It’s time to say goodbye to the Electoral College

Annie Maley, BIPP Intern

The Electoral College is one of the most crucial components of the American political system; yet, it is shockingly one of the least democratic. To give a short description of a fairly complicated process, the Electoral College elects U.S. presidents through a system of electors. Each state has a different number of electors, which is determined by the number of congressional districts they have. When someone goes to cast their vote on election day, they are actually voting for an elector predetermined by political parties. If a candidate wins a majority of electors in a state, typically this results in a “winner take all” scenario, where all of the potential electoral votes are allocated to a single candidate. This confusing process was created by the writers of the U.S. Constitution with the intent to prevent extremist leaders, increase legitimacy in the voting process and prevent a few densely populated areas from controlling the entire election. However, given that the popular vote and the Electoral College have presented conflicting results in two out of the past five elections, it is important to reevaluate the validity of our current system.

In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 2 million popular votes. In 2000, Al Gore received over 500,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush. Within a 16-year period, the Electoral College chose two presidents against the viewpoint of the American people. Clearly, the question that we must ask is: Why did this happen?

One primary issue with the way we elect presidents is the “winner take all” rule. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the candidate with the most votes in a state receives all of its electors, regardless of the popular vote. Take, for example, Pennsylvania in the 2016 election. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by less than 1 percent of the popular vote but was credited with all 20 electoral votes. In close elections, 48 percent of voters in a state may not have their opinion counted at all. For Pennsylvania, this meant that nearly 3 million voters did not have their voices heard in 2016.

Not only does the Electoral College diminish the power of the individual American’s voice in Government, but there is also no clear rationale for this restriction of democracy. Presidential elections are the only elections in the United States that follow this system. Other executive races – such as gubernatorial and mayoral elections – rely on the popular vote. In these state and local races, there isn’t a mass upheaval of government or protests in the streets because a popular vote is used – so why can’t the same system be implemented on a national level?

Some supporters of the Electoral College claim that it is a necessity for American democracy, as it prevents geographic favoritism. Through the College, elections don’t come down to large metropolitan areas, but rather are broken down by electors each representing individual districts. However, this complex dispersal of electors does not actually help to spur the candidates to campaign in a wider variety of states. After the primaries, most presidential candidates ignore states that won’t be contested. According to the New York Times, following the 2016 conventions, there were 17 states in which neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton made appearances. The Electoral College can be won with only 11 states. A president can win the popular vote with only 10. Some may argue that if the popular vote can be won with the same number of states, wouldn’t a new popular system simply exacerbate an existing geographic issue? The key difference here is that the popular vote incentivizes candidates to care about states that may be deeply tied to one party. For example, if 70 percent of New York votes for a Democrat, the remaining 30 percent is still a significant population of voters that would be ignored by the Electoral College, but could be vital in a popular vote election.

Fundamentally, the Electoral College is flawed. It undemocratically discounts the power of individual votes and fails to guarantee geographic diversity in elections. The system has failed to represent the American people twice in the last five elections. Would you trust a GPS that took you to the wrong destination 40 percent of the time? Or, would you buy a car that only started 2 out of every 5 times? We need to start holding our most important election to the same standards we hold our everyday lives.

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