The Electoral College: An Outdated and Inequitable System
By: Susanna Conway
Photo by: MDGovpics
The Electoral College was created in 1787 as a part of Article II Section I of the United States constitution as a system of electing the President and Vice President every four years. When you cast your ballot on or before election day, you are not voting directly for a candidate, but are instead voting for a group of individuals, known as electors, to represent your state. On the first Wednesday after the second Monday of December following a Presidential election, electors from each state, determined by the state’s population, meet in a local courthouse to formally elect the President and Vice President of the United States. There are currently 538 electors representing the state’s across the nation, and votes from 270 of them for a single candidate are needed to determine the results of an election. While this system was supposedly created over 200 years ago to ensure the equitable representation of smaller states in the electoral process, its suppressing origins, and advantageous downsides ensure anything but equality.
During the Constitutional Cconvention of 1787, when the issue of the Electoral College was first brought up, there was a large debate regarding the apportionment of electors. When numbers were first proposed, southern states raised opposition to the fact that their slaves were not being counted as members of the population. Even though slaves were ineligible to vote, their counting them would give their states large advantages in the electoral process, something that founders wanted to avoid. To combat this, the northern states proposed the ⅗ compromise, in which each slave would count as ⅗ of a person in the nation’s census, even though they were brought to this country against their will and had absolutely no civil rights. Although both slaves and women were prohibited from voting, they were still used to the advantage of the white men eligible to cast their ballots. In other words, even when those groups became eligible to vote, their electoral legality had no influence on the apportionment of electors and was seen as providing almost no political gain to their state politics.
In almost all states, excluding Maine and Nebraska, voters are met with a winner takes all system, in which the candidate with the majority of votes in a state gains all of its electoral votes. With the 270 vote goal in mind, this means that a candidate could win the Presidential election while only obtaining votes from 11 out of the 51 states and territories counting, completely disregarding the votes of a large majority of states. And vise versa, a candidate could win the election just by gaining electoral votes from a large number of small states, even if they do not win the majority of votes in the country. This situation has occurred in approximately 10% of Presidential elections, with the first instance in 1824 and the most recent in 2016. Our country claims to be a democracy, yet the possibility of a candidate winning even with a majority of votes against them is anything but democratic. Under this system, a voter in Wyoming, a state with a population of 500,000 has nearly 4 times the say in their electoral process than a voter in California, a state with nearly 39 million. Additionally, the winner takes all system of the Electoral College discourages voters in states where their political party is not the majority from voting, eliminating the point of elections in the first place. According to recent surveys, only around 35% of the country’s population approve of the Electoral College, suggesting that a majority of Americans are tired of this outdated system.
Another major issue with the Electoral College is the right of an elector to vote against the choice of their constituents, regardless of the pledge that they take to honor their state’s choice regardless of bias. Although this is a rare occurrence, as it is seen as highly dishonorable, it is still possible, and, if executed by enough people, could in theory overturn the results of an election. In fact, this has happened on multiple occasions regarding the election of the Vice President, one example being in 1796 when some electors cast their ballots for John Adams but not his running mate. As a result, Thomas Jefferson, Adams’s opponent, automatically became the Vice President, completely disregarding the will of the people.
In recent years, the Electoral College has proved largely advantageous to the Republican party, even though only 26% of the country identify themselves as Republicans. This is due to the large say that smaller states have in the electoral process, and as many rural areas are dominated by Republicans, this tends to lean in the Republican party’s favor. Following the election of 1988, only one Republican candidate has won the popular vote in a Presidential election, yet our country has seen three terms of Republican candidates. Democrats have won the majority of votes in 7 out of 8 of the Presidential elections over the past 30 years, yet the party remains a majority illusion.
In conclusion, the Electoral College may have appeared to be a beneficial system when it was first established almost 250 years ago. Today, however, the positives of it are largely contradicted by the negatives. Yes, the system gives a larger say to smaller states in the general election, but why should it need to? States with a population of 400,000 should have nowhere near the same amount of power as states with populations of nearly 40 million. In fact, the election of a President should not even be a state-based decision. The choice of who should lead and represent the United States of America should be made by the American population as a whole, and not be used to divide and judge people based on the color of their state.