Are There Any Reasons to Defend The Electoral College?



      The electoral college is an unpopular institution of American electoral politics. Its often reviled for how it establishes a complex point system that can usurp the will of the people’s collective votes. Despite this many still defend the institution as preferable to the popular vote. Richard Posner a US Judge offers what he claims are five  “practical reasons” to keep the electoral college but how well do his reasons stand against scrutiny?

      The first reason Mr. Posner offers is that the electoral college  provides a certain outcome. Too Mr. Posner the infinite small odds of there being a tie in the popular vote is cause enough too favor a point system that can not only produce a tie but is even more likely to produce a tie. To be fair the electoral college has a method of resolving its tie by allowing Congress to pick the winner then but even this method could produce a tie and theoretically be indecisive.  Mr. Posner also argues that their could be a potential recount battle that could bring new chaos into the system, despite the fact that numerous countries do use the popular vote and do not  have this problem.    

      His next reason is that the electoral college demands that a candidate have a multi regional since in order to win they need the electoral college votes of more than just one regional block. The problem with this is that voters aren’t pigeon holed into one region either and that only in an unlikely scenario could the vote possibly be split so as to elect a candidate who only received votes from one regional ethos. No state or region has a monopoly on population. Precedent also finds Mr. Posner’s scenario to be unlikely. One of the last regional based candidates George Wallace despite doing well in the south still lost the popular vote to both major candidates. Furthermore upon examination one would find that the bulk of states do not vote by drastically large margins meaning that a candidate with only regional appeal would not be able to base the entirety of their campaign efforts in a single area. However under the electoral college all it would take is a special appeal in the eleven largest states and no matter how small the margins were and even if this candidate did not get a single vote from any of the other thirty nine states plus DC, so long as they won the eleven largest states they would win the election. 

      Mr. Posner’s third reason is a very confusing one that goes even though only swing states receive much electoral attention the voters of these states will become more informed and able to make a more rational decisions in comparison to the rest of the country. There are two major problems with this line of thought. First the swing voters that tend to decide elections are normally under informed. Second wouldn’t it be better for the whole country to receive attention so that they could be informed and that way power will reside in all voters not just the select few from swing states?  

      For his fourth reason Mr. Posner claims that the electoral college gives greater influence to larger states. This claim however is nonsense as the electoral college curtails the influence of larger states while increasing the influence of smaller states albeit only in a small way. Mr. Posner however claims that this fact does not matter as the large states will gain influence because, regardless of their margin its winner take all making them a greater prize, and hence the candidate will spend more time to acquire their support. This completely ignores the fact that several large states are so solidly for one partisanship that this benefit is not likely to take effect. Mr. Posner even conceded in his previous point that the states that receive the most attention are swing states which contradicts his claim that large states receive attention. 

      Mr. Posner’s final reason however makes next to no sense. He claims that the electoral college negates the need for a runoff system of voting. So far runoff voting has not proven to be a disastrous system of voting in other countries and Mr. Posner cites no case where such happens nor any possible scenarios that could happen. He literally just makes this claim out of no where and fails to even remotely elaborate on it.  

      Overall Mr. Posner’s arguments are terrible to the point where there not even arguments, their just statements that fail any sort of logic in the face of the smallest amount of scrutiny. His first reason is false by basic math. His second brings up supposed nightmare scenarios that are unlikely to happen (and perhaps more likely to happen with the electoral college in place). His third reason actually points out a flaw in the system and why we would be better off with the popular vote. His fourth is false. Last but not least his fifth bashes a system of voting that will not necessarily replace the electoral college if abolished and fails to provide an explanation as to why this system doesn’t work. Mr. Posner’s are exceptionally bad but to be fair other than self righteous arguments that it benefits certain factions there aren’t too many reasons to keep the electoral college. Its a badly evolved institution whose original concept has been perverted to the point where I doubt even the founders could defend its current form.  


-Alexander MacConnell


About rowlanda12

This is a blog about the 2012 presidential election. Content is generated by students in Professor Heldman's Politics 101 class. She does not necessarily endorse the views expressed here.
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