We’ve Had This Debate on the Electoral College Before

By: Mike Maharrey

The Electoral College has become a hotly contested issue in American politics. There’s a strong and vocal movement to do away with it and replace it with a national popular vote. Funny thing: we’ve had this debate before.

In fact, the drafters of the Constitution considered a popular election and soundly rejected the idea.

The well-known Virginia plan introduced by James Madison and Edmund Randolph made Congress responsible for selecting the president. But prominent Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson favored “an appointment by the people,” – in other words, a popular vote. He believed that selecting the president through a popular election that included all of the eligible voters in each state would make the president and Congress “as independent as possible of each other, as well as of the States.”

Notice Wilson, an ardent nationalist, wanted to take the states out of the loop.

New York’s Gouverneur Morris also initially favored popular election, saying the president “ought to be elected by the people at large, by the freeholders of the Country.”

But a number of delegates made compelling arguments against a popular election. Perhaps the strongest was put forth by South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney. He warned that a popular vote would essentially allow a few large states to control the entire government. Pickney said, “The most populous States by combining in favor of the same individual will be able to carry their points.”

Under a popular vote scheme, four states (Florida, California, New York and Texas) would dominate the election. Furthermore, urban areas would effectively control the electoral process. Rural states would be left with virtually no representation in the presidential election.

When the popular vote scheme was put up for a vote at the Philadelphia Convention, it was soundly defeated with only the delegations from Maryland and Delaware voting yes.

And here we are again.

Ironically, supporters of a popular vote think it will solve the phenomenon of the “battleground state.” It won’t. It will simply change which states wield the most influence. In effect, a few densely populated urban areas would forever control the country.

But the biggest problem with eliminating the electoral college is that it would further undermine the American constitutional system. Newsflash: the United States are not a nation. It should not select a president as if it was.