There are those who offer defenses of the current system of presidential elections that they believe disclose some kind of deep, pure motivation by the drafters of the Constitution. And the centerpiece of their disclosure is that those putting together the first workable version of a democratic republic wanted to guard against certain dangers. The claim is that a truly, pure democratic election needed to be protected from itself. While people claimed to desire democratically elected leaders, they really only wanted only certain types of truly democratically elected leaders, those who agreed with them.
The earliest cited fears were that the power office of the total nation could be captured by those beholden to “regional factionalism”. And where would such factionalism arise? It would be in the cities, the urban centers of the more populous states. The gentlemen farmers like Jefferson and Washington could count. They knew that there were more people, and thus more voters
packed into the crowded neighborhoods of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond than resided on the plantations and farms of Maryland and New Hampshire. And yet when they studied maps they could see (as do today’s patriots) that our vast nation covered much, much more landmass than the actual acreage that housed those cities of the day. And this realization produced the initial fear and desire that those city people not be allowed to render judgments which might be different than what the plantation owners knew was best policy for the new land. Rural people did not want to be dictated to by city folk.
And the Great Compromise which had shaped the bicameral Congress with the small states having equal representation in the Senate ended up bleeding over into a similar small state advantage (read that “rural” advantage) for presidential elections. And in the early years the agrarian advantage was even more pronounced since there wasn’t that great a difference between the electoral votes of larger states to the smaller ones. But added together the smaller states totaled quite a few more votes in proportion when the votes counted in the Electoral College.
All of this brings us to contemporary times. Defenders of the status quo electoral system still love to point to the map, color every county that had a Republican plurality red and counties with Democratic pluralities blue and smugly declare that any idiot can see how much red covers the nation. And that seems to fuel their belief and assertion that hordes of voters packed into urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle did not possess votes as worthy as voters from smaller towns and rural areas. So even though Mr. Trump lost the overall popular vote, those in charge of current rules are quite comfortable allowing Republicans to believe and claim legitimacy since the existing rules declared them the winner.
There is another, separate issue that most citizens and observers simply don’t understand or don’t credit with enough importance. That is the fact that the Constitution and the Electoral College do NOT require states to employ the “unit rule” whereby states seek to maximize the impact of their votes by assigning all their electoral votes to the winner of the mere plurality in their state. This allowed all 38 electoral votes available in Texas to go to Republican Trump even though 47.4% of Texas voters picked other candidates. Such an inequity exists for 48 of the nation’s 50 states. On both sides. A more egregious example of the distortion for Trump would be Pennsylvania where a mere 68,000 voters out of 6 million, little over one percent, threw all 20 PA electoral votes to the president elect. And, of course, similar corresponding examples of Democrat Clinton winning a closely contested state could be cited, but this isn’t a lengthy grad school treatise on the topic, merely a lament. And it is noteworthy that the two states that do allow their electoral vote to be divided (NE and ME) are small and pretty inconsequential, at least in the presidential election arena.
But this whole side issue merely avoids the bigger point. Elections using the Electoral College, with or without the “unit rule”, are simply undemocratic, pure and simple. The idea that a person’s vote is devalued for choosing to reside in an urban area is wrong. All votes should be of relatively equal value. Owners of broad swatches of countryside should not have weightier votes than those living in a four story walkup tenement. Newer voters, be they recent immigrants or young people attaining voting age, should not be discounted merely because they happen to live in cities.
This, I believe, is closer to the democratic ideal and understanding that infused the work of our nation’s framers than an approach that denies equal voice to some based on where they live and work.
I do believe Donald Trump’s assertions that had the rules been different, had he needed to win the popular vote in order to win the presidency, that he would have run a significantly different campaign and might have indeed pulled off a popular vote win. I have no idea why this is true or possible. But I don’t discount it. Had Trump done campaign rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston in addition to where he did rallies, he well might have pulled some disinterested voters his way and eaten into Clinton’s urban advantage. But regardless, I do wish we simply used the popular vote to settle on our national leader. We deserve to be assured that the winner, the leader for four years indeed has a mandate.