Electoral College Myth: The Electoral College is a Partisan Institution

Myth number 8 in my series on Electoral College myths. Please don’t miss the earlier myths, posted here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Myth:  If you are a Democrat, you should not support the Electoral College.  If you are a Republican, you should.

Fact: No one ever expresses this myth quite so bluntly as I have written it here!  Yet I’ve noticed that it seems to exist.  As I’ve traveled the country, discussing the Electoral College, it seems that Democrats disproportionately dislike the institution. Often, it seems that their dissatisfaction really stems from the results of the 2000 election. That year, Al Gore lost the election, despite winning the popular vote.

I’ve also noticed the exact opposite phenomenon.  Republicans support the Electoral College, but they sometimes seem to do so because they liked the 2000 election results.

Both positions are equally wrong.  Recent events reinforce how erroneous it is to believe that support for the Electoral College is (or should be) a partisan matter.

Commentators across the political spectrum have begun to publicly wonder if Mitt Romney could “pull an Al Gore.”  Barack Obama began with a slight advantage in the electoral vote, but Romney has been inching ahead in the national polls.  Feasibly, Barack Obama could pull off an electoral victory, even as he loses the national popular vote.  The feasibility of such an outcome demonstrates that the Electoral College is not a partisan institution.  Both Republicans and Democrats can “benefit” from discrepancies between the popular and electoral votes.

In this context, it is also helpful to remember that the Founders created the Electoral College before political parties existed in America.  They lived at a unique moment in history: They were students of history who had come together with the single goal of creating a new Constitution; this document was expected to serve a diverse country composed of many different types and sizes of states.  The delegates’ first loyalty was not to a political party.  Their first loyalty was to their home states: They sought to ensure that their states would be treated fairly.  The small state delegates were particularly concerned about protecting their rights in the new American government.

The Electoral College does not serve only one political party.  It serves all of us for the many reasons that I’ve expressed on this website and in my book. It should never be supported—or opposed—simply because one candidate in one year won or lost an election.