I remember first learning about the Electoral College not through a U.S. history class, but by stumbling upon a five-minute video on YouTube ten years ago, made by a guy who eerily reminded me of Crash Course. The video, which received over three million views, summarized the limitations of democracy and voter representation better than possibly any year of my middle school history class. Less than a decade has passed since then and yet the points mentioned are more relevant than ever — the Electoral College is flawed. (Below is a video by Vox summarizing the Electoral College and its effect on the 2020 election)
This statement is not that bold, though. Almost 61% of Americans support abolishing the Electoral College. In the midst of her campaign, Elizabeth Warren tweeted a video stating: “Call me old-fashioned, but I think the person who gets the most votes should win”. Even (pre-president) Donald Trump himself admitted to the woes of the system (how much of this he still believes to be true is unclear). While the intentions of the Electoral College itself are logical—allow for less-populated areas to have a say, incorporate a very structured system that easily allows votes to be counted—there have already been two presidents within this century who have been sworn into office without winning the popular vote. In other words, the representation of votes in the Electoral College does not necessarily align with the votes of the American people.
This imbalance has increasingly been an issue as more Americans are living in urban areas and coastal states. For example, under a regular voting system, one person’s vote in Wyoming would be equal to one person’s vote in California. Under the Electoral College system, each state is given a set number of “congressional representative” delegates meant to represent it in proportion to its population. In California, this would be 53 while in Wyoming it would be 1. However, two more delegates are added because every state has two senators. Now, California has 55 electoral votes and Wyoming has 3. These numbers themselves do not reveal a lot but, in this scenario, one electoral vote in Wyoming represents 189,000 people while one electoral vote in California represents 679,000—more than triple that of Wyoming. In the end, a voter in Wyoming is worth roughly 3 ½ times as much as a voter in California. In essence, it is a rule of the minority, even if the minority themselves are white.
This is not a lone case, though; discrepancies like this happen all the time during election season. Rural areas have a higher voter representation despite having lower populations. It was also partially the reason why Donald Trump managed to receive an overwhelming majority of the Electoral College (304/538) despite losing the popular vote by almost three million in 2016. In fact, had we used the popular vote, every president since 2000 would have been from the Democratic party.
More important than ever before is the topic of swing states. These so-called “battleground states” (in this election: Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, etc.) have been extremely polarizing in terms of voter party representation. Texas, while not initially thought of as a swing state and had last voted blue in 1976, received an exceptional early voter turnout this year with 108% of total ballots cast there in the last presidential election being early votes alone. And many of these early votes ended up being Democrat. Being the state with the second-highest delegate number (38), onlookers were anxious to see if this turnout was enough to flip the once red state to blue.
Although Biden fell a little over 600,000 votes short to fill the Texas margin, all 38 electoral votes went to Trump. Thus, regardless of the massive increase in voter turnout and surge in Democrat populations, at the end of the day, a candidate just needs enough to have a margin of victory to be able to win the electoral votes. In turn, the voters who did vote for the losing party, even if it ended up being millions of them, had no say in the final result of their state. Regardless of the political party, even in individual states comes the issuing of ruling by the majority under the terms of the Electoral College.
This election has been unlike any other. While the 2000 presidential election was halted for a recount of Florida, this election has been affected by the ongoing pandemic, forcing many voters to use mail-in ballots. The backlog of counting early votes in GOP-controlled states (like Pennsylvania) until election day has greatly contributed to the delay in presidential calls. Despite Biden finally winning the necessary 270 electoral votes, the strenuous process led people to believe that his 5 million lead over Trump was not enough to finish the race. Trump’s lawsuits on the recount of individual states would not nearly be as likely without the influence of the Electoral College. This emphasis on individual states has affected our democracy and the ability to choose a leader for the people by the people.
The Electoral College has reached its expiration date and it is time to choose our nation’s leader based on Americans themselves.