Complaints about Electoral College apply to Congress

2013/03/21
By

ThreeWhether from National Popular Vote advocates or others, there are plenty of complaints about the Electoral College. Yet three of the most common are also the easiest to answer, at least in part, because each applies even more to Congress.

A common and longstanding complaint is that the Electoral College gives a boost to the political power of small states. This is the result of every state starting with at least three electoral votes, regardless of how small a state’s population. Yet the reason for this is the Electoral College is based on Congress, where each state has two Senators and at least one Representative. Any complaint about boosting the power of small state voters applies all the more to the Senate. While there are some radical political progressives who favor abolishing the Senate, most Americans accept the importance of checks and balances and separated powers. Indeed the National Popular Vote campaign avoids this issue altogether.

What NPV does argue is that the campaign focus on swing states is undemocratic. (There is an instructive tension between this argument and the preceding one–there are different ways to think about the power of an individual vote in a particular election.) Yet this charge applies far more to the House of Representatives. About half as many people live in swing congressional districts as in swing states. This is partly a result of Gerrymandering–the manipulative drawing of congressional districts. All Americans would benefit if those behind NPV would stop trying to manipulate presidential elections and try to figure out a better way to draw congressional districts.

The final charge made against the Electoral College is that it can produce a result at odds with the popular vote. Yet again, this same thing can and does occur in Congress. In fact, any legislative body elected by districts is subject to this same disconnect between the total popular vote and the results by district. This happens when Party One wins its districts by larger margins than Party Two. Party One might win the most votes overall, but not win as many districts as Party Two. The Speaker of the House–third in the line of presidential succession–is elected by members of the House without regard to which party received the most popular votes in House elections.

It is and will remain easy to complain about the Electoral College. Yet on closer inspection, the three most common complaints apply even more to Congress. Why then do groups like National Popular Vote focus exclusively on the presidency? That is a question for them to answer. Whether these or other complaints are valid at all is yet another question.

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