By HENRY CUTLER ’17
One of the most contentious points in this past presidential election is that a candidate, who is now our president elect, won the Electoral College 306-232 but is losing the popular contest by over 2.5 million votes.
There are some myths and misinformation surrounding the Electoral College. In order to win the presidency, a candidate does not have to win the popular vote or a majority of states, but must with at least 270 electoral votes. But what are electoral votes? It is a group of appointed electors who cast votes in December (one month after the “people’s” election) on behalf of their states. Each state is designated a certain number of electoral votes based on representation. Each state is awarded electoral vote for each House member, and 1 electoral vote for each senator, (giving each state at minimum 3 electoral votes, as each state has 2 senators and at least 1 House member). A state’s population determines its number of representatives and this fluctuates with changing populations; the larger the state, the more representatives and thus the more electoral votes. These electors vote for president based on their state’s popular vote results. For example, Florida has twenty-nine electoral votes. It does not matter if a candidate wins Florida by one vote or by ten million votes; the winner of Florida is awarded all twenty-nine electoral votes in both cases.
This system creates a scenario where it is possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College and the presidency. This is the fourth time in history that a candidate has won the presidency without support from a majority of voters. The Electoral College was designed by the founding fathers as a buffer to protect against a tyranny of the majority, as they did not trust the masses with the power to elect a president on their own. Not only is it undemocratic, but it does not do what the founders intended it to do. In fact, many states have laws forbidding electors to vote in opposition to the way that their state voted, and it is incredibly rare that will do this anyway, as they are chosen by the party. And, even if electors decided to vote against the will of the people of their state (it has happened in small numbers on various occasions), it would be incredibly rare that enough of them would change the outcome of an election. So the very purpose of the Electoral College as made clear by the founders is obsolete.
Many supporters of the Electoral College defend it by noting that it gives small states a voice, and without it, large cities alone would be deciding our elections. However, recent trends point to urbanization, indicating that people are moving to places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other metropolises. Not only do these urban centers typically vote as a cohort for one party (the Democrats in recent years), but they will give states like New York, Illinois, California, and other states with high populations in large cities an even larger voice, thereby making the Electoral College irrelevant. For example, if 99 percent of the population moved to New York, the state would receive a significant number of electoral votes. It also would not matter if New York voted 51-49 percent, or 100-0 percent for one candidate; the outcome would be the same in our winner take all approach. If this happened, the Electoral College would not be protecting the small states, or any states for that matter. New York would decode the entire election. And while the scenario seems highly unlikely, a candidate needs to win only the 11 largest states to win an election. It just so happens that those states do not align politically – for now.
So, if the Electoral College does not represent the people, (the loser of the popular vote can win an election), does not represent the states (a candidate can win carrying only 11 states) and does not protect from the tyranny of the majority as the founders envisioned, what is its purpose? Who or what does it truly represent?
There are some voices calling for the popular vote to decide our president. Although this is something that can be discussed for future elections, it would be detrimental to our democratic values to see that be instated this election. Because each state delegates its electoral votes in a winner-take-all system (with the exception of Maine and Nebraska), both candidates campaigned strategically. California was certainly likely to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate so neither candidate campaigned there. The same can be said for Texas on the other side. We do not know how voting patterns would change if Americans voted knowing the popular vote would decide an election.
Personally, I would like to see an Electoral College on a representative scale, similar to some states’ primaries. Take California’s 55 electoral votes for example: if a candidate wins 60 percent of California’s popular vote, he or she will be awarded 60 percent of the Electoral votes. Although this too has its flaws, both the people and the states would be represented.
And even though it will be nearly impossible to change, one thing is clear: the Electoral College must go.