Unpopular Electoral College, Not a Historical Relic, Has Merit
by John Albright on Friday, November 18th, 2016
Since its constitutional implementation in 1787, the electoral college has in theory given more fair representation to voters. This system consists of 538 electors, and the number of electors for each state aligns with the members in its congressional delegation. The electoral college itself has the task of electing the President and Vice President of the United States of America. Candidates must secure 270 electoral votes in order to win. If a candidate wins a state’s popular vote, the electors will then cast votes for that candidate in a December convention. As a New York Times article from November synthesizes, “We’re electing the electors who elect the president.”
In the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the deficiencies of the electoral college system featured prominently and allowed Bush to win the presidency. In the popular vote, Gore beat Bush by a margin of half a million votes; however, after securing Florida’s 29 electoral votes by a margin of 537 votes, Bush gained the necessary 270 electoral vote ceiling to won the presidency. Similar to the heated election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the electoral college system failed to properly reflect the nation’s popular will.
The system was designed as a Constitutional compromise to give southern plantation owners equal political power as the more populous — in terms of white males who owned property and could therefore vote — northerners. In modern day, it tends to over-represent rural states and counties. The US Selection Atlas discussed a flawed electoral process in the 1988 presidential election, one in which the populations of the seven least populous states carried the same voting ascendancy (21 electoral votes) as the nine million voters in Florida. These seven states had a cumulative population of three million people; thus, the vote of a Floridian carried about one third of the weight of a potential vote in these seven states.
Furthermore, the electoral college system misshapes the campaign trail. In last-gasp efforts before the election, Trump and Hillary spent November 7th campaigning around Florida to secure this vitally important “swing” state. We’ve seen this adjustment of focus throughout the election; a candidate’s attention has been redirected to states with high electoral value and the potential to vote either blue or red. The electoral college system makes candidates neglect many states for the sake of few, and perpetuates the idea that most of the nation’s votes don’t matter.
The electoral college also doesn’t ensure that there is a definitive winner. Recently, independent candidate Evan McMullin, who based his campaign in Utah, increased the chances of a tie. However unlikely, if McMullin had won Utah and Trump and Hillary had tied at 269 electoral votes, the election could have been decided in the House of Representatives. Several other scenarios, including Trump’s winning fewer than 270 electoral votes and Hillary’s inability to win outright, could force the election onto the House, according to an August National Review article. When the election becomes contested in the House, each state’s delegation is allowed one vote. 32 states have Republican majorities, 15 states have Democratic majorities, and 3 states are tied. Thus, an electoral tie paves an easier path toward the Republican candidate’s election. This awkward congressional vote stems directly from the electoral college system.
In order to have a fair election, the electoral college system is meant to ensure that a president-elect has both adequate popular support and an adequate distribution of popular support throughout the country. Yet, the electoral college process strays from the core democratic value of having the president-elect reflect the national popular will. The system also redirects the attention of the candidates from states with low electoral value. Why is it, then, that we continue to uphold a system that infringes upon our principal democratic rights?
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