With the 2020 US presidential election right around the corner, the topic of the Electoral College has been brought into relevance again, and it’s time to realize that our presidential election system is broken.
Rather than determining the winner of elections by who has the higher popular vote or plurality of votes like other countries, the winner is determined by getting at least 270 out of 538 electoral votes from the 50 states. Every state has at least two electors for the two senators the state has in Congress plus their number of representatives which is based on population.
This is where the first issue lies, as giving every state at least two votes gives too much power to smaller states. For example, a small state like Rhode Island has four electoral votes, while a highly populated state like California has 55. Rhode Island has one electoral vote for every 263,000 voters, while California has 1 vote for every 677,000 voters. This means a vote in Rhode Island is worth about 2.5 times as much as a vote in California.
Some say it’s a good thing that the electoral college gives extra power to smaller states because otherwise, candidates would only visit big states and cities while ignoring smaller towns. However, the extra power given to smaller states in addition to the winner-take-all system (all of a state’s electoral votes going to one candidate) leads to only a couple, sometimes small swing states mattering because they are the only states that could vote either way. So no matter the system, the election comes down to only a couple of states, and it would be better if those states were highly populated ones like California and New York.
Another way that voters can feel disempowered is the winner-take-all system within most states. 24 percent of Californian voters are republicans, but the state’s 55 electoral votes almost always go to the democrats and the reverse goes for republicans in blue states. This discourages people from voting at all as they know the other party will win, which is not healthy for a republic.
Third-party voters also feel left out. Many Americans are independents with beliefs from both sides and voting feels like picking the lesser of two evils to them. If they voted third-party, especially in a swing state, their vote would be useless because of the winner-take-all system. Third-party voters are often shunned and blamed for the outcomes of elections when their voices should be taken just as serious or legitimate as anyone else.
Another big controversy about the electoral college is that a candidate can end up winning the popular vote but losing the election. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump, but Trump got 77 more electoral votes. While this phenomenon is relatively uncommon, a system that produces this outcome even once is clearly flawed.
There are many solutions and alternatives to our broken presidential election system. Having counties vote instead of states could solve the issue of republican strongholds in California or liberal cities in Texas not having a voice. Going by the popular vote could stop a scenario like 2016 from happening again, and runoff elections/ranked-choice voting could give third parties a winning chance. No matter the alternative, it’s important to accept that the electoral college is an outdated system that needs to be reformed.
Jaden Patel // Staff Writer