The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, Section 1 states, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress,” and those electors each cast a vote to determine who will be President of the United States.
And thus, in two, short paragraphs, the writers of our Constitution set up one of the most controversial characteristics of our democracy — the Electoral College.
It is reasonable to be troubled by the College. Depending on how state legislatures decide to choose their electors, it has the potential not to be democratic at all.
Thankfully, though their processes may differ slightly from one another, each state currently chooses its electors democratically.
The College then serves as a less democratic buffer between the states’ popular votes and the official selection of the United States President and Vice President. This buffer has been the reason that five of the 58 presidential elections in U.S. history have resulted in a discrepancy between the winner of the popular vote and the winner of the presidency.
Despite its issues and oddities, I don’t hate the Electoral College.
In fact, I kind of like it. While it is not democratic in the strictest sense of the word, the College does provide for a greater degree of broad representation than a simple popular vote would encourage.
More than 80% of the U.S. population resides in cities, and 50% of the U.S. lives in the country’s top 37 most populous metropolitan areas. If candidates had only to win greater than 50% of the American popular vote, rural areas and smaller cities could expect to be ignored by any national campaign.
The Electoral College corrects some of this imbalance, making it more likely that concerns of rural Americans might be addressed.
Take Georgia, for example, in our most recent presidential election. Atlanta’s vote count has constantly been in the spotlight since Election Day, but Atlanta alone could not have won Georgia’s electoral votes for either candidate.
Atlanta has always been “blue.” Republicans have carried Georgia in presidential elections by appealing to suburban and rural Georgians.
Both candidates in this year’s election made campaign stops in our state outside Atlanta. I drive often through rural Georgia, and the importance to each campaign of rural votes has been evident in the abundance of billboards rented and yard signs distributed in those areas.
More important than the campaign visits and dollars are the campaign promises. Candidates know they must deliver on issues important to rural Georgians if they want to carry our state. And as Georgians living far from Atlanta, we all know how different our needs can be from those of our friends in the big city.
In short, while I am not wedded to the Electoral College — it certainly has earned its critics — I do believe it has merit. Without the College, national candidates likely would not look far beyond America’s large cities for votes, and the rest of us would be left hoping the candidates were charitable enough to serve us well even without the incentive of needing our votes.