The Electoral College is under attack because it matters. Presidential elections determine who will direct federal agencies and appoint judges, but presidential campaigns also shape American politics. The Electoral College forces parties to build broad coalitions. It protects the power of states to run their own elections. And it contains disputes in individual states and reduces the risks from fraud.
Get rid of the Electoral College, and big cities will gain power at the expense of rural areas and small states. Political party coalitions will break down, encouraging fringe parties and spoiler candidates. In a more crowded field, a candidate could win with a small plurality. Differences among state election laws and an increased risk of fraud will compel a federal takeover of elections.
Of course, some politicians see these as features rather than bugs. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mocked rural America in a video against the Electoral College. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the Electoral College stands in the way of “national voting.” Hundreds of proposed constitutional amendments to get rid of the Electoral College have failed in Congress, but now a campaign to hijack the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote has gathered momentum.
All this would surprise the founders. Both the Federalist architects of the Constitution and their Anti-Federalist opponents found the Electoral College a reasonable way to select the president. In the ratification debates, the Anti-Federalists barely mentioned it at all. Alexander Hamilton, writing in The Federalist Papers, said of the Electoral College, “If it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”
What happened? And how much does it matter? Electoral College opponents simply want to elect the president the same way we choose other elected officials. One person, one vote, right? Every state governor is chosen by a statewide popular vote. So why not a national popular vote for president?