No serious argument can be made today against the importance of diversity, the value in facilitating diversity, and the need to protect the rights of the minority. And yet, a growing political movement seeks to assert just such arguments. The movement seeking the constitutional elimination of the Electoral College in fact seeks to erase a vital institutional protection of diversity and minority rights.
A common misperception is that the U.S. Constitution protects minority rights only through the Bill of Rights. In fact, the entire structure and design of the Constitution strives to protect liberty, foster diversity, and check the potential for tyranny by the majority. The Electoral College is one such constitutional feature.
Without an Electoral College, large enough monolithic majorities in the largest states could effectively choose the president, thereby denying any voice to the vast remainder of the nation. A president elected by such a monolithic majority could then govern without any regard for all the people living in the other 98% of the country. This would constitute a great denial of the diversity of America, since the needs and experiences of a Manhattanite differ substantially from those of a farmer in Iowa or a factory worker in Mississippi. The needs and concerns of an urban dweller differ substantially from a rural or suburban resident.
The Constitution in general, and the Electoral College in particular, focus on preventing a tyranny of the majority through an unbalanced presidency — a presidency elected by and accountable only to a monolithic majority arising out of the most populous metropolitan areas in the most populous of states. The Electoral College forces any presidential candidate to appeal to a sufficiently broad enough cross-section of the nation and to a wide variety of social and geographic interests.
Indeed, it is primarily because of the Electoral College that presidential nominees have often selected running mates from a region other than their own. In a nation as diverse as the United States, it seems desirable if not necessary to have a political system that requires a president to campaign across the country and represent a wide array of values and lifestyles.
Promoting and protecting diversity was so important to the constitutional framers that they created a constitutional structure with federalism as a foundation. Observers across the world noted, after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, that federalism was the unique American contribution to the science of politics.
The framers did not want the central government in Washington, D.C., to define the country or provide the sole governing authority. Instead, the Constitution gives great freedom and authority to another level of autonomous governing authority — state and local governments. This federalism feature of the Constitution allows the diverse populations and interests of the different states to address their own unique needs and circumstances. Without such a federalism structure, every person and group in every geographic section of the country would be exclusively governed by the single voice of the federal government.
Whereas federalism protects diversity through ensuring the autonomy of state and local governments from complete subservience to the federal government, the Electoral College protects diversity through ensuring that all the states have at least a chance to have a voice in choosing the president. And in this respect, federalism and the Electoral College complement each other.
Aside from diversity, the Electoral College also protects the minority from being ignored or oppressed by the majority. The Electoral College prevents one region or a grouping of mega-metropolitan areas from controlling the executive branch. The College checks the ability of large states or urban areas to completely disregard the interests of smaller states and rural areas. Indeed, in as diverse a country as America, is it wise to encourage candidates, in the absence of an Electoral College, to simply write off entire areas of the country in search of votes in the most highly populated areas?
An often unnoticed aspect of the Electoral College is that it discourages a foreign entity or nation from influencing a national election in the United States. It would be much easier for such an entity or nation to focus on manipulating the votes in just a few concentrated urban centers as New York City or Los Angeles than to try to produce voter majorities in a sufficient number of diverse states.
The Electoral College further discourages fraud in presidential elections since there is little reason to promulgate fraud in states that a candidate or party is likely to win regardless of the fraud.
Patrick M. Garry is a professor of law, at the University of South Dakota.