“My view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”
- Elizabeth Warren
The will of the people is clear: Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential elections. Yet, in the country that holds itself up as a shining example of democracy, the voter’s wishes were ignored. In two of those elections, including the last one, Republicans won the Electoral College with a minority of the vote and were given control of the Oval Office.
“I would rather have the popular vote because it’s, to me, it’s much easier to win the popular vote.”
- Donald Trump
Knowing that changing demographics are not on their side, Republicans champion this archaic system as it is the only chance they have for staying relevant in presidential elections. They will claim that the Founding Fathers were geniuses for devising the Electoral College without acknowledging that the people who drafted the Constitution did not have the best record regarding equal representation. The Founding Mothers were left out of the conversation. Black men were written into the Constitution as three-fifths human. In a concept that would be at home in the modern Republican party, only property owners were guaranteed voting rights.
While claiming that candidates would only be motivated to campaign in the areas with the highest concentration of people under a popular vote, proponents of the Electoral College ignore the fact that most of these areas are currently being ignored. Instead, resources are poured into battleground areas that represent a fraction of the American population. How can a system that purposely ignores the vast majority of the American population be considered representative of the American people?
The undemocratic nature of the Electoral College makes it an easy target for candidates like Warren, but the allotment of electors is just a symptom of a much bigger problem. Since the number of electors is determined by how many representatives the state has in Congress, the unequal representation in the Legislative Branch is what is driving the problems in the Electoral College.
Since the number of members a state receives in the House of Representatives is apportioned by population, it should be roughly representative of the total population of the country. However, the fact that the number of House seats is capped by law at 435 and the Constitution guarantees every state get at least one representative, the system is not perfect. Therefore, Montana’s Congressman represents 1,050,493 constituents while each of Rhode Island’s two Congressmen represents 529,820. This problem could be solved by changing the law so that the number of House seats was increased so that the proper ratio could be maintained. The number of seats would be determined by dividing the total population of the country by the number of people living in the state with the lowest population. This would ensure that the smallest state was not overly represented. Under the “Wyoming Rule”, California would gain 13 house seats (and electors) based on the 2010 census.
In the Senate, the inequity is even worse since each state gets two Senators (and two Electors), “no matter whether the state has 40 million residents (California) or 0.6 million (Wyoming).” Currently, “the 26 smallest states, which together elect a majority of Senate seats, make up only 18 percent of the population.” The 50 senators who voted to approve Kavanaugh to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court represented just 44% of the U.S. population.
While the Founding Fathers envisioned the Senate as a way for the minority to put a check on the majority, it has now reached a point where the minority has taken control. There is something inherently wrong with a system where small states can specifically target their larger neighbors for extra taxation or treat natural disasters differently by the regions where they occur. The amount I pay in federal taxes, the trust I place in the federal government to help me in times of crisis, or the weight of my vote in a presidential election should not depend on where I have chosen to live.
For 1.5% of the U.S. population, the situation is even worse as they have even less representation. Puerto Rico has a larger population than 21 states but does not have a representative in the Senate, House or Electoral College. Is it any wonder that almost 3,000 people were allowed to die in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria? The residents of Washington D.C. do receive three electors in the Electoral College but do not have a voting member of the House or the Senate. Perhaps we should have solved these deficiencies in our own system before invading Iraq to bring them democracy.
While this subject of the Electoral College is an interesting point of conversation during a presidential election, the reality is that Republicans will only consider changes when the system no longer works to their advantage. By that point, the Democrats will have lost their incentive to enact change. For all our worship of the Founding Fathers, why do we always seem to forget that Washington warned against dividing into political parties?