How Can We Protect US Democracy? Let’s Start with A Simple Fix for the Electoral College
The November 2020 election should be the last time the American electoral system works against the people. Download a free chapter of Sightline’s eBook, a field guide to upgrading our election system.
Alexander Hamilton’s best argument in defense of the Electoral College may have been that it would protect us against a demagogue. In Federalist Paper No. 68, he wrote that electors would be immune to politicians with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” Even if such a charlatan with “the desire in foreign powers” could manage to win over voters, they would not get past the Electoral College.
But electors have always been rubber stamps rather than thoughtful judges of what is best for the country. In a polarized two-party system, electors become even more unthinkingly loyal to their party and ill-equipped to make an independent assessment of whether a candidate has demagogic tendencies.
But that’s not all. Far worse is that the Electoral College system overrides the will of the people, often reversing the popular vote! In fact, the Electoral College system creates a host of dangerous consequences for American democracy:
- Campaigns and policies skew to favor battleground states — As former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a Republican, bluntly summed up the system in 2015: “The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are.” A narrow slice of voters holds outsized power and their states reap the benefits.
- The Electoral College system renders white votes worth more than Black votes — The aim of the political compromise behind the Electoral College was the same as the compromise behind the US Senate and the infamous three-fifths compromise for the House: to give white Southerners outsized political power in order to keep the smaller Southern slave states in the new Union. This isn’t just a historical curiosity. The Electoral College continues supporting the Southern strategy to this day, giving more power to white voters than to Black voters when it comes to choosing our president.
- The state-winner-take-all Electoral College depresses turnout in spectator states — Voter turnout in battleground states is about 11 percent higher than in less competitive states. Even in states that lead the way in encouraging their residents to vote, like Oregon, being ignored by presidential campaigns hurts those efforts.
That’s just a few ways the Electoral College thwarts the will of We the People. But there are potential solutions. In her book, “Becoming a Democracy: How We Can Fix the Electoral College, Gerrymandering, and Our Elections,” Kristin Eberhard, Director of the Democracy Program at Sightline Institute, outlines 10 ways to upgrade American democracy and stand up for the freedom to vote.
To dive into Kristin’s suggestions, including two ways to solve the Electoral College problem, enter your email address below, and we’ll send you a free e-chapter of “Becoming a Democracy.” And to make sure our newsletter always reaches your inbox, please add [email protected] to your contact list or address book to keep us out of your spam folder.