The argument for abolishing the Electoral College has been around for a while, but rose to its peak in 2000 when George H.W. Bush was elected President despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore. While the Electoral College system is not perfect, it should not be abolished. Before discussing the benefits of the Electoral College system, let us first look at the commonly cited disadvantages.
In my opinion, there are two legitimate criticisms that can be made about the current system. The first is that every person's vote does not carry the same weight. This is true due to the fact that every state is entitled to at least three electoral votes, regardless of whether or not the state's population justifies it. The second criticism is that the system is outdated and no longer serves its original purpose. While both of these are true, they are not enough to offset the benefits that the Electoral College brings.
While the disadvantages noted above make sense, one flawed argument that is often made against the Electoral College is that it is not fair. The Electoral College is fair, simply due to the fact that the rules are known upfront. Candidates know that the only thing that counts is how many electors they end up with. They campaign based on it, and they make all their decisions with full knowledge of the rules. Just like a football team wins a game because they end up with the most points (regardless of how many yards, first downs, or other statistics they achieve), the competitors for President know that the winner will be decided by the number of electoral votes. But fairness alone is not sufficient to argue for either side. A system based on the popular vote would also be fair. But understanding the Electoral College system to be a fair system is necessary before looking at the advantages. Given that the current system is fair, the benefits can be considered.
First the Electoral College system acts as a stabilizing force. What this means is that candidates competing for electors are pulled more to the middle on issues, which helps to avoid radical, destabilizing change. In a purely popular vote system, candidates would focus on heavy population centers where the most votes could be had. Or they would focus on areas where they are extremely popular and could get the most people out to vote. Both of these strategies would lead to a focus on a narrow portion of the population with similar views rather than being forced to appeal to diverse population groups.
The Electoral College system, however, forces candidates to compete in states where the population is closely divided politically. The system rewards the candidate that can win independents and moderate voters. This reduces the likelihood that a candidate holding extreme views will succeed. Avoiding extremism in government is something our founders considered vitally important to the stability of our country. Much like the checks and balances between the three branches of government help to prevent extremism, so to does the Electoral College system.
Another benefit is that the Electoral College system ensures that non-voters are fairly represented. This may sound stupid at first (if you don't vote, that is your fault, right?). But consider that Election Day is only one day. A lot can happen on that day: an earthquake in California, an ice storm in Minnesota. Even a rare November hurricane remains within the realm of possibilities. Imagine how useful the electoral system will prove if a massive earthquake were to hit California on Election Day. Even if only 10% of voters make it to the polls, California's influence will still be proportional to its population. In a popular vote system, this would be a disaster. Californians would clearly be underrepresented, but they could not be allowed to vote again later after they had seen what the rest of the country had done. The point here is that the biggest benefit to the Electoral College is its ability to handle rare events that we may not have even considered before.
While it may seem that a simple popular vote would be preferable, the grass is not always greener. There are numerous other advantages to the Electoral College system, from providing a contingency plan in case of a candidate's death to preserving the federal nature of our country as a group of united, but still individual and distinct states. But the bottom line is that our Electoral College system works well in normal circumstances, and it has the potential to be great when greatness is needed. It has served our country well for over 200 years, and remains every bit as beneficial today as it was when it was created. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke; don't fix it.