In Defense of the Electoral College

by David Salzillo Jr. '24 on March 16, 2023
Opinion Staff


Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—on Presidents’ Day, no less—proposed a “national divorce,” a separation of red states from blue. At first glance, her proposal appears to have little to do with the electoral college. After all, the mechanics of a “national divorce” are and ever will be unworkable. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” as Lincoln once put it.  

Yet we would be wrong to dismiss the sentiment behind Rep. Taylor Greene’s statement outright. Former Secretary of Labor and notable progressive activist Robert Reich shows us why. Just two days after Rep. Taylor Greene’s statements, he said, “The fact is, majorities both in red states and in blue states do seem to want fundamentally different things.”  

Inadvertently, Reich gives us perhaps the strongest argument for the electoral college. I say “inadvertently” because Reich actually supports the abolition of the electoral college. Now, as a progressive Democrat, I understand his concerns. He calls the electoral college “antiquated,” and he claims it subverts the will of the people as expressed in the popular vote.  

He misses an important point, though: Americans are not an undifferentiated mass of voters. If they were, we would not be talking about red states and blue states, and we almost certainly would not be talking about national divorces. The “will of the people” in Rhode Island is different from the “will of the people” in Wyoming. Reich himself tells us as much. Wouldn’t it be short-sighted of us to try to simply average out the difference?  

To some I may appear to be engaging in political appeasement here. Don’t I recognize that blue cities exist within red states, and that blue states have red towns and red counties? Yes. Then why don’t I see the absurdity in allocating votes by state? Because, if voting by state is absurd, then so is having states at all. If those that wish to abolish the electoral college seek to replace it with a “simple national popular vote,” then why not have a government according to the “simple national popular will?” Why have different states with different laws, and why force the federal government to share power with and leave certain responsibilities to the state governments? Why, in short, treat states like they are something separate from the federal government?  

In fact, many of the arguments used against the electoral college can be turned against the existence of states themselves. Does the electoral college cancel out the votes of Democrats in Ohio? Well, doesn’t that already happen on the statewide level, when Ohio elects its governor? If one is unfair and undemocratic, then why isn’t the other? And why should Democrats in Ohio have to obey laws a Republican governor signed into law? Shouldn’t they be governed according to the will of “the simple national majority,” and not the whims of the state of Ohio?  

My point is this: if applied consistently, the logic behind abolishing the electoral college undermines the whole idea of federalism. Namely, that the United States is not just a collection of individual citizens; instead, it is a larger community consisting of smaller communities. And further, that these communities—even the smallest of them—should have a say in the workings of the federal government as a community.  

Does my argument sound too much like “states’ rights” for you? It shouldn’t. It is why we have the European Union and not one giant country called “Europe.” In fact, imagine for a second that the European Union did not have votes by member country. Imagine if France or Germany or Spain was the deciding vote on every single policy proposal that ever came before the EU. Wouldn’t the people in smaller countries—like, say, Greece—be rightfully upset that their unique interests as a community were not taken into account? Wouldn’t they rightfully feel unfairly represented in such a system?  

Far from being about states’ rights or appeasing the right, keeping the electoral college is about keeping the representative in representative democracy.