is right that presidential candidates would likely travel to places like Massachusetts and California if the Electoral College were replaced by a nationwide popular vote. These states and the cities therein have enormous shares of the population.

But would candidates travel to Jackson, Mississippi (pop. 166,965), where Warren issued her proposal? Probably not. And would they take a swing through the Rust Belt, the Corn Belt, or the Bible Belt? Not a chance.

Popular elections push politicians to focus on the most densely populated areas. Just look at state gubernatorial politics.

Like all states, New York selects its governor by a statewide popular vote. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has governed the state for eight years and still has not visited three of its rural counties. Ten other counties have seen the governor only once.

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