It’s safe to say much of America is pretty discontented about last week’s Presidential election results and for one very important reason: Donald Trump won the Electoral Votes, but lost the Popular Vote. It wasn’t too long ago when this occurred, in the 2000 election between Al Gore and George Bush, but as a whole, it’s only happened two other times in history: 1876, and 1888. In case you’re a bit confused, here’s how American Presidential elections work:
What Is The Electoral College?
In our “democracy” voters do not directly elect a new President. Instead, we vote in our state and the candidate who wins the most votes wins that state (this is where all the red and blue maps come in). Each state has a designated number of “electoral votes” based on the population of that state, with a minimum of 3 in small states like Delaware and Wyoming, and a maximum of 55 in California. An electoral vote is another way to say “representative and senator,” because that’s exactly what they are. A state’s electoral votes represent the total number of representatives and senators that state is entitled to based on population. The Electoral College, essentially, is Congress. When a candidate wins a state, he or she wins that state’s electoral votes. Whoever reaches 270 (the tipping point of the 538 electoral vote scale) wins the White House. The “popular vote” refers to plain ol’ numbers: the amount of votes from all over the country that a candidate wins, just like watching your favorite reality TV show. Naturally, the new President generally wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, so debates about whether we need the Electoral College don’t even cross our minds. But in times like this (because nothing about 2016 has been normal) we find ourselves questioning EVERYTHING.
Now that you’re caught up on how elections work and why everyone is protesting the Electoral College and complaining because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, it’s time to understand why we don’t need it anymore. The only way to determine that is by understanding why the electoral college was implemented in the first place. As with everything in America it comes down to one simple, weighted word: slavery.
How Slavery Shaped US Elections
The electoral college has been in effect since 1787. That’s when the Constitutional Convention convened, which gave us the document by which we TRY to run our country: the US Constitution. The Virginia Plan proposed that Congress choose the President in a group apportioned to the state’s population. For delegates like James Madison, the popular form of voting was the ideal choice, however something stood in the way:
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections. – James Madison
To put it in simple terms: more people had the right to vote in the North than they did in the South (because much of the southern population were slaves). This gave the North an advantage, and left the South with practically no say in American politics. Madison knew this would cause problems, so to ease those concerns, they established the electoral college, to give every region of the country an equal platform. Sounds fair, right? It was, until they drafted the Three-Fifths Compromise during the same convention.
You’ve probably heard African-Americans talk about their ancestors being regarded as 3/5 of a person. This stems from the Constitutional Convention’s way to determining Southern representation in Washington. You see, the North didn’t know how to account for the Southern States’ “populations” because over half a million people were slaves with absolutely no rights. Should they count them or not? The compromise was decided at a fraction of 3/5, meaning the South would get “a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes than if slaves had been ignored, but fewer than if slaves and free persons had been counted equally.” With this allocation, political decisions were skewed toward Southern interests, meaning slaveholder enthusiasts had control of the government until Emancipation. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the long list of wealthy, slave-owning politicians from Virginia that occupied the White House following the Convention.
Why We Don’t Need The Electoral College
Nowadays, many people still support the electoral college because they feel it balances representation among large and small states, but this ultimately doesn’t make sense. The entire reason we have the electoral college is to balance the lack of suffrage caused by slavery: that no longer exists. Suffrage of any kind is no longer an issue, thanks to the Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights Movements (all of which happened only in the last century). Each Presidential Election comes down to 16 “battleground states” that determine the electorate based on their shifting voter preferences and electoral vote counts. In many of these states, like North Carolina and Florida, voter suppression is a major issue. And the states with the highest minority populations (including two of the largest states): Hawaii, California, Texas and New Mexico, aren’t even considered main factors in who wins the office. In many ways, race still plays a factor into how we elect our Presidents, and in the rare event, like this year’s election, where the numbers are tight and the popular vote doesn’t find itself congruent with the electoral system, we realize that America is operating on an outdated, oppressive form of democracy that prioritizes states over individual voters.
The electoral college takes the power from the American people and places it into the hands of a few states and its electors. With suffrage and demographics spread across the country in a way that’s sometimes hard to track, there is no logical reason to keep the electoral college except out of habit. And if we really want to shake up Washington, the electoral college would be a good place to start. Even our President-elect said “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” which falls in line with the protests leading our country now.
And don’t forget, in a strange plot twist, the electoral votes from 20 states could vote against their state’s popular vote on December 19th, changing the results of the election. Only 9 voters have done so in the past, not enough to sway the election, so it’s highly unlikely, but still possible. How’s that for a crazy republic?
Still don’t believe the electoral college is outdated? Think about it this way: abolishing it would NOT have changed 92.8% of US elections. So, is it really worth it? Let me know what you think below and keep the conversation going on social media.