Recently, Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced legislation that would amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College system as we know it, and in turn would change presidential elections to be decided by the popular vote. Various senators, including presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have all expressed sympathy for this proposal.
I believe this is not only a good idea, but a necessary change that must be done to guarantee a fair electoral process. The Electoral College is an outlier in the modern world and needs to be abolished for the United States to catch up to the rest of the modern world in electoral politics, among other changes.
To begin, let’s discuss practicality. When the system was founded, the system made relatively good sense: How could any government keep track of and validate a presidential election in the 1780s? It made sense that perhaps representatives would vote for the president due to this major obstacle of logistically administering an election. But we don’t live in 1780 anymore. We can keep track of the popular vote and don’t need to rely on an outdated system where electors choose our president.
Some may argue that so long as electors follow the popular vote in their respective states, all should work out since then the votes should be distributed, roughly, by population. But there is a major assumption in this argument: Electors are given to states proportionally. In other words, for every, say, 200,000 people, a state receives an electoral vote. However, this is not how electors are distributed. It is true that larger states have more votes than smaller states, but it is not proportional. Take the example of Wyoming and California. They have three and 55 votes, respectively. However, when you look at how many votes they have per capita — or, in other words, how many people are represented by an elector — it is about 192,000 and 720,000, respectively. That means for every 3.75 people in California, they have the same power as one person in Wyoming in the Electoral College.
If one were to take the ratio of people to electoral votes of Wyoming and apply that ratio to California’s population, the state would not receive 55 votes, but a whopping 205 electoral votes. Does that seem fair? Does that seem like one person, one vote? I say no. This system is unfair to states such as New York, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania, which are disproportionately and unfairly penalized, whereas states such as Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska have their voices overamplified for their size. For this reason, the system is undemocratic. Voters in Wyoming have 3.75 times the power as one person in California. If we would say it’s unfair for one person to vote three times the number of votes in an election, why do we not say it’s unfair for one person to have three times the voting power of another in an election?
This system isn’t hypothetical; it has real-world effects. Even though Democratic presidential candidates have won four out of the five past elections by popular vote, Democrats have only won the presidency two out of those five times. This has real-world tangible effects. Although Al Gore only won the popular vote by a few hundred thousand, Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes, they both lost in the Electoral College. What will it take for us to question the legitimacy of this institution? Must a candidate win the popular vote by 5 million, 10 million, 20 million votes before we question why this system exists?
The Electoral College is an archaic system that must be abolished. It has failed us multiple times and allowed presidential candidates to win the White House despite the fact they did not receive more votes. If this were happening in Iran or Venezuela, we would call for regime change due to the illegitimacy of their elections. But when it’s our own nation, we rationalize. Democracy requires one person, one vote to function. The Electoral College is standing in the way and these are, for certain, mutually exclusive options.
Seth Gully is a freshman triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.