By Toby Menon
When the United States was founded, the electoral college was included in the Constitution as a compromise between Congress and voters. Now, frankly, it serves to give rural and (typically) conservative voters a larger say in the presidential election than their urban counterparts, undermining the idea that every citizen’s vote is equal.
According to the National Archives, the founders added the electoral college into the Constitution “as a compromise between the election of the President by a vote in Congress and the election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.” This was a time in which the United States was one of the first countries to formally elect its chief executive, so no true precedents had been set elsewhere for them to draw upon. The Three-Fifths method of designating slaves as each worth ⅗ of a count when determining the voting power based on population of a state was still in place, and the right to vote was severely limited; at the time of the country’s founding, only white, landowning men could vote, and the first expansion, in 1856, only extended the privilege to all white men. Furthermore, according to political science professor George Edwards III, the electoral college was nobody’s first choice; it was a compromise between factions of delegates, one of the opinions that Congress should choose, and the other arguing that the people should. The electoral college thus was created as a compromise, in a time where giving each American an equal voice was clearly not an honestly held value. The electoral college works as a middle-man process between voters and the election. Each state is given as many electors as they have representatives in the house, plus two for their senators. For all but two states, the winner of the popular vote in each state gets all of that state’s electors. If a candidate wins 270 of the 538 total electors, they win the election and be come president of the United States in the following January. This leads to a situation where the winner of the popular vote (the candidate receiving the most total votes) can lose the election. A candidate becoming President despite losing the popular vote has happened five times in American history, most recently with President Bush in 2000 and President Trump in 2016. California, the most populous state, has 55 electors, whereas Wyoming, for example, has 3. (These figures are determined by the census, conducted every ten years.)
From S. E. Forman Essentials in Civil Government
If California, an overwhelmingly urban state, has so many more electors than rural Wyoming, then how can the electoral college favor rural voters? California had a population of 37 million people in 2010 when the last census was counted, and Wyoming had 540,000. This means that in California, each elector represents around 675,000 people and 430,000 eligible voters, whereas an elector in Wyoming rep resents 180,000 people and around 85,000 eligible voters. Comparatively speaking, this means that each Wyoming voter’s choice has about four times the weight of a Californian’s choice. This means that, throughout the nation, voters living in states with lower populations have a more influential vote. This vote inflation in rural communities is due to the addition of senators into the number of electors. The number of representatives each state has is a direct reflection of its population, but each state gets two senators. Alongside its 53 representatives, the two senators in California increase its voting power by about four percent. In states with one representative, like Wyoming and Alaska, the voting power is tripled. Several states have begun trying to act on their own to combat the unfair effects of the electoral college. In Maine, for example, the four electors are split, rather than the common winner-takes-all system. This solves the problem that many Republican voters in California face; no matter who their candidate is, according to recent patterns, their vote likely will not change that all 55 of California’s electors will go to the Democratic nominee. However, Maine’s (and Nebraska’s) solution does not change that smaller states have a disproportionate say.
Another, more direct solution, is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The NPVIC is a coalition of states—currently 15 plus the District of Columbia—that, once they make up the majority of electors, will ensure the candidate who wins the popular vote will be elected. Currently, the NPVIC holds 196 electors, but pending legislation in several more states that would bring the total up to 327, more than the 270 needed to ensure a popular vote. It is worth noting that of the states who have so far joined the coalition, most are typically blue states, such as New York, California, Washington, and Illinois, whereas red states like Texas and Tennessee with high populations have not. This reflects the power the electoral college gives to the conservative base, an advantage they are unwilling to part with. As long as the system remains intact, each citizen of the nation will not have an equal voice, and we will find further situations where the result of the election is not the will of the people, but the will of states and voters unwilling to give up their disproportionate influence. If the United States wants to claim that it has a fair democracy, the electoral college needs to go.