November 4, 2016

The Electoral College Must Go

Theo Deitz-Green ‘19

The United States of America is a country founded on the principle that each person has just as much power as everyone else and, yet, when voters go to the polls on November 8 to elect the next president, each person’s vote will not be counted equally.
Thanks to the Electoral College, voters do not actually vote directly for the person they want to be president. Instead, they vote for a specific group of people, called electors, who then vote directly for president.
With the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, if a candidate wins a state, even by one vote, they get all of the state’s electoral votes. In order to win the presidency, a candidate must get at least 270 of 538 electoral votes.
This is an outdated and deeply flawed system that must be changed.
A central problem with the Electoral College is that most states have either many more Democrats than Republicans or many more Republicans than Democrats, such as New Jersey and Idaho, respectively.
As a result, most states are almost guaranteed to be won by the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate. This leaves only about 10 states, such as Ohio and Florida, to be swing states, or states that have the potential to vote for either party’s candidate.
Therefore, presidential candidates are able to entirely ignore a vast majority of the states and citizens of this country and focus exclusively on a handful of states. Voters in swing states face an onslaught of television advertisements, campaign rallies, campaign mail and volunteers at their doorsteps, while citizens in other states are forgotten about. This means that they are not given the same opportunities to see the presidential candidates and hear from campaign members.
Additionally, presidential candidates are often tempted to put the concerns of swing state voters above the concerns of non swing state voters in order to win the election.
Most importantly, a vote in a non swing state is far less important than a vote in a swing state. A vote in the uncontested state of New Jersey is much less likely to affect the outcome of the presidential election than a vote in the heavily-contested state of Ohio. In fact, a vote in New Jersey is arguably pointless as the Democratic candidate will almost definitely win the state.
Of course, while one vote will probably never alter the outcome of the election anywhere, it can be demoralizing to voters that the outcome of the election in their state is almost guaranteed. If voters know who will win in their state, they may think that voting is pointless.
Even if every state had roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans and, by extension, competitive elections, there would still be a major problem: the value of a vote in one state is not always equivalent to the value of a vote in another state.
In fact, according to the New York Times, during the 2008 presidential election, a vote in Wyoming was “three and a half times more influential” than a vote in Florida. This disparity occurs because a state is given electoral votes based on its population, but each state, no matter how small its population, must have at least three electoral votes. This means that the smaller the state, the more influence its voters have, a gross distortion of the principle of “one person, one vote.”
Finally and perhaps most devastatingly, this system can lead to a situation in which one candidate gets more overall votes, but loses the Electoral College and, thus, the race for president. This has occurred several times, most recently in 2000, when former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote by a margin of 500,000 votes, but lost the electoral college and the presidency to then-Governor George W. Bush.
That election is an appalling example of the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College system that questions the democracy in this country.
When a system allows the vast majority of states and voters to be ignored and gives voters in some states less influence than voters in other states, and has allowed for a candidate to be elected as the president despite having received fewer votes than his opponent, it is clear that the system must be replaced.
It is time for the United States to replace the Electoral College system with a system in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins the presidency, strengthening its democracy and continuing the centuries long task of forming a more perfect union.

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