Letters to the Editor at NYT
The Electoral College Does Its Federalist Job
We should be very wary of tinkering with this elegant constitutional establishment.
Regarding your editorial “The ‘Excellent’ Electoral College” (Nov. 15): The Electoral College is one of the many imaginative ideas that the founders instituted that has helped preserve the stability of our system of national government for well over two centuries. Any system will favor larger states over smaller ones, as should be the case. Because all states are guaranteed a representative in the House and two senators, their contribution to the college can’t fall below a certain threshold (3/538, or about 0.6%), even if their population is less than this as a percentage of the total. Wyoming, for example, has under 0.2% of the U.S. population. With direct voting, the marginal votes in large states like California will matter even more, and candidates will have a greater incentive to ignore small states and concentrate on large ones.
The Electoral College is what primarily preserves our strong two-party tradition, forcing national candidates to the center and requiring broad-based coalitions to govern. Ross Perot got almost 19% of the popular vote in 1992, but zero electoral votes. Without the college, we would have factious multiple parties, leading to presidents without the consensus to lead and unstable, revolving-door coalition governments. In a large and diverse nation such as ours, the college prevents single-issue and geographical fragmentation, leading to more truly egalitarian election results, not less.
In close presidential elections, like the one in Florida in 2000, the Electoral College serves to quarantine voting disputes. The 1960 election between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon was decided by less than 1/5 of 1% of the vote, or less than one vote per precinct. Without the college, such a situation could lead to a “Florida” everywhere, leaving us without a clear winner long afterward.
With direct voting, it would be much easier for a candidate to win while losing a majority of the states. We are the United States of America, not the United People of America. We should be very wary of tinkering with this elegant constitutional establishment.
Paul Staneski Milford, Conn.
Hillary Clinton got robbed just like Al Gore did in 2000—just like James Tilden did in 1876 and Grover Cleveland in 1888. They were all national popular vote winners who lost the presidency. It is a travesty that this can happen. I am furious and angered. Had Donald Trump won the popular vote along with the Electoral College, I could accept his win. But I can’t and never will.
The presidency is the only elected office for which this can happen. You have to win the popular vote to get elected to all other federal, state and local elected offices.Get rid of the Electoral College.
Herb Vermaas Salem, Ill.
Hillary Clinton didn’t win the popular vote. No one did. In the latest tally, Mrs. Clinton got 47.9% of the popular vote, Donald Trump got 47.2%, and Gary Johnson and Lisa Stein split the rest. No one got a majority of the vote. In such a situation, there has to be a mechanism for deciding who wins. The Constitution provides one mechanism: The Electoral College votes, and if it can’t come to a decision, the House of Representatives decides. Other possibilities are to have a runoff and to declare as winner the candidate with the plurality.
This last possibility could lead to very strange results. Imagine if Mrs. Clinton ran as a Democrat, Bernie Sanders as a Socialist and Mr. Trump as a Republican. Suppose that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders each got 33% of the vote and Mr. Trump got 34%. Mr. Trump would be the winner even though the political left got two-thirds of the vote, something that almost surely wouldn’t happen under the current Electoral College system.
John J. Seater Walpole, Mass.
The “excellent” Electoral College serves another key function, as a bulwark against stolen elections. The dead can vote in Chicago, noncitizens can vote in Los Angeles, felons can vote in Virginia, votes can outnumber the voters in Washington, New Black Panthers can stand with bats in Philadelphia, and none of it really matters. A straight popular vote would quickly make us all hostage to the worst among us.
Raymond A. Baker St. Petersburg, Fla.