Electoral College Knowledge
December 21, 2016
Filed under Opinion
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The U.S. is not a democracy.
Every four years, over 100 million people vote for the President of the United States of America; but a flawed system called the Electoral College undermines their votes. The Electoral College was set in place in 1787 in the hopes of making voting in the 18th Century easier. Back then, a popular vote, where each person’s vote would count the same and the candidate with the most votes would win, was too hectic and hard to manage. When traveling by horseback was the fastest means of transportation, counting everyone’s vote was bound to be disorganized. So the Founding Fathers came up with a system that takes the people’s votes and gives them to electors. These electors are a group of people appointed by the political parties to choose the president on the citizens’ behalf.
To break it down, there are 538 votes for president that are up for grabs. In the most basic situation, there are two presidential candidates, a Republican and a Democrat. The 538 votes are distributed among the states, not among the people. Each state is delegated a minimum of three votes, and the rest of their votes are determined by population.
Massachusetts has 11 electoral college votes. If over 50 percent of the population of Massachusetts votes for the Democratic nominee, as it frequently has, then those 11 electors would cast a Democratic vote for president, and the Democratic nominee would win Massachusetts.
However, there are many problems with this system. For instance, the smaller states in America receive bonus votes, because they don’t actually have the respective population to cast three votes. For example, Rhode Island should have two votes according to its population, but it has four. Those two extra votes come from Ohio, who receives 18 votes rather than the 20 it’s population accounts for. And the unequal vote distribution becomes worse and worse, as states like California have ten votes taken away and Texas six votes, all delegated to smaller states.
Do the math, and one Wyomingite vote is equal to four Californians, while one Vermonter vote equals three Texan votes.
The Electoral College does this so that smaller states are not overlooked when it comes to campaigning. Well, that completely backfired. In the last week leading up to the presidential election, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made a combined 35 trips to Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, while making zero trips to 38 out of the 50 states, according to the National Journal. If the goal of the Electoral College was to create a more even and fair campaigning process, it’s failed tremendously.
And why are the candidates only campaigning in a handful of states? Because it’s a lost cause to campaign in a state that they are projected to win or lose by a considerable margin. If Clinton spent all her time in predominantly Republican Texas, she’d be wasting that time on 38 votes that were most-likely already going to Trump. It’s the same reason that you shouldn’t get your hopes up for a Democrat or Republican holding a rally here in Massachusetts. The winner-takes-all system is why the already-decided Democratic state, Massachusetts, rarely sees campaigning action outside the primaries.
To make things even more complicated, the Electoral College does not account for the 4.4 million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands, (which, by the way, is greater than the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska and Delaware combined).
In fact, any U.S. citizen from the 50 states can be anywhere in the world except for those four territories and mail in their vote, and it’ll count just as much as the other votes from his/her state. That equals approximately 6.3 million votes mailed from abroad each election. Why we can vote from Australia and not from the U.S. Virgin Islands is beyond me.
To add onto the problems the Electoral College poses, anyone can be elected with 22 percent of the popular vote. If a candidate wins just over half of the 39 least popular states, while 78 percent of America voted against that person as president, he/she will still sit in the Oval Office for the next four years.
Four times in U.S. history the least-popular candidate won, most recently this November. It is premature to judge Donald Trump’s presidency before it has even started. And who knows, maybe he’ll go down as the greatest president in history. But the truth is, regardless of what the future may hold and what your political beliefs are, thanks to the Electoral College, a proven racist, xenophobic, misogynistic man with no political, public, or military service is now the leader of the free world.
And if the opposite happened, where Hillary Clinton won the electoral vote but not the popular, Trump voters would be exasperated. Whether or not your candidate won last month, you have to respect that more people wanted Clinton as president, just as they wanted Al Gore, Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland, yet the unpopular candidate became president in each election. Not so much the people’s choice, is it?
If this isn’t infuriating enough, just wait. Remember that 538 number? That there are 11 votes for Massachusetts? Well, neither of those are actually true. Those numbers represent electors, not votes. What’s the difference? Electors are people, not markings on paper. That means that these people, regardless of who the citizens of the state voted for, may actually vote for whomever they like.
When it comes down to it, those 538 people-nearly unknown to the general public-decide who becomes president. And while they usually remain loyal to the people they represent, they’ve deviated from the voters’ decision 157 times in the past, courtesy of Fair Vote, a non-profit organization devoted to changing the election process in favor of a popular vote.
When votes were cast this November, they were for Clinton or Trump, and the winner of the specific state’s popular vote should reflect who that state’s electors vote for in December. Those electors pledge their allegiance to one of the two candidates; but when the group meets, they can change their mind and vote against their state. This is why Donald Trump may not even become president, and 4.5 million people are attempting to make that happen through an online petition. They are claiming that since Clinton won the popular vote, she should be the president, no matter what the Electoral College says.
So, any president-elect can be changed simply because a these electors say it so.
What can we do about this? Well, with modern-day technology, a popular vote is possible, and no longer as susceptible to chaos and rigging.
The main argument against the popular vote is that it favors big cities instead of swing states, and candidates would only campaign in big cities. If they did that, they’d be foiling their chances at a presidency, because not including metropolitan areas, the 90 biggest cities account for less than 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bottom line is that if we want the United States of America to be a democracy like we say it is, we have to have an actual democratic voting system.