Hey there reader, I hope you’re doing great. By now, everyone should know the outcomes of the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump won the Electoral College with 290 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 232. But Clinton won the popular vote with 2.1 million more votes than her rival. Trump didn’t even win a majority of votes.
Clinton won 64 percent of the most economically powerful counties in the country, where jobs are most abundant. She triumphed in absentee ballots from counties on the coasts which tend to lean democratic. Her lead in the popular vote is likely to increase given the high concentration of voters in these counties.
But Trump, an outsider who had never won an election before this year, who never served in public office or the military will be the 45th President of the world’s oldest democracy: he won the electoral college. Think about it, the most powerful country in terms of military spending and GDP, the 2nd largest democratic-republic with the 3rd largest population in the world just elected a business man turned reality television entertainer to the Executive’s Office.
Reader, the Electoral College is a problem, not because the Donald Trump won the election but because American democracy is supposed to be the model for the rest of the world to emulate. If we can’t make our democracy function properly, rationally, how can we legitimately exert American influence overseas?
Too often, the Electoral College has disappointed voters with its results, its a failure of public policy. Like many peculiar American laws, it was designed with slavery in mind to over-represent slave States;
“Many white southerners supported the Electoral College because it counted their non-voting slaves as three-fifths of a person, and thus gave the South more influence than it would have enjoyed in a national vote.”
Slavery of course was abolished with the 13th Amendment in December, 1865. But this begs the question, where do states come from? States come from “We the People” as found in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. And if states come from We the People, then shouldn’t vote-counts be based on popular opinion, not state electoral college votes?
Reader, the electoral college must be abolished to ensure the Executive Branch continues to function as it has in the past for the next 4 years. And the sooner we do it, the better.
In 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, a Democrat defeated a Republican in the popular vote. But a Democrat only won the White House in 4 of the 7 elections because of the Electoral College. There have been 4 times in U.S. history in which the winner of the Electoral College lost the popular vote before 2016. Trump’s victory marked the 5th time, the 2nd time in the last 16 years.
It first happened in the election of 1824 when the populist Andrew Jackson won 38,000 more popular votes than his opponent, John Quincy Adams. Jackson also won 99 electoral votes to Adams’s 84 but Jackson didn’t capture the 131 majority votes necessary to win the Electoral College. The decision went to the House of Representatives which voted for Adams.
Benjamin Harrison won the Electoral College with 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168 in the election of 1888 but lost the popular vote by more than 90,000.
George W. Bush won the Electoral College with 271 to Al Gore’s 266 in the election of 2000 but lost the popular vote by 540,000.
Unpopular Presidents Analysis
Jackson won the electoral college and popular vote in 1828. He was infamous for signing the Indian Removal Act in 1830 which forcibly moved 4,000 Cherokees to the west, many of whom died en route in the Trail of Tears.
Hayes’s Presidency was marked by corruption and for the Compromise of 1877 which removed federal troops from the South and effectively ended Reconstruction. Republicans began to mend damaged business relationships with white Democrats in the South. But for this election, the Jim Crowe era might have never come about: without federal oversight, southern Democrats took control of local and State affairs and segregation laws proliferated throughout the former Confederacy.
George W. Bush’s Presidency was stained by the 9/11 Attacks, Operation Iraqi Freedom, his effort to privatize social security, his slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the Financial Crisis and Recession of 2007.
Electoral College And State Analysis
A basic rule of democracy is one person, one vote. Another rule of our particular form of democracy is We the People vote, not the States; States are made up of people influenced by institutions, States aren’t created equally, they vary in terms of size, location, population, etc. Also, a person doesn’t get to choose which State their mother gives birth to them.
There are several quirks in the Electoral College. For example, it awards each State as many electors as it has Representatives in the House and Senators in the Senate, 2. For example, California gets 55 electors: 53 electors for each of its 53 Representatives and 2 for its Senators.
The population is represented equally in the House of Representatives: the decennial Census determines how many Representatives should be distributed to each State. States are represented equally in the Senate but again, the States aren’t created equal. In fact, the Senate itself is undemocratic, it’s the most malapportioned government body in the world.
