What Would Happen If The U.S. Abolished The Electoral College?

April 03, 2019 - 2:11 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — Twice in this century Democrats have won the popular vote during presidential elections, but lost the Electoral College and the White House.

Several Democratic-controlled states have already begun to push for a national popular vote, but rather than pass a constitutional amendment, the states have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a group that pledge to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Though, as the 2020 Presidential Election fast approaches, many Democratic candidates are pushing to abolish the Electoral College once and for all.

“Every vote matters, and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said at a town hall in Tennessee last month.

Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke also joined the cause saying there was "a lot of wisdom" in abolishing the group that comes together every four years to technically elect the president.

However, some have quickly come to the defense of the Electoral College and say switching over the a national popular vote may not be the best move.

Former White House Counsel for President Ronald Reagan, Peter J. Wallison, a lawyer and the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, spoke with WCBS 880 to further explain the issue.

“I think actually the best argument is that it creates legitimacy that no other system can create. Let's think about it in terms of say, Bill Clinton’s elections. He never did win a majority of the popular vote, he always had 48, 47 percent of the vote, but he won enough electoral votes so that there was never any question about whether he was the president and the legitimacy of the president is very, very important,” Wallison said.

The 2020 candidates are tapping into Democratic anger after Donald Trump became the second Republican in five presidential elections to win the presidency through the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. Many believe that the candidate who receives the most votes deserves to win the White House, but Wallison notes that things could become chaotic if that were the case.

“Think about what would happen if we didn't have the Electoral College, if we just had the candidate who receives the most popular vote becomes president,” he says. “What would happen in a case like that is that we wouldn't have a two party system, because any party could then elect a president with much less than even something close to a majority, with much less than 47, 48 percent of the vote.”

He notes that once it becomes possible to elect a president with less than something close to a majority of the popular vote, a large number of parties dealing with “splinter issues” would begin contesting.

Critics also say the Electoral College focuses attention on a handful of swing states at the expense of candidates campaigning throughout the country.

But defenders say the current system almost always lines up with the popular vote and is part of the way the country's founders wanted to check popular passions and encourages attention to small states that may otherwise get passed over.

Some Democrats agree.

Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur running for the party's presidential nomination, tweeted: "The problem with deciding Presidential elections via popular vote is that candidates would naturally campaign in urban areas with big media markets and their policies would follow suit. Better to have proportional Electoral College votes in each state so you campaign everywhere."

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, another longshot Democratic candidate, dismissed the idea as a waste of time.

“It requires a constitutional amendment," Delaney told CNN. "I'd much rather focus on things that can get done.”

Listen to the full interview with Peter J. Wallison above. 

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)