Our Voice

The Electoral College

Hillary Rodham Clinton won the majority of the popular vote in America, Election 2016.  Clinton garnered in excess of 2 million votes more so then Trump.

But Trump won the Electoral College vote by a considerable margin and consequently, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.  The Electoral College made the difference.

Now comes again the hue and cry especially from liberals and progressives, and of course Democrats to do away with the Electoral College altogether, and make every Presidential National Election subject to the winning of a majority of the popular vote.  That movement has been in existence for years and there are many bipartisan think tanks, groups, entities and even political parties who believe that that is right for America.  Do you?

The Electoral College was founded in 1787 by our Founding Fathers.  The Constitutional construction of the Electoral College was a deliberate design to distribute power among the various states so that there would be a certain kind of state equality rather than citizen popular voting equality.  In short, a mere majority of the voters would not have the power to elect the President and Vice President especially if those popular votes were concentrated in one region, or even one or more states.  Perhaps with foresight the Constitutional constructionists foresaw a considerable concentration of population in, hypothetically, the states of New York and California and, again hypothetically, wished to protect smaller states like Delaware, Wyoming, Alaska, Rhode Island and others.  It was indeed a very creative Constitutional check and balance of powers, again spreading those powers across the United States as they existed in 1787 and of course foreseeing further and considerable expansion of those states in the future.  It was a different kind of equality, perhaps we could call it state democracy rather than citizen democracy and has been the way and means for the election of the President now for some 240 years.  But again, the process has considerable critics, even bipartisan critics for it does indeed not only temper a true and pure Democratic process, but actually can negate it in certain ways.

The Electoral College distributes 538 votes.  Therefore, it is necessary for any Presidential candidate to receive a minimum of 270 electoral votes as distributed by the states in order to be elected as the President of the United States.  Candidates therefore do not necessarily seek the majority of the popular vote, but rather concentrate their efforts on those states which can distribute the most meaningful, and of course quantitative number of electoral votes in the hot pursuit to reach 270.  Trump was able to do that, garnering some 302 electoral votes to Clinton’s 238.  That was 32 Electoral College votes more than necessary in order to be elected President of the United States.  Again, that is so even though Clinton won a majority of the popular vote nationwide.  The bottom line is that Trump won more states but Clinton won more votes.

There are popular movements at all times, and even now to change the Electoral College so that every legal voter in America should have his or her vote count EQUALLY.  In the Electoral College system, votes do not count equally and many feel that that is unfair, even unconstitutional with respect to the Democratic process.  Even though the weighted system of the Electoral College does in fact distribute power across the country, the popular vote for these critics should indeed be much more important.

There is now a group which believes so strongly that the President should be popularly elected that it has launched what scholars term an end run around the Constitution.

To that end and in pursuit of the popular vote theory, ten states plus the District of Columbia have signed on to this compact.  The plan is known as the NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE INTERSTATE COMPACT, an agreement among these states and the District of Columbia to award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who has won a majority of the national popular vote, no matter which candidate may win in that particular state.  In short, even though the Electoral College votes would continue, the states would have the right to award those votes as the governing powers of the state should choose.  It is a most interesting possibility and one which seems to have popular support.  However, the state compact would only take effect if enough states approved it to garner at least 270 electoral votes.  That of course is the minimum needed to win the Presidency.  To this point, only the states of California (of course), New York (of course), Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Vermont and Washington, D.C. have approved the compact.  Those states represent 165 electoral votes, far short of the 270 needed to make any Constitutional differences.  All of these ten states and the District of Columbia are so-called blue states where Democrats typically win.

In the heat of the Presidential contest, these states and others like them are places that are largely ignored by Presidential candidates and campaigns.  That is so because the popular vote is consistently Democrat and consequently the awarding of the Electoral College votes also seems a political guarantee to the Democratic candidate.  Other states receive far more presidential candidate attention, again in the hot pursuit of Electoral College votes.

But the doing away with the Electoral College and the voting system it requires necessitates a Constitutional Amendment which can only happen if two-thirds of Congress agrees on a proposal and three quarters of the states ratify it.  That always has been and seems even now to be a virtual impossibility.  The Constitutional Amendment process is extremely difficult, and most unlikely to happen, especially with regard to the Electoral College.  Those who wish to maintain the status quo remind us that the Electoral College is modeled on the federal system of Congress where House seats are apportioned based on population, but every state regardless of size has two constitutionally guaranteed Senate seats.  Such a system does in fact distribute power across all regions of the country and is strongly protective of the smaller states and in return gives them what many feel is disproportionately more power than larger.  Nonetheless, a state like Wyoming, small in size, can exercise power in some ways equal to the State of California at least with respect to the Senate where each state has two representatives and consequently two votes.  Again, that is a matter for State Democracy rather than individual and many see that determination as a continued priority for the good of America.  I wonder what you believe.  Do you like the check and balance, the fair and equal distribution of power across all 50 states, the purpose of the Electoral College or do you prefer the predominance of the popular voting system and a Presidential candidate winning an election as a result of the majority of the popular vote?  The issue is always there and there are those who constantly seek the input of WE THE PEOPLE in that regard.

The smallest states with the biggest Electoral College vote influence are Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Delaware.  Those ten such states, small in size, are yet heard from especially in the Senate, and the citizenry of those states, however different from the larger states, is always influential in terms of American affairs.

The larger states which have the smallest Electoral College vote influence are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina and Florida.  In the 2016 Presidential Election, 9,494,570 Floridians voted as compared to Wyoming where 255,849 voted.  The Electoral College votes cast disproportionately by Wyoming where therefore three times more powerful than that of the State of Florida.  That, the critics say is unfair, un-Democratic, and even should be regarded as unconstitutional.  What do you think?  Do you know how influential your state was in both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote?  Your state may have voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party and Clinton, only to see Trump, soundly defeated in that state, elected President.  Perhaps that generates protests, proactive thinking and action to change the voting system and to do away with the check and balance of the Electoral College as provided by the Constitution.

While a national popular vote would eliminate the conflict between popular and Electoral College voting results, more disadvantages in addition to the loss of a distribution of power would be that a candidate could win the Presidency by a mere slim plurality (even as little as several thousand votes).  That of course would trigger a national recount which would be an absolute disaster, virtually impossible and even if conducted, perhaps take months to accomplish.  There of course would be the allegations of fraud, illegal voting, threats and pressure among others.  States may have lesser motivation to monitor, check and otherwise make sure the voting process is honest and thorough.  Every system has its pros and cons and the conflict between the popular vote and the Electoral College wages on.

The Constitution does in fact give states control over awarding electoral votes.  So that, no matter the popular vote in the state, those Electoral College officials can award the votes to the candidate of their choice.  However, the Constitution also forbids states to enter into compacts with other states without the prior consent and approval of Congress.  Therefore, any such compacts among states to deal a certain way with the Electoral College votes would on its face be unconstitutional.  Obviously, the courts would be involved, and especially the Supreme Court and the conflict would be national in scope and however resolved, the issue would always persist.

So, my fellow Americans, what do you believe?  Federalism, that is states’ rights, the Electoral College which protects those states’ rights is a deeply rooted part of our American culture, heritage and lifestyle.  Do you believe the process should be changed?  Do you believe that the President of the United States should be elected by a plurality of the popular vote?  There are those who do, and as the issue arises, you should be heard.  Democracy must be protected at all costs.  Equality can not be especially defined and should apply to all.  In any event, Trump won the Electoral College votes by a significant plurality while Clinton won the popular vote by an equally significant plurality.  Trump will be the 45th President of the United States for the next four years.  Donald John Trump can thank the Electoral College for that.