The New York Times Building | Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons
The United States must rethink how it elects its presidents, the New York Times wrote in an editorial published Monday, and do away with the “antiquated mechanism” of the Electoral College, which on Monday officially handed Donald Trump the presidency despite his loss of the popular vote in last month’s election.
The Electoral College has long been criticized for placing a handful of so-called “swing states” at the center of presidential elections, rendering close to valueless the votes of Americans who reside in states where one party wins by a large margin. It also allows for a winner like Trump, who finished with close to three million fewer votes nationwide than Democrat Hillary Clinton, but won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – three states that were believed before the election to be leaning Clinton’s way – by just 80,000 votes.
It is the second time in 16 years that a popular vote loser has won via the Electoral College: Former President George W. Bush narrowly lost the popular vote to former Vice President Al Gore, but won the Electoral Vote thanks in large part to a razor-thin victory in Florida.
“Yes, Mr. Trump won under the rules, but the rules should change so that a presidential election reflects the will of Americans and promotes a more participatory democracy,” the Times wrote in its editorial.
“Conservative opponents of a direct vote say it would give an unfair edge to large, heavily Democratic cities and states. But why should the votes of Americans in California or New York count for less than those in Idaho or Texas?” it continued. “A direct popular vote would treat all Americans equally, no matter where they live — including, by the way, Republicans in San Francisco and Democrats in Corpus Christi, whose votes are currently worthless.”
Far from protecting the interests of Americans outside of the country’s more populous regions, the Times wrote that the Electoral College “is a living symbol of America’s original sin” that was created in part to give slavery-permitting states in the largely agrarian south a fairer say in presidential elections. Today, the Times wrote that the Electoral College unfairly favors those from smaller states, noting that a vote in Wyoming carries 3.6 times as much weight as one from California.
The Wall Street Journal, which typically writes with a more conservative editorial voice than that of the left-leaning Times, wrote that Clinton has only herself and her campaign to blame for losing the election, not the Electoral College. “No one ordered Mrs. Clinton not to campaign in Wisconsin, which she lost by something like 22,000 votes,” the Journal noted.
For the Journal, the Electoral College offers a modicum of protection, allowing electors to go against the results of a general election but suggesting that they do so only under “extraordinary circumstances,” such as the post-election discovery of something disqualifying about a president-elect. Many had called on electors to vote against Trump, but the president-elect ultimately got 304 of the 306 Electoral Votes he was owed.
Despite the Journal’s interest in keeping the Electoral College, the Times noted that eliminating it has at times been a bipartisan issue. Trump himself advocated for getting rid of it after Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Times noted, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has also expressed a desire to move to a more representative system.
“For most reasonable people, it’s hard to understand why the loser of the popular vote should wind up running the country,” the Times wrote.