The following is reprinted from Professor Todd Eberly’s Freestater blog.
By Todd Eberly
Anger over Clinton winning the popular vote are misplaced. There is no way to know who would’ve won the popular vote in the absence of an Electoral College. You cannot assume the popular vote total would be what it is today.
Consider it like this: Right now there is no reason for a Republican presidential candidate to campaign in CA, IL or NY and little reason for a Democrat to campaign in TX or MT or UT. And, there is little reason for a minority party voter to vote in a state that will go to the other party – because the Electoral College is winner take all in most states, minority party voters often consider their vote to be wasted.
In Maryland, the outcome the electoral vote contest would be the same whether every Republican in the state voted or no Republican voted. Democrats outnumber Republicans and will win the state and the state’s electoral votes.
Take away the Electoral College and candidates seek votes everywhere – so the campaign and the vote totals would be different. Do you doubt this?
Look at turnout in battleground v. non-battleground states. Voter turnout is higher in contested battlegrounds. Without the Electoral College there is a reason to campaign more broadly and for everyone to vote.
So Republicans in MD and CA would be more likely to vote. Democrats in TX and MT would be more likely to vote. In the end, the popular vote would likely look very different.
Why have an Electoral College?
So why have an Electoral College? Simple. America is a nation of people and a nation of semi-sovereign states. Just as the House of Representatives exists to represent the people and the Senate exists to Represent the states the Electoral College was created based on the same representative compromise – the people and the states have a say.
And, with the Electoral College a candidate has to appeal to a broad geographic coalition of states with different policy interests. Which is better for electing someone with a more diverse perspective and coalition – does that always work? No, but nothing is perfect.
Perhaps more importantly that anything else, however, a split between the popular vote and the electoral vote serves as an important reminder that presidents are elected to be chief executives and not representatives of the people. Though a president may be Head of State and Head of Government, he/she is not the peoples representative. He’s not a representative at all.
This is a reminder that we all need from time to time.
Todd Eberly is associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.