“Abolish the Electoral College” – Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich
Last week, the U.S. Electoral College met to cast their votes from last month’s presidential election, pretty much sealing the deal that Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States in a month’s time. The final total: President-elect Biden 306 electoral votes, President Trump 232 electoral votes. It was the same margin by which the 2016 presidential election was decided.
While many that root for the 🔵 team are definitely basking in the result of the election and the misery of their 🔴 team counterparts, there are still calls for the Electoral College to be wiped out. A lot of this stems from the controversial elections of Presidents George W. Bush and Trump, who ascended to the Oval Office despite losing the popular vote. Many people feel as if former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton should have been the 43rd and 45th Presidents, respectively. I’ve always disagreed with those thoughts but I understand the frustration.
Why do we have an Electoral College? The concept of electing the President by a system of electors was the brainchild of the Founding Fathers. According to what I learned in Honors Government 12, it was a compromise. Some of those early leaders of the new nation—particularly those in New York and Massachusetts—wanted a system in which whoever gets the most votes wins. That system is called a direct democracy and it is the system in which we elect just about every other political position in the United States…from governors to members of Congress to municipal leaders and even organizational leaders. The issue with the direct democracy back in the latter portion of the 18th century was that the overwhelming majority of legal voters were in the North as enslaved Blacks weren’t allowed to vote or even considered to be people. Another option was election by Congress. This was popular amongst the Southern states who figured the U.S. Congress—every bit the elitist bunch then as they are now—would be a boon to them, especially after the ⅗ Compromise in 1787, where the huge slave population resulted in more representation. The Southern delegation figured they could simply outvote the North and install a favorable President. Of course, the North wasn’t too thrilled with that concept so that was a no-go. The compromise was the Electoral College, a system in which each state presented a specific number of electors based on population. The system is well-known for having the same number of electors that is equal to the number of Representatives and Senators in Congress. For the most part, I think the Electoral College works as intended. It doesn’t really give any particular party a significant advantage. Likewise, because each state has a minimum of 3 electoral votes and because you need 270 out of the 538 eligible votes to secure the Presidency, a potential Presidential candidate can’t exactly shrug off a state as a non-factor. In this context, the citizens of Wyoming have just about as much say in an election as the citizens in California. Every state matters.
What’s the problem? While every state matters within the Electoral College and the race for the Presidency, I can honestly contend that every vote doesn’t matter. For instance, I lived in Birmingham, a city that is deeply skewed toward the 🔵 team in terms of modern-day voting. The State of Alabama, however, is largely conservative and the majority of the state’s votes are for the 🔴 team. In this context, it can be assumed that the Democratic votes in the state don’t matter because they are far outweighed by the Republican votes, resulting in Alabama’s 9 electoral votes always going the way of 🔴. Just the same, an overwhelming majority of the counties in the State of Illinois are conservative but much of the state’s population is in Chicagoland and in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. As such, all 20 of the electoral votes for Illinois go by the way of 🔵 even though only 45% of the state’s voters vote Republican. Further complicating the matter is that a lot of the national population is concentrated in a handful of metropolitan areas. For instance, the combined population of the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston, Bay Area, and National Capital Region metropolitan statistical areas was 89.2 million according to the 2010 census. The U.S. population, according to that census, was 308.8 million. So, in effect, 29% of Americans live in those 12 metro areas and all of them are 🔵 team-leaning. That’s not good for America for someone in New York City to speak for someone in Billings, Montana when it comes to the President of the United States.
How do we fix it? I agree that the current electoral system is no good. The winner-take-all method in 49 of the 51 jurisdictions—Maine and Nebraska notwithstanding—is an incredibly flawed concept. All of a state’s electoral votes could conceivably be won on the strength of a single population area. For instance, think of New York and its 29 electoral votes. According to a 2018 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 19.5 million residents and 8.4 million of them lived in the New York City area…43% of the state’s population. According to this map of the electorate, the majority of counties in the State of New York vote 🔴 but the state is pretty safely 🔵 because of the Big Apple. Taking it even further, the Democratic nominee for President has at least 141 electoral votes in their pocket before the polls even open on Election Day—the result of California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington all being safely 🔵. On the other side, with the collective of Big Sky Country, the Great Plains, and the states of the Southeastern Conference being safely 🔴, the Republican nominee usually rolls into Election Day with 138 electoral votes already in hand. In essence, that leaves a handful of states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona as states that ultimately determine who will be President. It’s no secret that those are amongst the most heavily visited states on the campaign trail. I imagine this is not well-received by a great multitude. My fix would be to keep the Electoral College but with a tweak: instead of the popular vote in each state determining who wins the entire lot of electoral votes, the popular vote for each individual Congressional district should be cast according to whom the people vote for. For instance, I’m a registered voter of Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. It’s a heavily Democratic district but because the other 6 districts in Alabama are heavily Republican, which renders just about every vote out of the 7th worthless. Sure, President Trump would have still won the state overall but President-elect Biden would have received an electoral vote. This scenario would be very impactful in the battleground states in last month’s election like Wisconsin, Arizona, and definitely Georgia. Overall, it would increase the value of individual votes because it’s not a winner-take-all. This would make states like New York, Illinois, Florida, and Texas more important. It’s a big difference between having 29 electoral votes in the bank vs. splitting those votes 17-12.
At the end of the day, every vote counting is important. I won’t disagree with that. However, we all know that the majority of the electorate in the United States resides in the major population centers, and those usually trend Democrat. That’s not good for the country. I think the only way to resolve this is by taking an approach similar to that of Maine and Nebraska.