Charlie Palmore '26
The Electoral College is a somewhat odd way to elect a president. When Americans vote in the presidential election, they are not actually voting for their candidate of choice but for the group of electors representing that candidate’s party. Whichever candidate’s group of electors wins the popular vote in a state wins all of that state’s electoral votes (except in Nebraska and Maine, where the electoral votes are distributed proportionally to the percentage of the popular vote a candidate received). Whichever candidate has the majority of the electoral votes nationally is elected president. It’s confusing; but even worse, there are very few reasons that we should be using it, and countless reasons that we shouldn’t. Let’s take a look at five of the most important ones.
I. It allows for smaller states getting a bigger piece of the pie at the expense of actual voters having an equal say. Electoral votes are allotted to states based on their total number of members of Congress. The problem with this is that the smallest amount of congressional representatives a state can have is three, because each state is guaranteed at least two senators and at least one representative. States like Wyoming then get an amount of electoral votes that is disproportionate to their population. Wyoming, with a population of 581,000, has approximately 193,000 people per electoral vote. California, with 39.35 million people and 54 electoral votes, has about 729,000 people per electoral vote. This means that a vote in Wyoming has almost 3.8 times the value of a vote in California.
11. It makes it possible for a candidate to win the presidency without winning the popular vote. In most places, the winner of the popular vote in a state wins all of its electoral votes. Because of this, winning a state by a tenth of a percentage point warrants the same result as winning it by 50. This binary system fails to reflect the true proportion of a state’s popular vote. In Florida, almost 5.3 million voters, or 47.9% of the vote, voted for Joe Biden. Donald Trump, however, won all 29 of Florida’s electoral votes. In California, 6 million voters, or 34.3% of the vote, voted for Trump, but Biden won all 55 of its electoral votes. Because of this, 5 presidents have lost the popular vote but won the general election, most recently George W. Bush, 2000; and Donald Trump, 2016.
III. It motivates candidates to only campaign in places they can win. Because of this winner-take-all system, presidential hopefuls are motivated to only campaign and pay attention to voters in places where they have a chance to win. If 6 million people might vote for you in California, but you have no chance of winning California’s electoral votes, why campaign there? If the system was changed to a popular vote or ranked choice, candidates would want to campaign anywhere, as voters everywhere would matter. Instead, they focus on a select few voters in swing states and largely neglect everyone else.
IV. Its intention has always been undemocratic. The way that the Electoral College was intended to be used when the Constitution was created is far different from how we use it today. Originally, it was intended that districts would elect electors to vote on their behalf. These electors would use their own judgment to decide who to vote for. Many people at the time feared what we would now call a popular vote. They thought that the power of choosing the president was too sacred to be placed in the hands of the uneducated masses. Southern states feared a popular vote because their voting population was far lower than that of the North. The Three-Fifths Compromise gave the South more political power by allowing them to count three-fifths of their slaves, who couldn’t vote, in population counts. They liked that the Electoral College would allow them to leverage the Three-Fifths Compromise to get a disproportionate say in the election of the president. Today, the major reason that it still exists is that it keeps Republicans in power. Since 1988, the Republican candidate has only won the popular vote twice. Despite that, there has been a Republican president for 16 out of the 34 years since then. The GOP knows that a change to popular vote or ranked choice voting would spell disaster for them, so they continue to support the Electoral College because it keeps them in power.
V. Most Americans support changing it to a popular vote. The simplest but perhaps most compelling reason. A Pew Research Poll from this August found that 63% of Americans support changing the system to a popular vote. Changing to a popular vote is not only logical, but it has popular support.