By MATT EPSTEIN ’19
Consider a fictional country in which after a yearlong lead-up, free elections were held to select its next President. When the votes were finally tallied, a clear winner, the candidate with the most votes, emerged, and yet the loser was named that country’s next President. Imagine the official response from the United States: terms like “undemocratic” and “oppressive” come to mind. Perhaps we would invade (after all, we do have a bit of a history on that front), to “bring democracy” to people who had been denied it. Undoubtedly, the fictional country’s democracy would be called into question.
On Nov. 9, the American people went to the polls to cast their vote for the next leader of our country. In a margin significantly wider than those that have elected presidents in years past, our country overwhelmingly picked Hillary Clinton to be the next President of the United States. However, on Jan. 20, Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as our 45th President, despite losing the election by over 2 million votes. In a country that serves as a shining example of democracy for the rest of the world, the result of the election was anything but. Welcome to the Electoral College.
Since our country’s earliest days, the Electoral College has served a purpose that was twofold: it “involved” all of the states in a time when state’s rights were (generally) more powerful than the federal government, and it served as an effective means of democratically electing a President in a time when counting individual votes was nearly impossible. Perhaps most importantly, the Founding Fathers installed it as a “safe guard” against a candidate unqualified to assume office. In effect, they did not entirely trust the American people to make the right choice, and in the first half of our country’s existence, many electors exercised their right to choose differently. Today, it serves as an obsolete system that has appointed the loser by popular vote twice in the past 16 years (Al Gore’s loss being the other), and is undermining our democracy.
As faithless electors are extremely rare in today’s political climate, the Electoral College has, in effect, turned the presidential race into a competition to win the “swing states,” States, such as Florida and Ohio, that do not consistently vote one way or another. In reality, a system designed to include all of the states in the race now excludes a majority, as candidates do not bother campaigning in states such as Texas and California, which despite their large populations are extremely predicable in voting along party lines.
While proponents of the Electoral College would argue that the electoral college is fair in that states receive electoral votes proportionally to their populations, this is the Electoral College’s greatest failure. It is apparent to most that California has a much larger population than Wyoming. Seemingly, this is reflected in the electoral college; California receives 55 electoral votes while Wyoming receives just three. While the numbers seem reasonable, closer inspection reveals that in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, each electoral vote is worth a shade under 700,000 actual votes. In Wyoming, with its population under a million, an electoral vote is worth just under 200,000 actual votes. In effect, the vote of a citizen in Wyoming is worth far more than that of a Californian. This seems especially contradictory when you consider that the Declaration of Independence reads that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” In light of the recent election, the only self-evident truth is a need for the Electoral College’s abolition.
During our country’s infancy, the Electoral College was created, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, to ensure that “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” As a reality TV star with no political experience and conflicting business interests in numerous foreign countries prepares to take office, it would stand to reason that the Electoral College was formed with this exact situation in mind. Despite the Electoral College’s original purpose, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. In order to preserve the integrity of our democracy, it is surely time for a change.
By MATT EPSTEIN ’19