When I was taught about the system of government as a young child in the American school system, my elementary class was immediately thrown buzzwords like “democracy” and “voting” to highlight that we as a people choose our “elected officials”. Unfortunately, the popular vote does not decide the presidency. The results from the 2016 election were a reminder to many that the votes we cast as citizens do not create the ultimatum, but rather the decision lies in the hands of the Electoral College.
The United States Electoral College was established during the creation of the Constitution, a few years subsequent to the founding of the country. After the reliance on a few laws that made up the Articles of Confederation, the country needed to set cogent laws to establish grounds, and thus the Constitution was created. In that Constitution, the Founding Fathers created laws to establish the Electoral College, a group of electors that act as intermediaries who essentially decide the presidency. Each state has an allotted number of electors based on the sum of its representatives and senators. The total electoral vote count is 538 and each candidate needs 270 votes to win.
The Electoral College is also predicated on America’s original sin, slavery. Back in the late eighteenth century, it allowed for the overrepresentation of slave states through the introduction of the three-fifths clause. Because slaves were not counted as “humans”, southern slave states with large slave populations and smaller free populations grew worried about the reliance of the popular vote alone. Then the three-fifths compromise emerged, counting slaves as three-fifths of a human. This clause increased population, and thus increased southern slave states’ representation in government. The Electoral College also remains partially problematic from this historical event.
Even more recent than the late eighteenth century and the Electoral College’s connection to slavery, people nationwide are calling for its abolition, but why?
Many believe the Electoral College is an antiquated system that has too much power. Through the system, several inadequacies emerge:
Candidates who win the popular vote can lose the presidency, and conversely candidates can lose the popular vote but still win the presidency. This has happened five times previously, in 1824 (John Quincy Adams), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison), 2000 (George W. Bush), and in 2016 (Donald Trump), with arguably the most controversial presidency to date. This removes the founding ideal of America’s function as a representative democracy because of the Electoral College. Additionally, the operation under the “winner takes all” system further creates an inaccurate representation of the preferred candidate in the eyes of the people.
It apportions too much power to smaller states. States with smaller populations have much more weight than larger and more populous states. Even though a state like Wyoming has a smaller population than larger states, their electoral votes weigh around 3 times more in comparison to bigger states like Texas and California.
Finally, a major oversight in the Electoral College system lies in the neglect of the nearly three million people that reside in U.S. territories.
Since 2016 and the election of Donald Trump, voters continue to recognize the major flaws within the Electoral College system; over 700 amendments have been proposed to alter the Electoral College. Though he lost the popular vote by three million votes to his Hillary Clinton, he still won the Presidency through the outdated system that is the Electoral College. As a result of his election, he proceeded to wreak havoc on the American government, and millions of individual votes went unaccounted for. The use of the Electoral College system reduces the power of a vote based on a state’s electoral votes, and is in no way representative of a democracy we are taught it is.