The Electoral College is a rather undemocratic way to run an election.
DAY 14 ACTION: Learn about the Electoral College and discuss with friends!
Electoral College map from 1932 election of Franklin D Roosevelt.
Today, we stay with the voting theme.
Very few presidential elections are as lopsided as Roosevelt’s in 1932. But four times in our nation’s history, a presidential candidate has won the popular vote but lost the Presidency through the Electoral College. Twice in the last five elections (2000 and 2016), a Democrat has won the national popular vote but lost the election this way. Do we want to keep finding ourselves back here? If not, what can we do about it?
The Electoral College was established in Article II of the Constitution, which empowers an elite group of ‘electors’ from each state to vote for President. Each state appoints a number of electors equal to the number of Senators and Representatives they have. For those of you keeping score, that should mean that there are 535 electors (there are 100 Senators and 435 voting Representatives). But the 23rd Amendment gave Washington, DC 3 electors, bringing the total number of electors to 538. (This explains the name for Nate Silver’s political prediction website, too!) How many electoral votes does your state have?
Just as the Senate equalizes power between states of different sizes, allocating electors based in part on Senate representation likewise skews the distribution of Electoral College votes in favor of smaller states. Each vote in Wyoming is worth about four times as much as each vote in Florida.
If the Electoral College doesn’t seem entirely democratic, that’s because it’s not. It was a compromise among the drafters of the Constitution, and reflects concerns about the ‘people’ electing someone with ‘talents for low intrigue’, and the interests of Southern, slave-owning states.
Some people believe it is time to end the Electoral College system. But since the Electoral College is part of the Constitution, abolishing it entirely will be difficult. However, state law has enormous influence over how the Electoral College actually functions. Today, 48 states have a ‘winner-take-all’ approach, meaning the candidate that wins the popular vote – by 1 vote or 1 million – takes all of the electoral votes for that state. By contrast, in the early days of our country, most states directed their electors to cast votes proportional to the support for each candidate.
Today’s action: Learn about the Electoral College. Tell us how many electors your state has! Talk about it with friends (or anyone, really)!!