The electoral college

I am officially registered to vote, which means that, on Tuesday, I will be fulfilling my civic duty to the country by participating in the odd, confusing, and outdated electoral college.

A brief reminder of how the electoral college works: when you vote on election day, you are actually voting for a group of state electors who will usually* vote for the state majority. The 538 electors are spread out across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the first candidate to 270 wins.

*There have been 87 instances in the past where electors have voted against the wishes of the majority. It has never decided an election, but it is a possibility.

I’ll be honest: I really dislike this process. Not in a I’m going to make it my life-long mission to eliminate the electoral college way, but in a  This system is very outdated and we can do better way. The electoral college was instituted in the eighteenth century when it was difficult to collect votes and travel to faraway places – so it was necessary to have a group of electors vote on the country’s behalf. This system was also used to protect the rights of the states that were struggling to free themselves from tyranny.

This was all well and good 200 years ago in a nation trying to institute federalism. But, I would argue, it is no longer necessary – and it gives swing states like Florida and Ohio a disproportionate influence on the election. In a fair democracy, all votes should be equal. A country that is by the people and for the people should, in fact, give the votes to the people – not to the states and their respective electors.

And the states, by the way, are not represented proportionately.* Take my home state of New York, for example. New Yorkers make up 6.2% of the U.S. population, but the state only accounts for 5.4% of the electors. This means that a vote in New York actually counts for less than a vote in Wyoming or Alaska. The disparity in California and Texas is even greater. This is because smaller states are given three electors no matter what, even if proportionately they should only receive one or two.

*Some U.S. territories aren’t represented at all – American citizens in Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands have no impact on the Presidential election. The District of Columbia didn’t have electors until 1961.

Here’s a crazy scenario: since a candidate only has to win ‘states’ and not ‘people,’ a candidate could, in theory, win only 22% of the popular vote but still win the election thanks to the electoral college. This is unlikely, but there have been instances where a candidate wins the majority but still loses the election, most recently in 2000.

It boils down to this – I believe that every American vote should count equally. I also believe in simplicity, progress, and reason.

The way I see it, there are 42 states that will vote one way or the other no matter what this Tuesday, which leaves eight undecided: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire. There is a possibility that Romney wins Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and Virginia, with Obama winning Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Hampshire. And what would happen in this case? It would be a tie – 269 to 269.

The chances of this happening are pretty low, but what if it did? The House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans) would pick the President and the Senate (controlled by Democrats) would pick the Vice President – which means we would most likely see a Romney/Biden White House. I think the country would explode.

I’ll leave it to the great CGPGrey to explain further and send us out in style:


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