For the fourth time in American history, the Electoral College has outweighed the popular vote. But what does that mean for our country?
President-elect Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, but took the advantage in the Electoral College, winning four swing states—Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—which totaled 75 electoral votes more than Clinton.
Now there is an outpour of Democrats who are second-guessing the Electoral College process as a whole after seeing Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 lose the presidency to George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote by a half a million more votes. Clinton’s popular vote margin exceeds two million in total.
Yes, the Electoral College is a touchy subject, and there are many who are against it and have brought up abolishing it completely.
The Electoral College has an interesting foundation, devised by our Founding Fathers to balance the influence of big and small states, but it certainly has its flaws.
The distribution of Electoral College votes per state is not equally dispersed. Per population, some states have more electoral votes per person than other states, which causes a disparity across the nation in terms of the significance of each citizen’s vote. Take Wyoming, for example; it has three electoral votes for around 600,000 citizens while the state of Texas has 32 electoral votes with a population pushing almost 27 million. Each individual vote in Wyoming counts for nearly four times as much in the Electoral College as each individual vote in Texas.
The relationship between swing states and safe states in terms of the citizen’s vote is another controversial factor of the Electoral College. Historically, safe states are those that consistently vote in favor of the candidate of a particular party. Republican safe states include Texas, Arizona and Georgia, while Democratic safe states include California, New York and Illinois. Swing states, on the other hand, are states that have historically kept equal support for candidates of both parties throughout elections—these include Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania—and are crucial in deciding the outcome of the election.
The reason this is controversial is because a Republican’s vote in California and a Democrat’s vote in Texas may feel insignificant. However, if you are voting in one of the few swing states, then your vote may seem more significant than if you are voting in a safe state.
Another major factor that I feel has led to some controversy in past elections is the role of faithless electors. Historically, electors are remarkably loyal to the party their state’s popular vote has chosen, but they are not always required to. Although, there are 29 states that have laws demanding electors stick with the public vote, including Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, crucial states in this past election. Electors who vote against the popular vote of their state are considered faithless electors.
Despite some states having legislation that penalizes faithless electors, there have yet to be any cases where one of them has been successfully prosecuted through the 240-year history of the U.S., and 157 faithless electors have been accounted for, according to Time Magazine.
There are also two small but important aspects of the Electoral College that could have an impact on the outcome of every election. First, with the Electoral College, there is the possibility of a 269-269 tie vote, which would lead to a scenario in which no one could be elected in time for Inauguration Day.
Then there is the third-party effect. Despite it being almost impossible for a third-party candidate to win the presidency, the Electoral College system makes it quite possible for a third-party candidate to capture a small state or two that could possibly alter the outcome of the entire election.
Do I think we should make some changes to the Electoral College process? Yes, certainly. But how high is the likelihood that any changes will happen?
Maybe we should talk to President-elect Trump about how. He tweeted, “the electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” So maybe he has the tools and the willingness to abolish it completely, since he is going to “make America great again,” right? I doubt it. Our population has been subject to the Electoral College since the Constitution’s implementation, so it will be hard to get rid of something that has been intact for so long. Especially when the citizens of our nation are so skeptical and afraid of change.
If somehow, as a country, we decided to alter the Electoral College, and if we actually succeeded, there is no telling what would happen in our nation, and there is no guarantee we would like the result.