Is it time to abolish the Electoral College?

By Amara Young

In the 2016 presidential election, nearly 2.9 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, yet Trump still became president. Why? Because of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which established the Electoral College.

The Electoral College impedes democracy as it allows for a candidate who the majority of Americans do not vote for to become the president of the United States.

In this year’s presidential election, it’s likely that Joe Biden will win the popular vote as he has a lead in the vast majority of national polls above the margin of error. However, the Electoral College has historically tended to favor Republican candidates (as we saw not only in2016, but also 2000), and many of Biden’s leads in key swing states are well within the margin of error and have been shrinking. Therefore, we could very well see a repeat of the 2016 presidential election, when the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote, but loses the election.

How does the Electoral College work?

  • The Electoral College is a winner-take-all system; the candidate with the most votes in a state claims all of that state’s electoral votes.
  • A candidate has to win at least 270 out of a possible 538 electoral votes to win the presidency.
  • The number of electoral votes a state is awarded is determined by its number of congressional representatives, which is based on population, plus the number of U.S. Senators; every state has two senators.

How does the Electoral College impede democracy?

  • The Electoral College allows those living in states with smaller populations to have more voting power than those living in states with large populations.
  • The winner-take-all system of the Electoral College causes candidates to mainly focus on voters in swing states and virtually ignore the majority of states that typically vote for a certain party each election.
  • The Electoral College causes many Americans to feel as if their vote doesn’t matter, causing low voter turnout rates.

One could argue that the Electoral College is a positive as it forces candidates to focus on small states, and that without the Electoral College, candidates would virtually ignore states with small populations. The Electoral College forcing candidates to address and focus on the concerns of small states is not problematic; what is problematic is the fact that your vote counts more if you live in a small state than if you live in a state with a big population. A presidential vote in Wyoming is worth 3.6 times more than a vote in California because each state is awarded two electoral votes regardless of population, disproportionally favoring small states, according to an article by William Petrocelli, an author and a former deputy attorney general for the State of California.

The Electoral College is undemocratic as it gives some states more voting power than others, which goes against the fundamental democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” The Electoral College is an undemocratic institution and should be abolished in order to create a truly democratic process for selecting the president of the United States. 

Amara Young is a student in an honors “Campaigns, Candidates and Current Elections” course at St. Bonaventure University.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, Politics

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