Mero Moment: Power Balance And The Electoral College

This week I want to talk about the Electoral College and the movement to get rid of it. It’s probable that the 2012 session of the Utah State Legislature will see a resolution introduced supporting a compact with other states in seeking to take away the steady hand of the Electoral College.

My guess is few people even understand the purpose of the Electoral College – all they might know is that a presidential candidate (such as Al Gore) could win the popular vote nationwide but lose the election (as Gore did to George Bush in 2000). That seems unfair to some people. They think that if a presidential candidate wins the popular vote they should win the election just like in state and local races.

Our Founding Fathers thought otherwise, and we should be grateful for their considered wisdom. Without the Electoral College, America would be a land of mob rule wherein big cities and big states would be the sole target of any presidential candidate’s affections. The Founding Fathers wisely created the Electoral College to balance power in a federalist system of republican government.

Under this system, each state is permitted a number of “electors” equal to its number of congressmen and senators. Utah will now have six electors in the Electoral College, equal to our four congressional seats and two Senate seats. When Utahns cast their popular votes for president, the presidential candidate winning the most votes receives the electoral votes as well. In other words, when you go to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate next November, you’re really choosing who you want to receive Utah’s electoral votes.

The wisdom in this system is its balance of power between big states and little states, between densely populated states and less populated ones. Big states still have more electors than little states, but little states have a meaningful voice.

Think of the Electoral College this way: The winner of the World Series is determined by games won, not runs scored or hits made. One baseball team could have more total runs than its opponent over a seven-game series, but the winner of the series is determined solely by the number of games won. The Electoral College works the same way. Because we don’t want one region of the country or one group of people to consistently determine the outcomes of presidential elections, we spread the influence as broadly as possible – just like we determine the winner of the World Series by spreading the play over an entire series.

A movement is afoot in Utah to undo the Electoral College. The National Popular Vote movement is spending lots and lots of money to offset this delicate balance. The NPV wants the popular vote for president to win every time. Of course, this renders small states and less populated areas irrelevant.

My friend Larry Reed, at the Foundation for Economic Education, says the Electoral College is needed, among other reasons, “to prevent a presidential campaign in which the candidates simply cater to a handful of vote-rich populous states and ignore everybody else, which would be tremendously divisive and destructive of national unity and any sense on the part of all the people that the election winner is indeed ‘legitimate.’”

Presidential candidates tend to skip over Utah – no Democrat wants to come here and no Republican needs to come here – but that’s because we’re so heavily Republican, not because our votes don’t count.

When you see this business come before our state Legislature, take time to think it through. The Founders of this nation had many difficult challenges as they forged a new Constitution. Federalism is one of their geniuses, and so is the Electoral College.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.