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In Defense of the Electoral College


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Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

Warren’s lofty rhetoric notwithstanding, a large portion of the Democratic party’s present animosity toward the Electoral College is rooted in rank partisanship. Since they watched their supposed “blue wall” evaporate in the small hours of the 2016 presidential election, many Democrats have felt sufficient anger with the system to seek to remake it. This habit has by no means been limited to the Electoral College. Indeed, no sooner has the Democratic party lost control of an institution that it had assumed it would retain in perpetuity than that institution has been denounced as retrograde and unfair. In the past year alone, this impulse has led to calls for the abolition or reinvention of the Senate, the Supreme Court, and more.

Insofar as there does exist a serious argument against the Electoral College, it is increasingly indistinguishable from the broader argument against the role that the states play within the American constitutional order, and thus from the argument against federalism itself. President Reagan liked to remind Americans that, far from serving as regional administrative areas of the nation-state, the states are the essential building blocks of America’s political, legal, and civic life.:snip:

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David Fench

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If anyone thinks the American republic would remain stable if political power is consolidated in coastal urban enclaves, then they lack understanding of American history, American culture, and human nature. The founders struck a balance between state and federal power for good reasons — reasons that remain valid today.

But can we get real for a moment? While there are some constitutional scholars who carry on this debate based on high-minded concerns about the nature of American democracy, the real energy behind the Democratic anger at the Electoral College (and behind the Republican defense of it, for that matter) is purely partisan. They look at the national popular vote since 1992 and see exactly one Republican win but three Republican presidencies. Since George H. W. Bush’s rout of Michael Dukakis, only his son has managed a popular-vote victory.

So, if we abolish the Electoral College, the Democrats win, right? Not so fast. The Democrats are basing their optimism in part on “success” in a political race that no one is actually running. There is not a single sensible political strategist who has ever plotted out a presidential race for the purpose of winning the popular vote. That’s like game-planning to run the most total yards or to shoot the most free throws.

 

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