As I watched the election results roll in, I slowly saw states turn red, then blue and eventually back to red. I watched Trump claim electoral votes, eventually racking up 279 votes compared to Hillary’s 228. However, I also watched the tally of popular votes. I saw the numbers rise from a couple hundred thousand to a couple million, eventually giving Trump 59,704,886 popular votes and Clinton 59,938,290 popular votes. Yup- that’s right, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 200,000 votes. I’m not saying that’s a huge amount, especially of a total over a hundred million but it does mean that more individual people cast votes for Hillary Clinton than for our forty-fifth president. How’s this possible? – The Electoral College.
So WTF exactly is this Electoral College I speak of? I’m going to try to break it down for you in this piece. Basically, this is the Electoral College, by a dummy, for dummies.
Back in the day, our Founding Fathers spent weeks in un-air-conditioned rooms trying to figure out how to run their new country. Basically, they were trying to find a balance between giving the national government the power protect and govern their people, while keeping a certain amount of power for the states, so things didn’t get our of control. The federal system was the safeguard they came up with, so that in their eyes, The United States couldn’t end up like all the things they resented about England.
Backing up for a second, under the system of federalism we’ve created to houses in the legislative branch, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Each state has two representatives in the Senate while its population determines the number of Representatives a state receives. This is one of the uses of the census, conducted every ten years. For example, California currently has 53 representatives in the House while Alaska and Vermont both only have one representative.
So back to the Electoral College, each state has at least two votes, to represent their seats in Congress, plus votes for the number of seats which that that holds in the House. For example California has 55 electoral votes, while Alaska and Vermont have 3 each. There are a total of 538 electoral votes in the U.S.. Got it?
Many criticisms of the Electoral College system exist. Some of the criticisms are as followed:
- A candidate can lose the nationwide popular vote but win the electoral vote (#Trump)
- A candidate can lose 39 states yet win the presidency by willing the popular vote of 11 states. This means that in theory, a candidate could receive 0 votes in 38 states, yet become president. However, they would have to win our largest states. (California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.)
- The electoral system distorts the idea of one vote per person because electoral votes are not distributed equally to population. For example, your vote in California is largely more powerful than your vote would be in the state of Vermont.
- If you live in a small state, you could live your entire life knowing your vote only counts for 0.0055 (3/538) of the electoral outcome.
- There is a possibility of a 269-269 tie. (This happened in 1800 with Jefferson.)
- In case of a tie, the House of Representatives is tasked with choosing a candidate. The catch is that instead of voting based on number of delegates, the vote is conducted with one vote per state- WTF?
- It is nearly impossible for a third party to make a difference on a national scale. Third parties often show prominence in a handful of states, turning their odds from 1/50 to 3/538-55/538.
- Votes only count at a state level. A state could be almost completely divided Republican and Democrat, yet only one is seen on a national level.
- There are better systems being utilized around the world. (This will probably be a article in itself.)
On the other hand, many support the Electoral College or at least support its retention. Reasons in its favor include:
- The Electoral College creates more of a clear winner than would a popular vote. Take Trump vs. Hillary for example, the difference in popular vote was 0.01.
- In most cases, a candidate wins beyond a majority.
- The Electoral College forces candidates to not only to create appeal in cities, but in small towns and rural areas that are necessary to win the electoral vote.
- Similarly, candidates must appeal to minorities to win on a national scale. In order to win the electoral votes of the entire states, candidates are forced to campaign directly to its people.
- Encourages a two-party system. (Pro or con? You decide.)
- Maintains federalism, as previously explained.