Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Debating the necessity and relevancy of the Electoral College in electing our presidents

Since the dawn of the Constitution, Americans have debated the necessity and relevancy of the Electoral College in electing our presidents —m which offers your columnists the opportunity for a good argument.

Should the Electoral College be preserved, or is it an anachronism that should be replaced by a popular vote?

Pignanelli: “I'm sorry I ever invented the Electoral College.” — Al Gore

LaVarr appropriately defends the Electoral College, as both are outdated relics. Our bizarre presidential selection process was rushed through the 1787 Constitutional Convention to appease various interests … and is overdue for elimination.

Alexander Hamilton opined in The Federalist Papers 68 that the Electoral College was designed to ensure that a president is chosen "by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice."

Nice try.

The existing “winner takes all” process (absent Hamilton’s “judicious” deliberations) is warping presidential elections. Candidates and media divide the country into red and blue states, and those categorized as “swing” acquire all the attention. These battleground states account for 95 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election. Further, the outcome within each of these states are decided by a small number of counties — local campaign war zones that, in a very tight race, have the potential to determine the next president. The Founders would be aghast.

The notion that the elector procedure protects small states’ rights is a nice fantasy. Presidential candidates expend resources in only three to four small states. Further, aspirants never bother to develop an alliance of small states for support. Eliminating the College will promote concepts and ideas that transcend swing state boundaries. A successful national candidate will construct a broad coalition to include many categories of Americans, not just the party base with a sliver of independents. As Senator Bob Doleobserved, “Direct election of the president is common sense federalism.”

Webb: Frank adopts the trendy, but flawed, populism of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Rile up the masses and turn them into a mob. Forget about thoughtful, representative government.

Without the Electoral College, presidential candidates would focus all of their time, money and attention in the big cities and the crowded coastal population centers — where the votes are. A campaign advertising dollar spent in New York City reaches a lot more people than in Utah. The small states and the flyover country would be ignored. Candidate platforms would pander to big-city liberal agendas.

One of the last remaining bastions of balanced federalism is the Electoral College. It forces candidates to respect states, to campaign state-by-state, to pay attention to individual states and their concerns and issues, to listen to state leaders and seek their support.

If candidates needed to simply win 50 percent (plus one vote) of the popular vote, their national campaign map wouldn’t be divided by state lines, but by national demographic segments. The chief campaign goal would be, “How can I win the big demographic groups and population centers for a majority of votes,” not, “How can I win enough states to assemble 270 electoral votes” — a very big difference.

Would Utah benefit or be harmed by elimination of the Electoral College?

Pignanelli: I have heard for decades — without a shred of evidence — that small states like Utah benefit from the current system. According to Electoral College Primer, Utah is one of the six states with the least voting power in national elections. Because of our unique characteristics, Utahns would receive extra attention from presidential contenders unobstructed by the College.

Webb: Utah is receiving attention this year from Hillary Clinton precisely because she wants Utah’s electoral votes (she’s even discussing religious freedom). Same reason Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona get attention. Without the Electoral College, Utah and the Mountain West would be snubbed.

Is there a possibility the Electoral College could be eliminated or drastically modified?

Pignanelli: Because of the dynamics of this election, there are rumblings that some College delegates may ignore the results of their state’s elections and select a person other than one of the two most despised politicians in the country. Such actions may drive needed reforms.

Webb: Writing in The Huffington Post, two liberal columnists attacked the Electoral College because (among other reasons) it forces candidates to talk about family farms “when there are less than 1 million professional farmers in this country” instead of talking more about public transportation “taken by tens of millions of Americans every week.”

Thankfully, many state leaders understand the importance of candidates talking about family farms in rural America, and not just about big-city issues. They also understand that the relentless encroachment of the federal government has relegated America’s states, once proud and sovereign, to bit players in the federal system. They will protect the Electoral College because eliminating it would be the final nail in the coffin of balanced federalism, a once-revered constitutional provision, now nearly lost.