Editorial: The Electoral College is good for rural issues

Published 9:31 am Friday, November 18, 2016

There has been much scrutiny over the Electoral College since the Nov. 8 presidential election, considering that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the majority of the popular vote but not the majority of the electors. She had 1 million more votes than Donald Trump.

Critics are calling for the country to get rid of the Electoral College, just as they did in 2000 following the tight race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

“This is the only office in the land where you can get more votes and still lose the presidency,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately.”

There are online petitions, too, one of which has more than 750,000 signatures.

We disagree with all of them. Keep the Electoral College.

First, we trust the Founding Fathers in how they created the structure of the federal government, which included electing presidents using electors from each state. Changing the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment, and to do so means winning two-thirds of the House and Senate plus 38 states.

Second, the fact that a candidate can win the popular vote but loses the electoral count is simply a function of the winner-take-all aspect of the Electoral College, except for in Maine and Nebraska. If a candidate wins the popular vote in Minnesota by a single vote, he or she gets all 10 electoral votes. The system is not designed to be an even tally.

Third, after the primary season is over, candidates would continue to focus on their base, rather than gravitate somewhat toward the center, as they do now. Swing voters in the middle would matter far less because moderates would become less valuable to campaign strategies. You think the races are ugly and polarized now?

Fourth and foremost, issues facing rural America would matter even less than they already do on the national level.

See, what’s valuable about the system is that it treats each state as its own presidential election, rather than one giant election for the country. We are, after all, the United States — a federal republic. That means it’s like we are 50 countries joined by a central government.

As a result, candidates must campaign in big and small places. They especially campaign in places with close vote totals that could fall either Republican or Democrat. Sometimes, that happens in populous states like Florida and Ohio, but it happens in small states, too, such as Iowa and Nevada. There was a big fight for the four electoral votes in New Hampshire this year.

History is full of stories on how candidates had to win small states. Think of how hard John F. Kennedy worked in 1960 to win eight electoral votes in West Virginia.

Without the Electoral College, candidates would focus their efforts on major cities. Places like New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago — and their suburbs and exurbs — would get all the attention.

The parties in power know all of this, and therefore they will never want to get rid of the Electoral College. Critics of the system need to look before they are so quick to leap.