There has been a longstanding debate over the fairness of the electoral college system in the U.S. Since Hillary lost the election while winning the popular vote in 2016, that debate has only intensified.
Some Votes Matter More Than Others
In the U.S, the president isn’t elected by a popular vote. They are elected by people called electors who cast their votes in accordance with their state’s wishes. For most states, the winner of the popular vote in that state receives all of that state’s electoral votes. There are 538 total electoral votes and a candidate must receive 270 votes – a majority – to become the president-elect.
This system doesn’t seem terribly unfair until you look at how electoral votes are distributed. They are allocated to states by adding the number of senators and house representatives that state has. This greatly inflates the power of states with low populations since each state has two senators no matter the popuation.
New York has around 19.5 million people and 29 electoral votes. Wyoming has slightly fewer than 580 thousand people (which is less than 7% of the population of just New York City) and 3 electoral votes. Doing some quick math, we can figure out that a person living in Wyoming controls 3.5 times the electoral votes that a person in New York does.
Putting it another way, New York makes up about 12% of the U.S. population and controls only 5% of the electoral votes. Wyoming makes up 0.17% of the U.S. population, but controls 0.56% of the electoral votes.
And this repeats itself all over the country; individuals in states with small populations have significantly more power than individuals in large states in deciding who the president is. Now that doesn’t sound fair, does it?
Most States Essentially Have No Power
The Electoral College makes it so the race for the presidency only comes down to a few swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. While some people argue that the Electoral College gives smaller states more power, it really doesn’t.
Yes, the Electoral College gives Wyoming more votes than it should have, but that doesn’t always equate to power. Wyoming is a Republican stronghold, a red state, so why would any Republican candidate seriously campaign there? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. The same goes for New York with Democratic presidential candidates.
A handful of swing states always decide the presidential election, so those are the states that are given attention. Candidates mostly ignore the others. The Electoral College was built to give smaller states and the people within them a voice. In reality, it only amplifies the voices of swing states.
How Would We Abolish The Electoral College?
I personally think the Electoral College is undemocratic and unfair, but I will let you make your own decision. Whether or not you support abolishing the Electoral College, the question still remains, is it plausible?
The Electoral College system was written into the constitution in article II, section I, and it is no easy feat to change the constitution. We last amended it in 1992 – almost thirty years ago.
A constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the vote in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Then, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
The Electoral College system greatly favors the Republican Party at the moment due to dense population centers leaning democrat, so no Republican wants it gone. That makes it practically impossible to gain the votes needed to pass the amendment.
So, is all hope lost? Should we all move to Wyoming? Not quite. There is another way the Electoral College – though not technically abolished – could be stripped of its power.
The National Popular Vote Compact is an agreement between states to award their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. The pact only takes effect when enough states have joined to reach the 270 electoral votes majority threshold. Currently, fifteen states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have joined the pact, and it has reached a total of 196 electoral votes, only needing 74 more.
If put into effect, the pact would effectively abolish the Electoral College without going through the near-impossible process of amending the constitution.
Restoring The People’s Power
I am a firm believer in a citizen’s duty to vote in their country’s elections. I encourage others to vote, telling them that every vote makes a difference. Because it does. Yet, I know that, in some ways, my vote has little meaning in the general presidential election. Not because I have only one vote, not because I think that one vote couldn’t make a difference, but because I live in New Jersey.
New Jersey, never looked at in presidential election coverage, always go blue. So my blue vote doesn’t mean much on the national scope of the election.
The path to reaching the 270 electoral vote threshold is a long and hard one, but, unlike amending our constitution, it may just be in our future. For those living in New York, California, Wyoming, or Alaska, you might get to see the day that a presidential candidate steps foot in your state to campaign. You might even get to see the day that your vote starts to means something.
Personally, I hope that one day, I can cast my New Jersey ballot in the presidential election and know that, even if it is only one number in a sea of millions, my vote is still there, swaying the future of my country.
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