Down with the Electoral College

Eli Cousin

For the second time this century, the Electoral College has handed the White House to the runner-up of the popular vote. Exit polls showed that Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote by upwards of 1.5 percentage points, totaling roughly 2 million votes. This should be extremely alarming to Americans as citizens of a principally democratic society. Yet, for the most part, there has been, and continues to be, very little condemnation of the Electoral College. America is a nation that prides itself on political equality. Voting is a citizen’s right, not a privilege; it is widely accepted that every individual vote should count equally. The Electoral College blatantly violates this fundamental tenet of political equality.

Why is it that Americans are content with a system that seemingly goes against our core constitutional values?

In his publication, “The Faulty Premises of the Electoral College,” George C. Edwards III explains that advocates of the Electoral College base their support for the institution largely on inaccuracies. Many proponents will argue that the Electoral College protects minority voters. Edwards writes that this notion is a complete fallacy: African Americans, a significant minority group in America, are largely concentrated in the South – a region of the US which is reliably Republican under the Electoral College. While a significant percent of black voters vote Democrat, their votes are quite literally wiped away by a majority white, Republican population within their respective region. This further explains why presidential candidates are able to ignore – or, in the case of Donald Trump, disrespect – black voters and still win the Electoral College.

Another common argument put forward is that the Electoral College promotes state interests and ensures that small states are represented. Edwards argues that both of these points are invalid. Rather than protecting small states, the Electoral College gives them outsized influence. Wyoming, the least populous state in the union, has three electors for a total population of roughly 600,000 people, equating to one elector per every 200,000 people. California, the most populous state in the union, has 55 electors for a population of nearly 40,000,000 people, equating to one elector per every 727,273 people. It is clear through this empirical analysis that not all votes are equal – far from it. This issue is further exacerbated by the presence of swing-states in the Electoral College. A handful of states, such as Florida and Ohio, are given a disproportionate weight of influence on the election. This has created a system where voters who are not in one of these few states have essentially no impact on the election and are thus disenfranchised. In this sense, the Electoral College serves to diminish state issues by allowing candidates to ignore the majority of the country while still ultimately becoming victorious.

Many Electoral College advocates suggest that it was the framers intent, just like many other constitutional provisions, to restrict tyranny of the majority. However, Edwards points out that the Electoral College is largely inconsistent with the constitution. He says, “the Electoral College is different. It allows a minority to take an action – that is, to select the president. As such, it is the only device of its kind in the constitution.” 

The Electoral College does not prevent tyranny of the majority – rather, it provides an opportunity for the loser to triumph over the victor. Not only is this woefully undemocratic, but it is inconsistent with the constitution.

It has become increasingly clear that America must abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct election by popular vote. This is the only system that will truly serve to protect small states and minority voters. By shifting to this style of election, it will irrefutably ensure that every individual vote is exactly equal. This will force candidates to look towards all edges of our nation, recognizing that minority voters as well as those in small states are just as important as any other voter. Perhaps the greatest effect of switching to a direct election is that it will drastically increase voter turnout. United States voter turnout currently lags behind almost every other developed country in the world. Instituting an election by popular vote will incentivize people from every state to go to the polls.

There is already a strong and growing movement in support of a direct popular election. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement signed by ten states and the District of Columbia that pledges that each state will reward its electors to the winner of the popular vote. While the compact will not go into effect until the threshold of 270 electors is reached, it is certainly a possibility in the near future. There are currently already 165 electors in the compact. If we are a nation that truly believes in the necessity of political equality, it is imperative that we support this compact.

It is simply a fallacy that the Electoral College is a necessary component of our constitutional republic. It does not protect state interests, nor does it protect minority voters. What it does do is disenfranchise millions of Americans while allowing a handful of states to decide our country’s future. For the second time in 17 years, our supposedly representative system has produced a president that the majority of voters did not elect. America — where is the outrage?