Majority Rule: Is It Always Best?

Is “majority rule” the gold standard of decision-making? Is it always best for us to be governed by the 51%, or should there be some consideration given to the opinions and rights of the minority? That’s a question nobody is asking as political attention turns to the 2020 election and that elephant in the room: the dreaded Electoral College. 

I’ve mentioned before that an important consideration in the creation of our political system was protection for minority views, and we forget that at our peril. The framers of our Constitution knew the risks of being governed by the “Tyranny of the Majority” and the Electoral College is one way to protect the interests of the minority. But as calls grow for the elimination of the Electoral College, people seem to forget the importance of protecting minority rights.

Now, I’m not necessarily arguing in favor of keeping the Electoral College. There’s no question that it creates some real issues such as swing states (like Ohio and Florida) getting an unfair amount of attention while solidly red or blue states get ignored. But that’s a discussion for another time. What I am saying is that we need to use caution when discussing the pros and cons of eliminating it and not jump to the conclusion that majority rule is automatically the best or the only solution. 

I’m particularly sensitive to this issue because I’m very often out of step with majority vies and popular opinion. That’s true in everything from religion to food fads to what’s popular in music, movies and TV. I’ve lived my life as a minority in one way or another. And I fear for my rights when I hear those two little words. Unfortunately “majority rule!” has become the rallying cry as calls to eliminate the Electoral College increase.

I honestly never thought I’d see the day when an obscure thing like the Electoral College would capture the attention of so many people. I’d bet that prior to 2016 most people didn’t even know that Americans don’t directly elect their President. But now twice in less than twenty years we have been handed a President who did not win the majority of the votes cast. And lots of people want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

If the majority of Americans vote for Candidate X, then Candidate X should win the election, right? After all, that’s how elections work. Also, the virtues of Democracy are ingrained in us from an early age, and that’s the way we make most decisions in our general life: On the playground when you couldn’t agree on what to play, you put it to a vote. If your group of friends can’t decide where to go out to dinner on Friday night you put it to a vote. And you follow the will of the majority. But should it always work that way?

Let’s say a group of five friends is trying to decide what to eat for dinner. Some people want pizza and some want burgers, so they put it to a vote. Three people want pizza and two want burgers. It seems only fair that the group eats pizza. But what if the question comes up every week, and every week the result is the same: pizza. Should the two people that don’t like pizza always have to eat pizza? Is that fair? 

I don’t think so. And after a while, the non-pizza faction is going to get very upset. Now, since they’re friends, they’ll probably institute a rule that says something like “we can’t get pizza more than two weeks in a row.” But the world of politics often isn’t quite so congenial. Yet we don’t want revolution either. To keep the peace there needs to be some way to make sure that that minority opinion is protected.

food dinner lunch unhealthy
Friends can’t live on pizza alone. (Photo by Robin Stickel on Pexels.com)

The Electoral College was designed as a way to do that. Back when the Founding Fathers were hammering out the details of our new nation, one of the things they were faced with was how the President would be selected. The less-populated states (the burger states) rightly recognized that their opinions would always be outweighed by the opinions of the more populous sates (the pizza states), so the burger states refused to ratify the Constitution unless there was some way to protect their interests. The compromise was the idea of the Electoral College, and the result gave voters from the burger states proportionally more power than people from pizza states. 

There have been five times altogether in the history of our republic that the Electoral College count resulted in the candidate who actually got fewer total votes becoming President, and in the past twenty years it’s happened twice: George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald J. Trump in 2016. Since the less-populated areas in our country tend to be more conservative and the more populous areas tend to be more liberal, the result is that the Electoral College puts a thumb on the scale in favor of Republican states. That’s why in both recent cases, it was the Republican candidate who benefited.

electoralmap
This illustration clearly shows how geographically uneven the distribution of population is within America: the number of votes in the red areas and the blue areas are roughly equal, but the blue votes are very concentrated while red votes are much more spread out.

Because of that political reality, you will most often hear Democrats calling for the abolition of the Electoral College while Republicans more often say that it should remain. That’s something you should keep in mind as you listen to arguments pro and con. 

As I said, I’m not arguing that the Electoral College is the only way to go. I’m just asking that you stop and think for a minute. Remember the lessons from our history and the wisdom of our founders. And consider whether the mantra “Majority Rule!” is always right.

What are your thoughts?

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