The system we know today as the Electoral College has its roots in the founding of our country, though it wasn’t known by this name until the early 19th Century. Today we know it as a sort of quadrennial paint-by-numbers in which two politicians try to convince the majority of people in each state to vote for them to be the next president of the United States.
Electoral College 101
When a candidate “wins a state” that state gets filled in with their party’s color and they get as many points as that state is worth. There are a total of 538 points available. Divide that by 2 and you get 269, thus the first candidate to 270 points wins. In principle it sounds like a very fair and efficient system. That is, under the assumption that each “point” in a state is representative of the same number of actual voters from state to state. It’s not. The videos below explain this in more detail.
This is just one of the flaws in the Electoral College system. Another is that you don’t actually vote for the president when you fill in the bubble or connect the arrow on your ballot. Your vote actually goes to nominate someone to vote for you at a subsequent election held in December. These voters are called electors and are appointed by the party. The electoral “points” you see assigned to each state are actually the number of electors that state sends to vote for the president. The electors chosen by each party in your state pledged to vote the same way the state did…but they don’t have to.
Time for a Change
The system may have made more sense in the early days of the nation when ballots from across the country had to travel by pony express to reach Washington, but today, given the increasing complexity of the political atmosphere and the speed at which we can transmit information, it’s unnecessary and it overcomplicates the process to a fault.
It’s so flawed, in fact, that albeit unlikely, someone could win the presidency while 78% of the people voted against them!
These videos by CGP Grey explain it far more elegantly and concisely than I can. Please take a few minutes to watch all 3 to fully understand the flaws involved in the Electoral College.
- How the Electoral College Works [4:42]
2. The Trouble with the Electoral College [6:30]
3. Re: The Trouble with the Electoral College [4:42]
Prevent a Fifth
The way democracy was described to me when I was in school was that in a contest, the person who got the most votes wins. I remember learning about presidential elections during the Clinton/Bush campaign in ’92 when I was in fifth grade. I didn’t understand why we counted votes using two different methods, why they didn’t come out equal, and why the method that actually mattered was not the one that we were taught was how it should work. I think Occam would agree this is not the right system.
Four times in the history of US Presidential Elections, including the current election between Trump and Clinton, the candidate who received fewer votes was awarded the presidency. That’s not a democracy. If we are going to start fixing the problems with politics in the United States, this is the place to start. We need to fix the most fundamental institution of a democratic governmental system; the power of the vote of the people to elect their leader.
Could the Electoral College Replace Trump with Clinton?
In short, yes. While extremely unlikely, the electors chosen by each party to represent each state still need to vote on December 19. Those electors have pledged to vote the same way as their state decided, but they are not federally required to. However, some states do impose punishments against these “faithless electors.”
By the numbers, Trump is 36 electoral points over the magic 270. That means we’d need to flip a state like Texas, who has 38 electoral votes, or Florida and Oklahoma who total 36, from Trump to Clinton. That’s 17 electors who would have to renege on their pledge. While electors have flipped or opted not to vote in the past, it has never been enough to change the outcome of an election.
So, while it is constitutionally still possible, don’t hold your breath. If you are of that breath-holding nature and want to get involved, a petition has been started on Change.org to convince the electors to cast their votes for Clinton.
Robert Farley of FactCheck.org explains how this electoral vote works in more detail. http://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/could-electoral-college-elect-clinton/
Remove the Electoral College
It is time to do something about this. A bill has been proposed to change the system to use the national popular vote to elect the president. The bill is gaining traction in both Democratic and Republican states; a great sign that we see eye-to-eye on at least one political ideal.
If we want our democracy back in the hands of the people, we need to take action. Read through the information on the bill and push your local legislators to pass it. There are forms on the website to help you do so.