Thoughts on the Electoral College

Drew Kaplan ‘20, Guest Writer

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On November 8, Donald Trump won the presidential election. Though he won the electoral vote, he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. He was able to do this because the electoral college does not accurately represent the populace of the United States. It pretends more people live where they don’t, and less people live where they do. Because of this, it is not surprising that this is not the first time the electoral and popular votes have disagreed.

First in 1824, then 1828, then 1888, and again in 2000, the electoral college has awarded the loser of the popular vote the presidency, and it is about to do so again. It is, in fact, possible to win the presidency with only 22% of the popular vote. Large states are penalized for their size, and additional votes they should receive are instead used to represent small states. Each state gets three electoral votes before the rest are distributed. This means that small states, such as Wyoming and Montana, should only receive one electoral vote. They instead receive three each. It is also possible to win the presidency by winning only the eleven biggest states. This isn’t democracy. The electoral college as an institution is a holdover from the days when it took days, sometimes weeks, to travel from city to city, mainly on horseback.

With the ability to communicate that we have today, we aren’t in need of this incredibly indirect system of voting. There is nothing wrong with simply using the populus to determine the presidency. I’m not arguing over whether Trump is better or worse than Clinton, but it is terribly undemocratic that even though Clinton won a majority of votes from the American people, due to an odd quirk of the rules, our next president will be Donald Trump. But, that isn’t the end of the story. Donald Trump is the President-Elect. His position is not yet confirmed. On December 19, the electors, those people who actually do the voting for president, will gather, and cast their five hundred and thirty-eight votes. Usually, they will vote based on who won the popular vote in their state. However, they are not required to do this.

Some electors are not required to vote according to their state, and for those that are, the penalty for not doing so is nearly always a small fine. The idea behind the college simple, that the American people might elect someone who was the wrong choice for the country, and then the electoral college could swoop in, and save America from itself. Not once has the electoral actually done that. However, we have left this system in place. Five times the college has disagreed with the popular vote, and for the two most recent times, there have been mass protests regarding the result. In 2000, protests erupted when Bush was awarded the presidency over Al Gore, and the same occurs this year.

The issue here is how much we trust our democracy. Are we able to realize how little each vote actually counts for in our current system? Our indirect system of election allows for minority rule, and causes candidates to focus intently on only a few, battleground states. Clinton didn’t need to campaign in California, and Trump didn’t need to campaign in Texas, because they were already assured those votes. However, in states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, candidates spend vast sums of money, because they know their victory could depend on a single state. George Bush beat John Kerry in 2004 by winning Ohio. The electoral college is able to greatly skew our democracy into something that almost resembles an oligarchy.

The general election can almost be treated as an opinion poll, while it falls to a group of unknown, unelected electors to decide the presidency. This isn’t democracy, this is indefensible. The electoral college has truly outlived its purpose in this country, and it is time for it to fall by the wayside, and be replaced by the popular vote. It is time for the electoral college to go.

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