Eli Babbit '27
It’s long past time to reform the Electoral College system. The Electoral College was adopted 250 years ago as a racist compromise to empower white slaveholding men. It is profoundly undemocratic, giving us presidents who lose the popular vote and undercounting most Americans’ (especially members of minority groups’) votes. It is unpopular, archaic, susceptible to manipulation, and entirely unnecessary. It’s time for change.
The Electoral College stems from a racist history. It was adopted at the Founding as a compromise between northern and southern states to avoid a popular vote, which would have disfavored the South where so much of the population was disenfranchised. Adoption of the Electoral College enabled use of the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which allowed southern states to simultaneously deny Black residents the right to vote while counting those same residents for purposes of gaining more power in the Electoral College. The result was that enslaved people could not vote but were used by white slaveholders to increase their own voting power, which they used to continue slavery.
The Electoral College still has racist effects today. Because most states choose their electors with a ‘winner takes all’ system, people who vote against the dominant party in their state often have no effect on the outcome of the election. For example, more than 50% of Black Americans live in southern states, which are usually Republican strongholds, and 87% of Black Americans vote Democratic. Because many of those Democratic Black Americans live in Republican-dominated states, their votes have no effect on the outcome of the election.
The Electoral College is also profoundly undemocratic. First, it does not follow the one person- one vote principle because different voters are worth more than others. For example, because California’s population does not scale with its number of representatives, a voter in California has 3.5 times less power than a voter in Wyoming, just because of where they live. Second, because the Electoral College does not always represent the will of the people, two of our past four presidents have won in the Electoral College without winning the popular vote (Bush in 2000, Trump in 2016). The undemocratic nature of our presidential elections has knock-on effects to the Judicial Branch. Since presidents nominate members of the Supreme Court, 5 of our 9 current Supreme Court justices were picked by presidents who lost the people’s vote! True, two were appointed by George W. Bush in his second term, for which he did win the vote, but that victory was only possible because of his first term “win” against the majority’s will.
The Electoral College is subject to manipulation as well. Because of the unnecessary complexity of our election system, there are often loopholes that can be exploited to change outcomes. For example, former President Trump attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census that would have discouraged an estimated nine million people from filling out the census. Because the census determines how electoral votes are allocated, the question would have also prevented electoral votes from being allocated as they should be. His actions are part of a longstanding tradition of manipulating the Electoral College, usually in a way that harms minority groups.
The United States is unique in its use of such a flawed system, which is unpopular both at home and abroad. 65% of Americans would prefer a system in which the president was decided by a popular vote. Internationally, the Pew Research Center says that “only the U.S. has a system in which voters elect a body of ‘electors’ whose sole function is to actually choose the president.”
You may be wondering why we still have the Electoral College given all its flaws and unpopularity. Well, that points to another uniquely American problem: how incredibly difficult it is to amend our Constitution. Amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both houses in Congress (or a request from two-thirds of the states), followed by ratification in three-fourths of the states. Naturally, it is hard to reach such a majority in favor of changing the Electoral College when so many of the politicians who would have to be involved in revising the system actually benefit from keeping it the same.
So, to review: the Electoral College is an undemocratic system with a racist legacy that continues to affect us today, is easily manipulated to thwart the will of the people, and is unpopular both domestically and abroad. It sounds pretty bad, but there is a ray of hope. Recently, many states have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states to allocate all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. We need to change the Electoral College for the better.