The president-elect has lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College four times in U.S. history. The first two occurred in 1876 and 1888. More recently, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral college to George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald J. Trump in 2016, respectively.
It is widely agreed that such a disconnect between the popular vote and electoral college should not exist. Thus far, many solutions have been proposed, including abolishing the electoral college, reforming the way a state’s electors allocate their votes during an election, states pledging their electors to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of how their citizens voted and carving metropolitan areas of high population states into states of their own.
The plan with the most national attention–championed by Democratic Party contender Bernie Sanders–is to abolish the electoral college. This would be disastrous.
The United States of America, as designed in the constitution, is a republic of independent states who consent to a federal government to preserve their security, each of whom has a weighted say in the selection of the president. The Presidency is arguably today’s most impactful part of the federal government.
This is achieved through the Electoral College where each state receives electors determined by adding the total number of representatives and senators. The intention of the Electoral College is that to be elected president one must not only appeal to all of the concerns of the people, but also of all states too.
What the nation was intended to be is currently misaligned with what we have now. During the presidential election, a select few states, commonly called “battleground” or “swing” states, decide the election. The most prominent states considered swingers include Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin resulting in candidates hyper-focusing on these states. Trump’s pitch to approximately 80,000 coal mine workers in the United States — a tenth of whom reside in Pennsylvania — exemplified the attention afforded to these states.
Dating back to 1992, a majority of the states have reliably voted for one of the two major parties. Such uniformity turned these swing states into the sole focus of successful campaigns, effectively marginalizing the other states.
Combined with this uniformity is the idiotic process where all of a state’s electors are allocated to the winner of that states’ popular vote. As NEIU Independent Editor-in-Chief Matthew Rago referenced in his opinion piece on Mike Bloomberg’s political allegiance, when Trump won Michigan by less than 10,000 votes he received all of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.
Converting from the electoral college to a popular vote would merely shift this hyperfocus from the current swing states to a new set of states based on population. These include California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. In 2010, these five states consisted of over 113 million people, a third of the nation’s population. Similar to the current system, this consolidation of voting power would unjustly impose the concerns and will of these few states upon the rest.
Would it be right for us to change the constitution from favoring one set of five states to another? No, setting aside the impracticality of amending the constitution–an amendment would require the support of 38 states to be ratified–this would exchange one form of political oligopoly for another.
The key point is that the United States of America, at the writing of the Constitution, was not intended to be a state, but rather a government formed by consent of its constituent states. Therefore attention must be given to all of the states’ concerns. The current version of the electoral college does not do this and neither would a popular vote.
Only one of the more popular ideas is feasible, would represent the population and spread the focus of presidential campaigns–its feasibility lies on not requiring a constitutional amendment. This idea is to require the states to divide their electors by proportion of the vote, as exists in the Democratic primary. If a strong enough argument can be presented to the Supreme Court that this current “winner-take-all” system is unconstitutional–this is possible, even with a conservative majority–we the people may perhaps reclaim our republic.