The Problem With The U.S. Electoral College

by A. Altieri D’Angelo

The 2016 presidential election surprised the nation. Many people were upset that Donald Trump had won; the polls projected Trump would lose the election. He did lose the popular vote by 2.8 million votes but won a majority of the electoral vote. Electoral ballots had also voted in George Bush in 2000, even though he also failed to win a majority of the general votes.

Trump’s victory has led to renewed calls for the Electoral College to be abolished or substantially changed. Regrettably, nothing of the sort will occur before the 2020 election or possibly for decades. In the meantime, anyone who seeks to understand U.S. elections must also appreciate the Electoral College.

To begin with, we must realize that many Americans do not fully comprehend the rules of the Electoral College and its impact.  Many believe their votes will elect the President and Vice President. Their ballots have no direct effect on the presidential election. The people’s vote does, however, empower electors to choose the President. Electors are the only voters who can elect the President. Please note candidates for President and Vice President are a team. Voters cast one vote for both.

The signers of the U.S. Constitution (the Founding Fathers) decided on an indirect voting process. They did not want the general population of voters to elect the President of the United States. They were concerned that the majority of voters, who were uneducated at the time, could be influenced by what we now call fake news. They also were worried about foreign and domestic entities corrupting the election. Their ultimate goal was to have a process that would lead to the election of an extremely well-qualified person with high moral character to the Office of President.  Their solution was the establishment of electors and a specific voting process that became known as the Electoral College.

Today the Electoral College currently consists of 538 people (electors). Only 270 electoral votes are needed to elect the President. Electors are created by the Constitution but controlled by the states of the United States. Each state determines who will be an elector and how electors will vote.  The electors of the party, whose candidate wins the popular vote in their state, are expected to vote for their candidate when the Electoral College vote occurs. They do not, however, always follow instructions.  Such people are known as faithless electors.

The Electoral College was a grand compromise. But despite the best of intentions, the College was, and still is, a flawed vehicle for electing the President of the United States. The Founding Fathers made the Electoral College into a free agent. As a result, the College would go on to elect four Presidents who did not win the popular vote.

The initial and greatest flaw was the creation of the Electoral College in the first place. This decision took power from the people and shifted it to the Electoral College.  270 College votes are superior to those of the U.S. voting population – estimated to be @136millon in 2016.

The Electoral College makes matters worse by further diluting the voting power of Americans in two ways.  The first is the allocation of electors to each state. Under the rules, each state can have as many electors as they have members in Congress. Members of Congress consist of senators and members of the House of Representatives (referred to as congressmen). Each state is allowed two senators.  Every state will also have congressmen. The number of congress members will be based on the size of the population of the state. The greater the population in a state, the larger the number of members in the House. The inclusion of two electors (representing senators) inflates the electoral voting power of smaller states at the expense of the larger states.  Another defect is the adoption of the Winner Takes All system of awarding electoral votes; 48 states and the District of Columbia use this method. This system requires a state to grant 100% of its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state popular vote. The electors would cast their electoral ballots to the winner even though the winner may have only won by a small margin. A candidate can win a state popular vote by .1% and win 100% of the electoral votes.  Maine and Nebraska use the Congressional District method, which awards electoral votes based on who wins voting districts as well as the state popular vote. This system will split the electoral vote and is more reflective of the voter’s opinions.

The impact of the two systems was evident in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton lost the election by 61 electoral votes.  Trump won the popular vote for all six states by 107,000, which represented 35% of all votes cast in those states. Under the Winner Takes All system, 107,000 votes shifted a net 61 votes to Trump. If all states used the Congressional District method, the results of the 2016 election would have been different.

The Electoral College is an undemocratic vehicle for electing U.S. presidents. Unless it is changed, it will erode the faith and confidence of the American people. Unfortunately, nothing will happen to fix the problem before the Presidential election in November.

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