George Will: Defending the Electoral College

Some Electoral College abolitionists argue that a candidate could get elected with just 27 percent of the popular vote — by winning the 11 largest states by just one vote in each, and not getting a single popular vote anywhere else. But it is equally pointless to worry that a candidate could carry Wyoming 220,000 to 0, could lose the other 49 states and the District of Columbia by an average of 4,400 votes, and be the popular vote winner while losing the electoral vote 535 to 3. Serious people take seriously probabilities, not mere possibilities. And abolitionists are not apt to produce what Madison was too sober to attempt, a system under which no unwanted outcome is even theoretically possible.

Critics of the Electoral College say it makes some people’s votes more powerful than others’. This is true. In 1996, 211,571 Wyoming voters cast presidential ballots, awarding three electoral votes, one for every 70,523 voters, whereas 10,019,484 California voters awarded 54 electoral votes, one for every 185,546 voters.

So what? Do critics want to abolish the Senate as well? Delaware, the least populous state in 1789, understandably was the first to ratify the Constitution with its equal representation of states in the Senate: Virginia, the most populous, had 11 times more voters. Today Wyoming’s senators’ votes can cancel those of California’s senators, who represent 69 times more people. If that offends you, so does America’s constitutional federalism.

The electoral vote system, like the Constitution it serves, was not devised by, and should not be revised by, simple-minded majoritarians.

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