The District of Columbia is awarded 3 electors even though the District has no Senators: the District isn’t a State. And there isn’t universal agreement on how States should reward their electoral votes: Maine and Nebraska reward their votes via apportionment, not winner take all majorities.
Since each State’s number of electors is based, in part, on its number of Representatives and its Senators, the Electoral College is undemocratic. The Electoral College over-represents small population States more than it should.
“Whereas in 1990 it was possible to assemble an Electoral College majority out of states representing 46.15 percent of the total population, today it’s possible to do so out of states representing 45.82. By 2030, the magic number will drop to 44.75.”
In the Presidential Election of 1792, residents of the least populous State, Delaware had a vote that weighed 1.6 times more than that of residents of the most populous State, Virginia. This ratio has gotten much worse with urbanization over time, 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas while just 20 percent live in rural areas today.
California has 38.8 million residents, 1 out of every 8.24 Americans lives there. Wyoming has 584,153 residents, 1 out of 548 Americans lives there. California has 55 Electoral College votes, Wyoming has 3. This means each Electoral College vote in Wyoming represents 194,797 people while each Electoral College vote in California represents 705,454 people. Electoral College votes are 3.62 times more potent in Wyoming than in California, which is much worse than the 1792 election.
Latent Effects Of The Electoral College
The Electoral College system does not count votes from U.S. Territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands. Washington, D.C. has representation in the Electoral College but lacks 2 Senators. And with the Electoral College still in place, it is unlikely these territories and the District will ever become States themselves.
The Electoral College produces low voter turnout, which was a 20 year low in 2016: only 55 percent or 126 million votes were cast this year. With a popular vote, turnout would likely be higher: every State would be a Swing-State. Think about it, not one State is entirely Democratic or Republican. With the Electoral College, red republican States likely remain red, the same thing goes for blue States voting for democrats in perpetuity. But with a national popular vote, all states have the potential to be Swing-States.
Another latent effect of the Electoral College is that Flyover States are created. If it were abolished, all States have the potential to become Swing-States, which means candidates might spend more time in States with large populations.
Finally, the Electoral College is unpopular: 63 percent of respondents believed it should be abolished in a Gallup poll conducted in 2013. According to another Gallup poll, 62 percent of respondents wanted to swap the Electoral College for a national popular vote in 2011.
Abolish The Electoral College
The number 1 reason to abolish the Electoral College is it allows a minority of voters to dominate the majority, the Electoral College itself is undemocratic.
America was founded as a democratic-republic and we’ve become more democratic with time, see the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments as examples. Our founding principle is, everyone is created equal. And yet, the way we choose a new president is highly inegalitarian: not all votes are given the same weight. It also makes us vulnerable to foreign interference in the election process.
Good public policy usually has 3 factors: simplicity, popularity and affordability. The Electoral College isn’t simple for reasons already explained. And it isn’t popular either. The costs of electing an unpopular President could be great given the Electoral College produces unpopular Presidents if they don’t also win the popular vote. We should have abolished the Electoral College almost a century ago: the population flipped from a rural to urban majority in the census of 1920.
Public Policy Proposal: The National Popular Vote
The objective is to design a fair electoral system in which the winning candidate captures both the popular vote and the Electoral College. In the event of a tie, the tie breaker would be the national popular vote. Here are 3 options which should yield optimal results;
- Abolish the Electoral College all together and replace it with the national popular vote. States chose their Governors by popular vote, the President is the equivalent of the national Governor. This is the most simple method.
- Abolish the rule which awards 2 Senate-seats apportioned to each State for the Electoral College. This would decrease total number of possible Electoral College votes from 538 to 435. But this method is unlikely because it would require the 23rd Amendment to be repealed.
- Abolish the Electoral College, admit Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands and Washington, D.C. as States so 4 million more Americans can participate in the national popular vote. This is the preferred method but its also unlikely given the amount of work it would require to admit the all of the territories and the District.
We’d be smart to abolish the Electoral College sooner rather than later and replace it with the national popular vote: the future of our democracy depends on it.