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Friday, January 22, 2021

It’s time to ditch the Electoral College

This dated model is counter to democracy, creates lopsided representation

Artistic rendering of people standing in line at a polling station wearing surgical masks
People in masks lining up outside a polling station during stay-at-home orders. // Illustration by Rachel Alexander

By Izzie Lund

PUBLISHED VERSION:

https://bellinghammatters.com/opinion-editorial/its-time-to-ditch-the-electoral-college/

This article was produced for Journalism 497B. It may appear in a different form at bellinghammatters.com.

Over the past four years, the unimaginable has become the ordinary — and it’s all thanks to the Electoral College, an outdated threat to American democracy that has normalized tyranny of the minority.

The Electoral College is a relic from 1804 that gives rural states a disproportionate amount of power, cancels out certain citizens’ votes and discourages presidential candidates from seeking the true majority’s viewpoints.  

When the 12th Amendment, which created the Electoral College, was ratified, the U.S. was only 20 years old and had just 17 states with a collective population of about 5 million.Today, 10 million live in Los Angeles County, California, alone. One county in one state contains twice the people today than the entire nation did when the Electoral College was ratified.

It’s unrealistic to cling to the Electoral College because of the Founding Fathers’ principles. If they saw our demographics today, it would blow their minds.

Some will say the popular vote and the Electoral College have matched up most of the time, with a few outlier elections — so is it really worth the energy to abolish it?

Yes, it is.

The U.S. has elected two candidates in the past 20 years — in 2000 and 2016 — who lost the popular vote but won with the Electoral College. Even when the same candidate wins both the popular vote and the Electoral College, it is still inherently undemocratic.

In 2020, Donald Trump won North Carolina by roughly 73,000 votes. All the state’s 15 electoral votes went to Trump, even though roughly 2.5 million people in North Carolina voted for Joe Biden. 

The reverse is also true for the 2 million people in Georgia who voted for Trump. Do their votes not deserve to be heard? No one’s vote should be cancelled out in a so-called democracy.

Rural states are also disproportionately represented and given undue power. 

Wyoming has about 265,000 registered voters and three electoral votes, so every elector represents roughly 88,000 voters. California has about 21 million registered voters and 55 electoral votes, meaning that every elector represents about 386,000 voters.

One electoral vote in California represents more voters than the entire state of Wyoming, yet Wyoming gets three electoral votes. Areas with fewer people get more of a say in the Electoral College simply because of where they live.

Why should 265,000 Wyoming voters get the same weight and representation as 386,000 Californian voters?

Proponents of the Electoral College say it prevents tyranny of the majority. They argue that without it, only a few states — California, New York and Texas — would decide the entire country’s fate. 

Every state in our nation has two senators, and are represented equally in the highest chamber of Congress. While rural states would have less of a say in presidential elections, they have more than enough representation for checks and balances against the president.

The Electoral College still ensures that a handful of states decide the presidency. The difference is these states are just different than the crucial states in a popular vote count, primarily: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and a few others. This creates undemocratic campaign strategies. 

Presidential candidates know they must win the Electoral College and not the popular vote, so they spend most of their time in these swing states.

Trump won roughly one million more California votes in 2020 than in 2016. Even though he still lost California, what would happen if he had dedicated his energy to actually campaigning there?

Candidates often devote themselves to swing states and even alter their policies to cater to those voters. However, just because voters in Pennsylvania want certain changes to a candidate’s policy doesn’t mean the rest of the nation does. 

Swing states should not have the sole power to influence policy. 

If Pennsylvania voters disagree with a candidate, that shouldn’t be considered political suicide;  candidates should have the freedom to try to sway all voters, regardless of where they live.

Roughly 61% of Americans support abolishing the Electoral College. If that doesn’t show the importance of the majority, what does?

Unfortunately, we can’t abolish the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment, which would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress as well as ratification by three-fourths of the states. This is highly unlikely because Republicans have depended on this system to elect presidents from their party even when they lost the popular vote.

There is a flash of hope, and it’s called The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact is an agreement where every state that joins it will cast all its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of the votes in their state. 

Once enough states — states that add up to 270 electoral votes — join the compact, they will render the Electoral College obsolete and guarantee that the popular vote elects the president.

Twenty four states — including Washington state —  with a total of 196 electoral votes have joined the compact. We just need 74 more before we can guarantee true popular sovereignty in the land of the free. 

Check in with your friends who live in other states — is their state on that list? If not, have them call their state legislature and urge the legislators to add their state. Spread the word. Real, democratic decision-making lies in the people and not the land. 

Let’s get to work.

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