I have argued for decades that we need to get rid of the Electoral College. I am not alone in holding this perspective. But we need bipartisan support in Congress, a constitutional amendment, and a majority of the states to agree. Thanks to Donald Trump, what was once the relic of our system is now an active threat to the future of our democracy.
My stance to abolish the Electoral College has drawn some ire. Legendary commentator George Will once wrote an entire column to criticize me for my concerns that the Electoral College might lead to a new constitutional crisis when I said as much in the presidential contest in 1992. Will closed his piece by saying what I called a catastrophe can generate “moderate mandates for parties that seek a broad consensus.”
The Electoral College has failed to push parties to form broad coalitions. Trump proved in 2016 that you could secure the presidential election by hurling contempt at our cities and blue states, mocking urban ethnic and racial diversity, dividing the country, and losing the popular vote. Further, he has enacted in office not the modest policies of a man without a true national mandate but has fueled our partisan warfare.
Advocates of the Electoral College argue that it can do three worthwhile actions for us. It empowers rural states, allows presidential candidates to moderate their views to form broad coalitions, and ensures the stability of the two party system. I respect Will as an astute observer of politics. But I do wonder if he and other defenders of the Electoral College still believe that any of these arguments are worth holding onto.
The Electoral College does empower rural states. A voter in Wyoming has nearly four times more influence than a voter in California. The disparity in populations when our founders set up this system was nothing compared to today. Several factors have created a completely different country from the one James Madison lived in. I am a fan of rural Americans and remain devoted to the success of our farmers and heartland.
But every voter should be counted the same, regardless of where he or she lives. There is no need to worry about the excesses of majority rule. Even if the Electoral College is abolished, the Senate ensures that rural states have great influence beyond their populations.
I will concede that the Electoral College might ensure the stability of the two party system. But does anyone still believe it is a great idea for our politics? Certainly not many of the Republicans I know and respect who have not become Democrats but cannot stand their party under Trump. Will himself left the party for this actual reason in 2016.
There would be numerous benefits to abolishing the Electoral College. For starters, direct elections by voters can create incentives for broad public participation. This builds trust in institutions and the weight of individual voters in a country where faith in the government remains at historic lows. Candidates would need to travel everywhere instead of only to a handful of swing states that currently enjoy this attention. It removes a potential for disaster in presidential elections. When every ballot is counted in the same way, then the winner becomes easier to declare.
Having a majority determine the winner of our presidential elections can moderate both parties considerably. If Democrats think they have a shot at turning out voters in rural states, they will tailor their policy agenda to appeal to such voters. Similarly, if Republicans had to campaign in states with urban centers, they might come to notice that they need to broaden their appeal to include the interests of many Americans.
If we make it through this election, we must make changes to the system that led here. Start by abolishing the Electoral College.
Dan Glickman served as agriculture secretary under President Clinton and represented Kansas as a member of Congress. He is now a vice president at the Aspen Institute and a senior fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center.