United States map made up of countless people

Imagine these past few weeks, this past year, the past four years, with a national popular vote.

Not for partisan advantage. For clarity. For more accurate representation. For actually defusing political tension by avoiding swing state battles where vote counts are sliced down to the county. For making every vote count.

Arguments against ditching the electoral college are either outmoded (“candidates won’t take their steam trains to Wisconsin no more!”) or self-serving. In the short term, a popular vote would likely benefit Democrats at the national level…but that reflects current reality. More people are voting for Democrats. Neat how that works.

But the Republican Party, rather than evolve their party to match an increasingly left-center (for now) population while keeping their core values intact, continue to back the electoral college. They’re building a dam — or a wall, if ya like — against a changing national electorate. And it works, if only in the short term. Trump was elected in 2016 and almost again in 2020 by ignoring the traditional idea of reaching out to the middle, instead igniting a shrinking base to the right and managing as he always does to create a new center of gravity in his favor.

And the only thing that allows him or anyone else of ANY party to do that is…the electoral college. This process was designed in part to balance population centers with rural areas but, in today’s cultural and political environment, is being used as a bulwark against the broader national sentiment. It levers at the cracks of tribalism and further fragments an already shattered national character. CNN and FOX ain’t helping either.

With a national popular vote, these extremes are less viable as a strategy. You couldn’t just count on the small but monolithic belief systems of specific geographies to counter a more widespread and varied national will. You’d have to, I don’t know, do something nuts like appeal to the most of all of us.

A national popular vote certainly wouldn’t be as dramatic as the nail-biting, doom-scrolling, reality-show marathon of the past week. But I’m done with politics as high-drama entertainment. A competition, yep. Even a horse race, sure. But neither our democracy nor our daily lives are better for what we’re slogging through right now.

The Electoral College couldn’t have predicted Donald Trump’s brand of top-down trolling, the fracturing of collective truth to the point where no amount of counterprogramming can rebuild consensus. And it certainly didn’t create his movement. But the two have collided in such spectacular and destructive fashion. Even beyond allowing Trump to perform much better at the chunked-up state level than expected, the Electoral College process has allowed him to continue to battle against its results long after the election, trying desperately to stymie the system at each interminable step.

Again, a popular vote would dissolve this loophole of litigations. It’s a direct system, one person, one vote. And while there would certainly continue to be certification boards and verification processes, I can’t imagine it would be as fractured and open to malicious interference as what we’ve witnessed in the past few weeks. The intentional bureaucracy of the current process leaves it vulnerable to multiple points of influence, opportunities I don’t think anyone considered possible that the president of the nation and his party would try so brazenly to exploit.

Yet they have. Luckily the troll army doesn’t reach quite as far as I’d personally feared, and we’ve seen several upstanding folks from both parties shutting down these fascist attempts. But it was close—like one person close—to Trump finding a toe-hold in his attempt to overturn the election. Too close.