By Abou Amara Jr.
Abou Amara Jr. recently graduated with a master of public policy degree from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Before last Tuesday's election, the pundit class on Fox, MSNBC and CNN talked about the possibility of a split decision, with Mitt Romney winning the national popular vote and President Obama winning the Electoral College.
The nation was spared that situation when the president won both. Yet, Facebook and Twitter featured people on both sides of the aisle calling for the end to, as one critic said, "this archaic method of picking a president."
On the surface, the arguments in favor of ending the Electoral College are understandable. It makes intuitive sense to use a national popular vote; whoever gets the most votes gets to be president. However, a deeper examination makes clear that using a national popular vote system to elect a president presents serious problems. The Electoral College is a much better system.
First, the Electoral College compares apples-to-apples votes. Right now, each state decides who is eligible to vote. The rules vary widely in areas such as allowing felons to vote and requiring a photo ID. States also differ in their methods of voting. For example, in Washington state, every voter casts his ballot by mail. Compare that to the system in Minnesota, where we have multiple methods of casting ballots. Having multiple voting laws in place would make a national popular vote unfair.
Imagine a person with one felony on his record who lives in Virginia and a person with one felony on his record here in Minnesota. According to national popular vote supporters, their votes should count the same. But, in reality, only one can vote. In Virginia, once a person gets a felony on his record, he loses his right to vote permanently. Here in Minnesota, people who have a felony on their record are able to regain voting rights once they finish the terms of their probation. A national popular vote system would allow this type of apples-to-oranges eligibility and voting. The Electoral College is fairer because it awards votes based on all eligible voters in a state being subject to the same voting rules.
Second, the Electoral College quarantines litigation and election disputes to a particular state. Imagine another Bush v. Gore election, in which votes cast were contested. That type of scenario would cast doubt on the integrity of the whole election system, rather than just the integrity of a particular state. A national popular vote system would make massive voter fraud much easier. The Electoral College helps maintain integrity in our election system.
Third, the Electoral College promotes moderation and forces candidates to appeal to a variety of groups, including minority groups; no candidate can win with support from just one region of the country. One reason Mitt Romney failed to do well in swing states was that he was not able to appeal to Latinos, African-Americans or Asian-Americans. If a national popular vote were in place, Romney could have focused more of his efforts on turning out the vote in solidly conservative states such as Alabama and Mississippi, rather than focusing on moderate and independent voters in swing states. The Electoral College forces candidates to appeal to a wider swath of voters.
Finally, there's no need for a national popular vote because, with a few exceptions, the Electoral College essentially is one right now. It's extremely rare for a presidential candidate to win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote. In the 54 presidential elections in American history, only four people have won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George W. Bush in 2000.
With all the flaws of a national popular vote system, as well as the safeguards the Electoral College brings, I'll take a 50-4 record any day of the week. The Electoral College is the best way to elect our presidents.