By Lily Spiro, Essay Editor
The Founding Fathers were correct to fear “tyranny of the majority” when they created the Electoral College. They worried that states with large urban populations, like New York and Massachusetts, would drown out the needs of voters in less populated states. Therefore, they conceived a system that would give rural areas a voice equal to that of huge urban centers. Theoretically, this is effective. However, when one considers the party divisions in each state, the lines between majority and minority become blurred.
As an integral element in American democracy, the Electoral College was established to protect the United States from the “tyranny of the majority.” Yet with American politics reaching an unprecedented level of polarization, the tyrannical majority has been replaced with an evenly divided populace. When the losing candidate earns 49 percent of the votes, half of America’s voice goes silent.
The Electoral College’s reliance on the “winner-takes-all” system means that in every state, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the candidate with the most votes wins all of the electors. In thoroughly red or blue states, the winner-takes-all system accurately reflects the majority. But in mixed states, or “swing states” as they’re commonly known, the results of this system are less clear cut. If 47.6 percent of Michigan voters picked Trump and 47.3 percent picked Clinton, is it accurate to say that the majority of Michigan wanted Trump for president? Perhaps not, but regardless of the dissension within the voting pool, the current allocation system would still give Trump all 16 electoral votes. Even in states with margins of 5 percent between candidates, there is enough polar division to question whether if by allowing the winning candidate to take all the electoral votes, huge swaths of votes are unrepresented.
Proponents of the Electoral College argue that it preserves a spirit of moderation and stability. The winner-takes-all system ensures that the two-party system will remain supreme, which prevents extremist right or left candidates from a chance at the presidency. It is true that a two-party system prevents a president from being elected with 25 percent of the vote, but as it stands now, the Electoral College’s “magnified” majority of electoral votes obscures the fact that half the country still does not support the elected president. It also means that it was necessary for supporters of non-centrist candidates like Bernie Sanders or Gary Johnson to vote for Clinton or Trump to see a sliver of their values represented. The system promotes compromise, but also the suppression of alternative ideas.
Similarly, the current allocation system devalues minority party votes. The approximately 40 percent of New Yorkers who voted for Trump could have burned their votes in a bonfire and had the same influence on the election. Defenders of the current system say that the winner-takes-all system deals with minority party votes in the same way that a direct popular vote would deal with votes for the losing candidate. Yet in a popular election, minority votes would still be counted toward the loser’s overall total votes. With the Electoral College, these votes are tossed out, worthless. By coloring states with broad blue and red strokes, the Electoral College oversimplifies voting demographics and diminishes political efficacy.
One way to lessen the negative effects of The Electoral College would be to replace the winner-takes-all system with a proportional vote system. The Proportional Popular Vote is a proposed alternative allocation method that awards two electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes in the state and awards the rest proportionally to the amount of votes each candidate received. If this method had been used in the 2016 election, Trump would have earned 267 votes, Clinton 265 votes and third party candidates 6 votes. Although this result would leave neither candidate with a majority and therefore send the election to the House of Representatives, it would more accurately represent America’s polarized voting demographics. Critics of the proposal have noted that with proportional allocation, the candidate will be elected with a plurality of the votes rather than the majority they would have with the current allocation system. With America’s closely split electorate, the House would find itself often deciding elections, but since the close margins represent a split populace, more deliberation seems appropriate.
The Electoral College is a timeless institution, but not all of its core elements have aged with the changing landscape of the American voter. Franklin D. Roosevelt won approximately 9 million more votes than his opponent in 1936, Obama won 5 million more votes in 2012, and Trump lost by 3 million votes in 2016. The majority candidate is transforming into the plurality candidate — an evolution the Electoral College should reflect in its allocation procedure. Several forms of proportional representation are used throughout the world, the only difference being that these countries are often governed by parliaments. Consequently, countries such as Germany, Sweden and Israel have representatives from more than two parties in their governing bodies. This can create friction and complicate parliamentary consensus, but it does provide for a more diverse range of voices in the legislature. Third party candidates flourish in governments with proportional representation, while the only purpose they serve under the Electoral College is as a megaphone for specialized platforms.
There is no need to abolish the Electoral College, but a change is necessary. The College’s inherent flaws weaken political efficacy and render millions of votes useless. Instead of preserving the rights of the majority, the system enforces a status quo with polarized parties and no room for diverse representation. If the United States is a representative democracy, our most important electing body should be a mirror, not a wall.
By Jeremy Werner, Staff Writer
Among the backlash of the results of the recent U.S. election, a debate about the Electoral College has emerged. The Electoral College is a system put in place by the founding fathers to help decide our elections. The debate on whether or not to abolish the Electoral College has been sparked by the fact that the last election is the second instance in the past five elections where the winner actually lost the popular vote. People think it’s unfair that the president isn’t picked purely by the person with the most votes. What most people don’t realize is that there is a reason for this. The Electoral College was put in place to assure that all states in this country could have a say in our elections.
The roots of this system can be seen in the Great Compromise of 1787. The agreement set up the two houses of congress that we have today. The Senate would give an equal voice to every state, while the House of Representatives would give representation proportional to the state’s population. Within this system, heavily populated urban states can maintain their power while still providing smaller rural states to have a competitive political voice. This is what the Electoral College is based around.
Each state has an electoral vote equal to their representatives in the house, plus their senators. With this system, large states hold most of the power while smaller states still have a voice. One can argue that everyone gets their voice heard in a singular voice system, and the person with the most votes is clearly better suited to serve all of America, but this is not strictly the case.
The United States is a very large country, with many different issues and views all across the country. Whether they like it or not, people who live in large urban areas, like cities, cannot relate to the problems of those living in rural areas. Naturally, cities are filled with more people, and thus most of our population comes from urban settings. According to the latest U.S. census, 80.7% of Americans live in urban areas. But rural families, such as farmers, miners and factory workers, make up an important part of our infrastructure. Without these workers, our country would fall apart. It’s unfair to these workers to shut out their voice in our elections just because there are fewer of them. The Electoral College gives them a voice and allows their voice to matter despite making up less of the population.
One might argue that the Electoral College gives these states too much power, and it could be understood where they are coming from. It can be predicted and assumed how the larger states are going to vote. California and New York will go blue, while Texas will go red. Since these states are already set, candidates won’t bother spending time campaigning there and will instead focus on “swing states”. People claim that these swing states have more power because their votes might actually shift. This might be the real problem. The problem doesn’t lie in the system, but rather the candidates themselves.
We are in an America where a candidate won’t bother working for all Americans. It’s true that New York always goes blue, but imagine if a Republican candidate was to actually respond to the issues that New Yorkers care about, and was able to get New Yorkers to consider other Republican policies. Barack Obama was able to do it in 2012 with Alabama. Alabama is considered one of the most conservative states in the U.S. and hasn’t voted blue since 1975 with Jimmy Carter, yet Obama won the state because he was able to communicate with the people and get them on his side. The reason we have two major parties is because both parties only cater to half of America.
The Electoral College was created to give a fair voice to all Americans, but our candidates played with the system. It was a system set up so that smaller states could still have their voices heard, but our two-party system decided that meant it could segregate America into two separate categories. We need candidates who don’t label states as “blue states”, “red states” and “swing states”. We need candidates who can listen to all voices and respond to those issues. The Electoral College should help candidates know what matters to each individual state so that they can build a platform around those needs. The system may be flawed, but it isn’t broken. Our candidates are.