Electoral College: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
The 2016 presidential election was the fourth time in the history of the United States that the candidate who won the Electoral College, and secured the presidency, had lost the popular vote. This phenomenon has something of a bimodal distribution in time, having occurred only in 1876, 1888, 2000, and, of course, 2016. Most recently, in the result that shocked the world, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by 77 votes, but he lost the popular vote by a staggering margin of nearly three million votes.
Whether one agrees with the politics of the winner or not, a result of this magnitude is an undeniable shame on our mechanism of democracy, and a negation of the founding principles of American political life. A key part of our democracy has been pushed to the brink and is failing: the Electoral College can no longer uphold and provide equal representation.
The most poignant example of the unequal representation in the current electoral system is a simple tale of two states: in California, there is one electoral vote for every 712,000 people, while in Wyoming, there is one electoral vote for every 195,000 people. This means, in the most literal terms, that each person in Wyoming has almost four times stronger a say as a person in California. The vote of a person living in a sparsely populated state carries more weight than a person living in largely populated states such as California, Texas, Florida, and New York — all by that fickle lottery of birth. This exact advantage adds up, and it is how candidates can win the electoral college without winning the popular vote.
When faced by a pressing need to reform the systems which prop up the basic tenets of our lives, it is upon us to innovate. So, what can we do about it? First, America ought to accept the National Popular Vote Initiative, which seeks to establish an interstate compact that would effectively run around the Electoral College without actually abolishing it. This proposal implores states to allocate their electoral votes to whomever wins the popular vote nationally, which is not necessarily the candidate who wins their state. This would ensure that the candidate who wins the popular vote would win the presidency without categorically eliminating the Electoral College. The National Popular Vote Initiative already has been enacted in 13 states accounting for 181 electoral votes and is in the process of being adopted in eight other states.
More radically, though, America ought to have a serious conversation about moving to Popular Vote Elections, and fully abolish the Electoral College with a Constitutional Amendment. According to poll data on released by Politico, a majority of Americans prefer a national popular vote over the Electoral College, and nearly half of those individuals would vote to abolish the Electoral College outright. While it may seem daunting to stray so far from tradition, the strongest tradition of democracy is equal representation, and, more than any individual mechanism, it is that principle which ought to be preserved.
There are mounds of data proving that the Electoral College does not equally represent each American citizen, as it was intended to do when established so long ago. Instead of bowing to the yolk of tradition, which is centuries old and was never designed for the population size we have today, we ought to be pushing the bill toward a popular vote solution. Whether that solution is the National Popular Vote Initiative, or a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College, change at this juncture is necessary. We must move to represent each citizen’s vote equally. We can no longer be idle and watch this inequality of voice worsen. It is incumbent upon us to be the reformers and innovators who make elections democratic again.