Hillary Clinton is the fifth presidential candidate in American history to have won the popular vote but lose the election. This is due to the Electoral College, a system that many see as a slight toward democracy and a sign of its brokenness in America. But are those feelings justified? Is the system truly broken? To find out, we need to take a step outside The Echo Chamber.
Our presidential electoral system consists of 538 electors. Each state is allotted a number of electors that is equal to the number of its representatives plus the number of its senators. But since every state has two senators, each state receives an extra two electors no matter their population. This skews the electoral college toward smaller states who get a minimum of three electors even if their population is much less than 3/538ths of the country.
In a pure democracy where one person always equals one vote, Texas, with its nearly 27 million citizens, would not have the same senatorial representation as Vermont, with just over 600,000. The question of whether or not the Electoral College is a good system is less a question of democracy and more of who should decide on the next president, the people or the states? Most Americans tend to agree with the former, with 63 percent in favor of getting rid of the Electoral College according to a 2013 Gallup poll.
Even with the overwhelming opinion against it, some argue that the Electoral College gives a voice to the voiceless by inflating the value of small, rural states. In this regard, the Electoral College fails spectacularly. Rather than incentivizing candidates to focus on a broad slew of states, candidates focus on four or five swing states where, due to the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College, a single vote can swing up to five percent of the entire electoral vote. All of Florida’s 29 electors were decided by a mere 537 votes in 2000. This winner-take-all system is at the core of the “states versus the people” divide. Is the will of a state-entity more important than the will of the people at large? To address its consequences, we must look at potential alternatives.
A national popular vote (NPV) is another option, but it is not without its faults. An NPV could create a logistical nightmare with a nationwide recount and it could enable a candidate to win the presidency with just a small plurality of the vote. The NPV could also lead candidates to focus solely on large urban centers, leaving a huge portion of the population behind.
Maine and Nebraska have devised a second way, dividing electors proportionally to their internal popular vote. This system retains the inflated representation of smaller states so that they are not outshone by urban centers, while ridding the country of the winner-take-all swing state problem. States would split their electors, and the millions of democratic votes in Texas would finally be made worthwhile.
The Electoral College is an incredibly flawed system, but is it truly an affront against democracy or merely a different interpretation of what our democracy should be? And if it must go, what are the best alternatives? That’s for you to decide. For now, I just hope that you’ve enjoyed some time outside The Echo Chamber.