The Electoral College Explained

I have a friend who says politics are her favorite sport.  It’s election year; that’s like Super Bowl Season for politics.

Electoral College base

The Founding Fathers established the Electoral College in 1787 as a way to elect the President and Vice President.   It assigns states votes based on population.  A state gets one vote for every congressional representative.

Simply put,  565,166 people = 1 electoral vote.   States have a minimum of 3 electoral votes.  For example, Wyoming and Alaska have 3. Washington D.C.  also qualifies as a state and has 3.

48 states use a winner- take- all approach. A simple majority decides which party gets all the votes.  For example, if 49% of the people in California vote Republican, and 51% vote Democrat, all 55 of California’s electoral votes go Democrat.  Some states traditionally vote the same way every time, hence why “swing states” like Florida and Ohio make candidates cream their pants.

presidential candidates 2016 pants cream


electoral college proportions

As of now, the college is so disproportional that  if California, New York, and Texas OR Florida all vote the same way, they decide the winner.  These states have a a large  number of electoral votes. They also have the largest populations, so it seems fair, until you realize that there’s no way 38.8 million people all feel the same way about the same candidate.

So why keep the electoral college?  The two- party system loves it.  It makes elections manageable and predictable. That’s why the media talks in terms of winning “states” instead of organizations or groups.   Democrats know California will back them up.  Republicans know they can count on the Bible Belt.  And so candidates battle for the same 3-5 states every year.

The electoral college made more sense in the late 1700s, when the U.S. included 13 states all roughly the same size.

Here are three alternatives:

  1. Simple majority.  Tedious and logistically daunting, but a simple majority provides the most fair selection for presidential candidacy.  We all live in this country, we might as well all have a say in the President.
  2.   Break up the electoral votes.   Keep the population proportion idea, but cap district populations (and votes) at a certain number. Break the U.S. into districts with roughly even numbers of electoral votes.  Districts do not have to represent entire states.  For example, Oklahoma (population 3.8 million)  could have 7 electoral votes, and the City of Los Angeles (population also 3.8 million) could also have 7.   Voting districts and electoral votes change each census year.
  3. Use the Congressional District Method.  States split their electoral votes among congressional districts.  Subject to gerrymandering and all accompanying controversies. Maine and Nebraska  vote this way.  Maine adopted the CDM in 1976, Nebraska in 1996.  However, both states have 5 or fewer electoral votes and pretty homogenous voters, so all districts end up with the same vote anyway.
  4. We throw all the candidates into a simulated society for six months and whoever screws up society the least wins.

I love America.  I love democracy.  I love that we get to pick our president in some small way.   But I feel that as the poster child for democracy, America must end the electoral college.

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