Electoral college

Established by the Founding Fathers in Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution, the Electoral College, made up of 538 electors, is the process used every four years to select the next president and vice president of the United States. The 538 electoral votes represent the 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 members of the Senate and 3 electorates for the District of Columbia. To win the Electoral College, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes, making 270 the magic number. Since its inception, the Electoral College has decided the United States’ president and vice president for over 200 years. 

 

Paige Nicewaner: Against Electoral College:

The 2020 presidential election was, undoubtedly, a nerve-wracking experience for many Americans. While Democrat Joe Biden led the popular vote by millions, the winner of the presidential race came down to the results of four states: Nevada, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.

Every four years, the winner of the national election comes down to a select number of swing states, putting an enormous burden on a small portion of our country. For that reason, there's more incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in battleground states whilst ignoring voters in states that almost always vote red or blue. 

In the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential race, the election boiled down to 500 votes in the state of Florida. In the end, George Bush gained enough electoral votes to win, despite Al Gore winning the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, according to the Federal Election Commission. The same situation occurred in 2016, with Donald Trump winning the presidency even though Hillary Clinton won over 3 million more votes. Our voting system has an inherent flaw that makes it possible for a candidate to win the most votes, yet still lose the election. 

The Electoral College also gives disproportionate voting power to states with smaller populations. For example, Wyoming is a state with over 500,000 residents and three electors, while California is a state with over 39 million residents and fifty eight electors, according to the 2019 Census Bureau. This means that one electoral vote in Wyoming represents around 190,000 voters, while one electoral vote in California represents around 600,000 voters. Because of this, residents in Wyoming have over three times more voting power than residents in California, a disproportionality that is hard to ignore. 

The most notable criticism of the Electoral College is its winner-take-all feature. The candidate who receives the most votes in a state wins all of the electoral votes for that state. This ignores a substantial number of people’s votes and makes it virtually impossible for third-party candidates to have a fighting chance in the election. For someone who lives in a red state but voted blue in the 2020 General Election, it’s hard to feel like my vote for the presidential election mattered. 

Our Founding Fathers knew the Electoral College was not a perfect system, and over 200 years later, it’s becoming more unreasonable to continue using this undemocratic process that decides who governs our nation. It’s time we finally get rid of it. 

 

Scott Campbell: In defense of the validity of the Electoral College

The Electoral College system is often criticized as a hindrance to democracy – a wrench in the gears of fair voting that disregards the value of the majority of American citizens’ votes. It’s absolutely counterintuitive that two of the three presidents in the past 20 years actually lost the popular vote, but still won the election. An educated American wouldn’t be wrong to feel the principle of democracy is being undermined, but if you bear with me, I can convince you there is a method to the madness. It’s a matter of application over theory.

The first step is to stop thinking a president is the same thing as a prom king or homecoming royalty. Nor, is an election the same thing as a job interview. The idea behind choosing the most qualified candidate isn’t just an upward trajectory based on positivity, gold stars and political high-fives. It also requires an anti-resume of sorts, a relentless scrutiny of every one of a candidate’s misfires and fuck-ups. All dirty laundry will be aired and every closet will be swept for skeletons.

What’s the best way to learn all of a person’s flaws? Put them in a room alone with someone who hates them with a passion. Hence the two-party system, which is debated even more heatedly than the Electoral College. When you create an end-to-end spectrum, the candidates will naturally fall into the middle and the two parties are forced into a state of ongoing compromise. It’s a lesser priority for a candidate to rally and maintain his or her own base than it is to win over the middle ground and convert the undecided and the apathetic. This is theoretically a good thing for society because it steers us away from extremism and dangerous radicalism and towards docile disagreements that no one is going to get killed over.

The Electoral College is the mechanism that holds adversarial two-party elections together by all but guaranteeing every electoral vote will go to one of the two parties. The individual votes of dissenting extremists are basically thrown out as anomalies and outliers. In other forms of democracy, they are allowed to gradually gain momentum and credibility until they have to be parlayed with to win. This is why the winner of a state takes all electoral votes. 

Let’s make up an example. Imagine electoral votes don’t exist and there were three final candidates in the presidential election: 49% for the party in favor of wind power, 49% in favor of solar power and 2% for the wild card party who are fundamentally opposed to tacos. No one from the first 98% feels very strongly about tacos, but their candidates realize that the winning difference will come down to that 2%, and now all of a sudden the president who won has made tacos illegal.  

Now, allow me to piss off everyone at once – unless you’re in a swing state, Nebraska or Maine (they play by different rules, but that’s another story), your vote doesn’t matter a shred. If you voted for the winner, you can give yourself a pat on the back for being part of the victorious machine. If you voted for the loser, you sleep well knowing you stood up for what’s right. But at the end of the day, your vote is just a raindrop in a sandstorm.

The endgame of the Electoral College is to shield us from eroding into multiple parties that would grant sway to extremists, with the collateral damage that the value of an individual’s vote is lessened. 

But, that’s all right. I don’t mean this as a gut punch or an attack to make readers feel worse about themselves, but the Electoral College does make sense. The tough pill to swallow is casual political participation by voting isn’t enough. If you truly want to make a difference, you need to crank things up a few notches and participate in grassroots movements, volunteering or working in public service.