Hillary won the popular vote, currently by around 600,000 votes, but lost the electoral college. What is the electoral college, and is it a good choice for us?
Why Are People Asking?
In our modern era, two out of the last five elections have ended with the candidate who won the popular vote but also lost the presidency. Hillary Clinton is the Most recent, with Al Gore losing his election effort against George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote by over half a million votes.
OK THAT DOESN’T SOUND FAIR, WHY DOES THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE EXIST?
The electoral college was first introduced in 1787, during the same period the constitution was being written. Article II section 1, states:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”
This was changed to a system in which our votes essentially send members of the electoral college to go vote for us. Each state is given electors based on its population and Senate seats. These numbers are different for each state obviously, and the end results are the numbers we all stared at for hours on election night, hoping for them to turn our chosen color. The states generally give all of their electoral votes to whoever earned the most votes in their state, instead of dividing it up on a proportional basis (exceptions being Maine and Nebraska).
Let’s make it clear… You may not like the way this works. You undoubtedly, at one point or another threw up your hands and said, “Why do we still have the electoral college?!” But whatever the misinformation you have, remember The United States of America is not a democracy. It is a republic. As such, we have an electoral college.
The reason the electoral college exists to begin with, is because the founding fathers just didn’t trust pure democracy. They wanted to keep the country in the hands of people who Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist No. 68 wrote “will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite so complicated an investigation”
In other words, those in power, the ones framing the foundations of our country, feared the results of absolute democracy.
Ok, So Why Should We Keep It?
Let’s touch on that question…
Consider a country where candidates only went to states with large populations. Where small unpopulated areas are completely ignored. If the popular vote was all that counted, candidates would stay in the most densely populated areas that they could gain ground in, and try to simply run up the score as much as possible.
Why fight for 200,000 votes in Iowa, when you could get triple that by doing a rally in your party’s strongholds during the same periods? There would be much more incentive to focus on extremely narrow geographic populations.
Politicians want one thing above all, and that is to be elected and stay in office. Why would they have any motivation to care about a farmers’ needs in Nebraska, when they could simply devote their legislative time to Seattle (on the left) or San Antonio (on the right)? This would create an environment where vast sections of the electorate would be excluded from the conversation and therefore be excluded from finding solutions to their problems.
What is the Answer Then?
Well, the fact is, if you do live in a solidly red or blue state, your vote in presidential elections will almost always be negated if you are in the minority. This provides a solid argument that we aren’t being properly represented as a country on a pure numbers basis. On the other end of the spectrum, we want to give credence to as many lifestyles as possible in this exceptionally diverse country, and we don’t want to see communities become ignored relics of the past in political discussions.
If you want the electoral college to remain in place, you don’t have to do anything, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. However, if you wanted it to be removed from the electoral process, here is what would need to happen. The first option is a constitutional amendment, which given their infrequency and the overwhelming support needed, will likely not happen anytime in the near future.
There is one alternative, though. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). This changes the way votes are distributed by stripping the states of their autonomy. I highly recomend Google for this one. But only after you have shared this aritcle with your Friends.
It gives the electoral votes of states that adopt the NPVIC to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. It would no longer be a state by state issue. Currently 10 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the NPVIC, which brings the electoral vote total in favor of the NPVIC to 165. However, other states would need to adopt this until their total electoral worth exceeded the ever familiar 270 mark. Upon the achievement of this milestone, the NPVIC would officially be active.
This is an issue with legitimate reasoning behind both sides of the issue, and is one that will likely be prevalent in the national dialogue for the near future. If you care about the issue, then get involved and push to make change happen. If you are good as is… maybe go grab a beer and relax for awhile. I think we have all earned that after this election cycle.
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Here is a video to help you understand what you just read. Videos are nice.