How often has that tired refrain chastised me with its irrelevance? We may yet hear it again very soon, if for example Bush wins the Electoral vote but with less than 50% of the popular vote. This will be portrayed as some sort of illegitimacy, at best a stupid flaw in the "antiquated" and "outdated" electoral college system.
People misunderstand the purpose of the electoral college system because they aren't properly informed about the nature of the federal government. It amazes me how people tend to assume these things just fall out of the sky. It's reminiscent of the Pacific Island "cargo cults."
So what if Gore won the popular vote? He lost the State vote! Bush won 30 States to Gore's measly 20 + D.C.
You see, there's actually 2 completely different votes being taken at election day -- one by the People and one by the States -- that are then combined by a simple formula. If someone wins both, they will always win overall -- but sometimes there's a split (like in 2000) and then it's up to the formula.
Betcha didn't think of it this way, because it's never explained like that.
So why do we do this? Why 2 parallel votes? That's because the Federal government didn't spring into being fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus as our Overlord; rather, prior to its founding, there were TWO power groups who decided it was time to institute a new government among men, that derived its powers from the consent of the governed.
And in this case, both the pre-existing States, that were like small countries unto themselves, as well as the People in general, were going to create a Constitution, giving up some of their sovereignty to the Federal government -- and providing it with only certain enumerated, limited powers.
Thus, in making Laws, both of these groups wanted to be represented in the new Congress. And so we created TWO houses: the House of Representatives, to represent you, the People, in a rather direct and finely-grained fashion, with a short 2-year term and a small district; and the Senate, designed to represent the interests of each sovereign State as a whole, on an equally-weighted basis (having 2 for every state regardless of size) with majestic 6-year terms. And originally, Senators were actually chosen by the State governments themselves, to be their direct reps at the Federal level!
It was only the 17th Amendment in 1913 that provided for direct popular election of Senators! And I'm not so sure that was a good idea, as it weakened the purpose of the Senate and made Senators more like uber-Representatives. This also weakened in peoples' minds the differentiation between State and Federal government; States aren't just little sub-entities to make adminstration easier for the Feds -- at least they weren't meant to be! That's unlike counties within State, for example, that are indeed little subordinates to the State.
Leftists and Progressives of course LOVE reducing State power, because it increases Federal power, and it's even worse than that zer-sum game because one of the "checks and balances" on power also gets reduced and marginalized. Then they can use that strong Fed to fascistically enact their Utopian policies -- for your own Good, of course.
Perhaps not coincidentally, 1913 was also the same year the 16th Amendment was passed, giving the Feds the ability to levy an income tax, which suddenly gave it huge power.
Now, as a side note, Alan Keyes recently has suggested it might be a good idea to rethink the 17th Amendment and make Senators selected by the States again, as originally intended. That may be worth studying.
But then again, Alan Keyes has also recently come out for Slavery Reparations, which brands him a loony in my book...
But I digress.
So, when electing the President, the same principle applies: who is to do the choosing? The People, or the States? And again, the genius compromise was to allow BOTH to have an influence, by providing a number of "points" for winning the vote in a State to be equal to the number of Representatives (which alone as a system would approximate the net result of a pure popular vote, just in a more "digitized" form) plus the 2 Senators (which alone as a system would replicate election purely by State votes)!
The standard explanation for the electoral college is thus not quite correct; normally it's said this extra layer of electors is created to avoid the popular mob from electing a demagogue, with the implication that the electors might, in their wisdom, choose for President whomever they wanted, in spite of any voting results. But that doesn't fly, because actually most States have "faithless elector" laws, that COMPEL the electors to vote according to that State's voting results. The elector position is essentially a formality -- it is the "point" system that's the key factor.
And that baseline of a minimum of 3 "points" per State, no matter how small, really DOES work to make the varied interests of those States relatively more important to the candidates than they otherwise would be, which is vital to helping to damp down centrifigul political forces in a continent-spanning country such as ours, that otherwise would have the political power centers much more geographically concentrated on the few megalopolises -- much to the detriment of the civic feeling of the less populous and more diverse regions.
This "federal" (and that's what it means, the States made a "federation") system is much better at representing geographically diverse regions that parliamentary systems which are more based on "popular" vote power. Witness Canada, in which the western provinces such as Alberta are totally shut out of power, and the government is essentially run for and by the Toronto/Montreal region due to its population. There are even grumbles of secession, though not yet at serious levels -- but it points out a festering problem. And that's because the "provinces" are more like subdivisions for the convenience of the National government, than like our more-sovereign States.
And that's why it drives me insane when I hear people like Hillary Clinton, shortly after the 2000 election, suggest it might be time to abolish the electoral college, because it thwarted the popular vote in an apparent anomaly -- which is totally ironic to come from a SENATOR, because by the same reasoning, Senator Clinton, the SENATE should also then be abolished because we only need the popular representation of the House, don't we? And you'd be out of a job, wouldn't you?
Well how about it, SENATOR?!?
What a fool and a tool -- a Senator who has absolutely NO CLUE what the purpose of the office is even supposed to be!!!