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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Opinion

Electoral College: Archaic system needs an update


Though the election is effectively over the arguments regarding the Electoral College remain ever present. | Renee Josse de Lisle/The Cougar

Renee Josse de Lisle/The Cougar

Though the election is essentially over, the arguments regarding the Electoral College remain ever present. 

Yet again in the 2020 election, the vote over the most powerful position in the world was decided by a handful of key states.

The Electoral College and the winner-take-all system lead to the electoral process being decided by a small group of people, even though the difference in the popular vote was over five million. 

This system is outdated and a product of a bygone era and should be replaced with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact for a return to democracy.

The Electoral College

The Electoral College is a body of 538 electors; one for each seat in the House of Representatives and one for each seat in the Senate, as well as three electors for Washington, D.C.

Every state has a number of seats in the House of Representatives that’s almost proportional to their population. However, each state, regardless of population, has two seats in the Senate. 

For any given state’s members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the state has an electoral vote for the presidential election. For instance, Texas has 36 seats in the House of Representatives and two seats in the Senate and, as such, has 38 electoral votes. 

When people vote within a state, a presidential candidate is decided upon by a popular vote. Most states, with a few notable exceptions, award all its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate won the popular vote within the state.

Finally, when all of the state electors have cast their votes, whichever candidate has the most electoral votes wins the presidential election.

There are two big issues with this system. The first is the issue of each state receiving two electoral votes by default because of the Senate.

This throws off the proportionality of the system, resulting in people in smaller states having more power behind their vote simply because they live in a state that is not very populous. 

Unequal voter power 

According to Chris Kirk from Slate, the average voter from Wyoming has 3.37 times the voting power of the average voter from Texas. 

Voters living in the most heavily populated states of the country often have a far lower influence on the election than voters living in states with low populations. 

Winner-takes-all 

However, that’s not the only problem with the system. The other big problem is the winner-takes-all system within all but two states, Maine and Nebraska. 

The winner-takes-all system is where all the electors in a state vote for the winner of the statewide popular vote instead of distributing them proportionally. Because of this, it’s possible for a candidate to narrowly win half the states and lose all the other states and still win the presidency. 

In fact, it’s possible to win the presidential election with a mere 23 percent of the popular vote largely because of the winner-take-all system. 

In 2016, Trump won Texas by a slim 9 percent margin. In a proper representative democracy, electors should reflect that, with 20 of the electoral votes going to Trump and 16 going to Hillary.

Instead, 36 of the electoral votes went to Trump and two went to other candidates because of faithless electors, which is a separate topic.

This means that since California is known to be consistently blue and Alabama is known to be consistently red, the people’s individual votes don’t matter as much because the race has already been decided in those states.

Battleground states and campaigning

This also results in battleground states and disproportionate campaigning and financing.

Battleground states are states that have had varying results in presidential party affiliation in the past couple of years such as Florida, Colorado, Iowa and others. These states are consistently treated as more important because they have an undecided voter base.

To put this disparity in perspective, according to FairVote, 91.48 percent of general-election campaigning in 2016 occurred in just 12 states, 11 of which were battleground states, according to Politico and The Hill.

According to the campaign for the National Popular Vote, battleground states receive, on average, 7 percent more federal grants than “solid” states.

To have any political affiliation in Florida is significantly more beneficial than having any political affiliation in California or Alabama because those races are already overwhelmingly decided in favor of a certain candidate before anyone even goes to the polls.

This system, regardless of how it is posited, allows some voters more voting power than others. It is an archaic system that assumed information could only travel as fast as a horse, and where the state and federal governments are both bidding for power. 

This problem is not fixable via a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But, there may be another solution to this problem.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a proposed agreement between states, which if signed by enough states so as to guarantee that signees together hold over 50 percent of the national electoral votes, will have signees cast their electoral votes according to the national popular vote rather than the statewide popular vote. 

As a result, every voter in America would have a direct say on at least 270 electoral votes, regardless of whether their state signed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact or not.

This would effectively institute a nationwide popular vote for the presidential candidate system within the electoral college, utilizing its own parameters to render it meaningless. 

As of today, it has been elected into law by 16 jurisdictions and needs only 74 more electoral votes in order to go into effect. If Texas were to pass it, that number would drop to 36.

Chirag Mangnaik is a liberal studies freshman who can be reached at [email protected]

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