If you have been tuned in to current events these last few weeks, you might have heard about the electoral college. In all of the other democracies of the world, the individual who wins the most votes is the person who wins the election to become the head of state. Things are a bit different in the United States. We elect our heads of state using the electoral college. The electoral college is made up of delegates from each state, with the electoral votes representing the number of congressional representatives based on the state’s population, and two additional votes that represent the state’s senators. For example, Pennsylvania has 18 congressional districts, meaning that there are 18 house representatives.
If you add in the votes of the two senators, you can see where Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes come from. The less populated a state is, the less electoral college votes it has. For example, Alaska has only one congressional district in addition to its two senators, giving it a total of three electoral college votes. When Americans vote on election day, they’re not actually voting for president. Instead, they are voting for the candidate that their state will vote for. And since most states — with the exception of Nebraska and Maine — opt for the winner-take-all method, the presidential candidate with the most votes in one state is awarded all of that state’s electoral college votes.
Here’s the thing: most Americans do not like the system and have openly supported the idea of replacing it for decades. The fact of the matter is that the electoral college has its issues. It’s the reason why, every so often, someone is able to win the presidency without the popular vote. The electoral college is also the reason why there are such extreme discrepancies between voters of different states. For example, a single vote from Wyoming is more influential than a single vote from California. In fact, many consider a vote from Wyoming to be 3.5 times more influential than a vote from California. Hence the reason why a handful of Americans don’t vote. They simply don’t believe that their vote will make a difference. And depending on which party they’re voting for in specific states, they might be right, considering that the winner-take-all method cancels out the votes of the minority party.
Many Americans often voice their displeasure with the fact that U.S. elections are seemingly decided by swing states. And that is understandable considering the fact that the majority of campaigning efforts are directed towards swing states, as opposed to the deep red or deep blue states. Swing states have changed over time, as a result of changing demographics, but regardless of which state is considered a swing state, it is undeniable that those specific states have way more influence over the elections than the rest. In 2016, the swing states Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Iowa all flipped red, giving Donald Trump the presidency. In 2020, we saw battlegrounds change, with Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan all flipping blue and winning the presidency for Biden. In the end, someone’s vote in PA did more to determine the presidency than someone’s vote in California.
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution created the electoral college with the intention of shifting power away from some people and pushing it towards others. True equality was not really in consideration, since by design, the electoral college handed power from the people over to the electors. The Framers created the electoral college because they didn’t trust people to make electoral decisions on their own. They wanted the president to be chosen by who they considered to be enlightened statesmen.
Of course, there’s a more sinister reason for the electoral college. Like most things, the electoral college comes with a racist past. But keep in mind that, unlike companies or celebrities, the electoral college can be abolished! Back when America was a fledgling nation, the founders had to get all of the states to agree on the constitution, which is where they ran into problems. Anti-slavery northern states only wanted free people to count for a state’s population since enslaved people didn’t have freedom, let alone a voice in politics in the form of a vote.
The pro-slavery southern states were worried that they would constantly be outvoted by their northern neighbors. This was especially an issue for them since they knew that the north could push for the abolition of slavery once the Constitution was ratified. To combat that idea, the southern states demanded that the slave populations be counted towards the states’ populations. To compromise, they settled on the three-fifths clause, which counted an enslaved person as three-fifths of a person, and increased the political power of the slaveholding states. Even when the clause was finally abolished, and black Americans gained the right to vote, white southern leaders kept them from voting with poll taxes, literacy tests, and countless other schemes. This meant that white southerners continued to have over-representation in the electoral college, on behalf of a large population of black people, most of whom could not vote.
It’s no surprise that when Congress made a bipartisan attempt at replacing the electoral college in 1816, and again in 1969, it was white southern leaders that opposed the change the hardest. In 1969, a senator from Alabama argued that the electoral college was one of the south’s last safeguards and that it should be kept for that reason alone.
The electoral college has got to go. One would think that its racist and undemocratic origins would be enough to get rid of it, but that’s not really the case. If not to ensure equality amongst voters of all races and backgrounds, we should at least look at ensuring equality amongst voters of different states. Even the winner-take-all method of the electoral college is problematic in that it diminishes the votes of people in a state’s minority party, regardless of if it’s a vote for democrats, republicans or a third party member.
The discrepancies created by the electoral college aggravate Americans, especially Americans from non-swing states. After all, it doesn’t make much sense that candidates have to squabble over a few thousand votes in a few specific states when one candidate has won the majority of votes across the nation. If we want to make votes equal for everyone, we have to take a more democratic approach to our voting system and get rid of the electoral college.