I first learned of the Electoral College when I was seven years old. It was 1976, and the school I was in — New Rochelle Academy, a private Montessori school that no longer exists — was doing a mock presidential election, where we got to vote for either Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that it was an expensive private school in New Rochelle, Ford won. (I voted for Carter.)
But we were also told how presidential elections work, and I thought that it was extremely dumb. Every other election in this country is done by counting votes, which is the way I thought democracy was supposed to work.
In the 44 years since then, I know more about how the EC works, and why it was established, and any number of other things, and I feel more strongly than I did when I was seven. The EC is extremely dumb.
I understand why it was established in the first place. Only white, male landowners could vote, and economic power in the 18th century resided in people who had large tracts of land. The most sparsely populated regions were also the most important. Plus, when this country was founded the “States” part of “United States of America” was more important than the “United” part. The notion was very much of thirteen states banded together under a Congress, presided over by an elected official. That president would be chosen by the states. And there are dozens of other reasons why it probably made sense in the 1780s (many of them horribly racist).
But it’s now the early 21st century, not the late 18th. Economic power does not reside in the most sparsely populated regions, but in fact in the cities. And it isn’t just white, male landowners who vote. By the end of the Civil War, all men were allowed to vote regardless of skin color, and then in 1920 women could also vote, finally extending the ability to vote to, theoretically, every single citizen.
And there’s another problem, which is even more important to get rid of than the EC, which is the Reappportionment Act of 1929. That froze the House of Representatives at 435, and froze the EC as well, at the levels established in the 1920 Census.
So we’ve got an EC map and a Congressional map that is based on population figures that are 100 years old. It’s not a coincidence that, in the post-industrial age of the 1920s, cities were growing by leaps and bounds in population, and a large portion of that population were immigrants coming from Europe on the east coast and Asia on the west coast, as well as African Americans moving into the cities for better job opportunities. You had the mainstream of American society, which was primarily Protestant, seeing all these filthy papists (Italians, Irish, and Germans) coming in, and all these other people with funny eyes or darker skin, and they did not want them to have as much power, so the House was frozen.
This divide has only increased over the last century, and has resulted in sparsely populated states having way more power in presidential elections than more densely populated ones.
Right now, the lone representative from Wyoming (Rep. Liz Cheney) represents 578,759 people. Meanwhile, the 27 districts in New York all represent between 700,000 and 800,000 people. It’s absurd that all 27 New York Congresspeople have to be responsible for 200,000 more people each than Rep. Cheney is. We need to unfreeze the House and redraw the Congressional map so that every representative has the same number as the least populous state (which is, in fact, Wyoming, which is why I’m using it). Yes, it means that New York will get seven more Congressional districts, but that’s how it’s supposed to work: the Senate represents the states, the House represents the people. But those people should be much more equally divided.
And if that’s done, and we don’t abolish the EC like we should, at the very least it will better reflect the population, since electoral votes are determined by the number of representatives in the Congress (all the House members and both Senators).
I’ve heard all the arguments about the EC, and they’re all bullshit. “I don’t want someone in a big city having more say than me in my rural house.” And I don’t want someone in their rural house having more say than me in my big city, but that’s how it is now. Wyoming has 192,920 people per electoral vote. New York has 670,812 people per electoral vote. That is fucking wrong. Also, Wyoming has a big city in it (Cheynne), and New York has rural areas (there are huge tracts of farmland upstate). You can’t have it both ways.
“That’s the way it’s always been done.” Nothing in this country is “the way it’s always been done.” The EC has changed over the decades. Hell, the Constitution has the ability to amend it, which is its most vital ability, and the thing that has kept this country together. Senators used to be appointed by state legislatures, and not voted on. It was, in fact, the 17th Amendment that changed that in 1913, after several states had already switched to electing senators.
People think that abolishing the EC will give New York and California too much power. First of all, even if that was true (which it really really isn’t), why is it better for Ohio (2012) or Pennsylvania (2020) or Florida (2000) to have so much power? I’d rather a state had power because it had a lot of people in it (which is how democracy should work) than because it’s a “swing state.” Secondly, it isn’t remotely true, because people are assuming that states will all be in lockstep, and they totally aren’t. Under the EC, a Republican in Illinois and a Democrat in Texas have, basically, no voice in choosing the president, because of the winner-take-all nature of the EC. End the EC, and the Republican in California and the Democrat in Kentucky can have their voices heard.
Finally, and this is the biggie, we’ve had two presidents elected without winning the popular vote in the past twenty years, and we’ve come absurdly close to it happening again this year, despite a massive numerical gap in popular vote between Vice President Biden and President Trump. This disconnect will continue, and it’s extremely bad for the country.