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The US Election: Problems with the Electoral College

Picture by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Picture by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The US election of 2020 was the highly awaited event of the year with the potential to change the course of the US during this difficult time. Those who voted on the 3rd of November for the next President, either for incumbent Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, likely expected to find out the final result within a day or so but, due to an increase in mail-in voting, the final result was not confirmed until  the 7th of November, when major broadcasters announced Joe Biden the winner of Pennsylvania, giving him enough Electoral College votes to claim the Presidency. As we awaited the final result for an unprecedented amount of time, there was a lot of time to reflect on the American Electoral system itself and why we waited so long when statistics showed that most voters had already voted for Biden. Many began to consider the effectiveness of the system and understand exactly what the Electoral College is.

 The Electoral College system is laid out in the US Constitution as the method of electing the President, each state is given a certain number of Electoral College votes determined by the number of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives (the Lower House) and by its two senators in the Senate (the Upper House). All states have 2 senators and so it is automatically guaranteed that every state has a minimum of 3 Electoral College votes. The House of Representatives’ members are determined by the population of districts within the state, for example as California has 53 House of Reps it has the most EC votes at 55, whereas Montana and Wyoming with smaller populations only have 3 EC votes. This is why the Electoral College system is over-representative of smaller states and under-representative of bigger states. 

Though California’s 2 Electoral College votes are worth the same as the 2 votes from Wyoming in terms of population there are only 578,000 people in Wyoming, compared to California having a population of 39.5 million people. This means that, if divided by their EC votes, one of Wyoming’s EC votes is reflective of 192,666 people, whereas in California one EC vote is reflective of 718,000 people. Regardless of who they voted for, this still is incredibly unfair in a system where the Electoral College determines the winner, with the popular vote having no impact on the eventual winner. 

This is why there have been 5 Presidential elections where the winner had less votes than their opponents. This first happened in 1824, and occurred later in 1876 and 1888, 2000 and 2016, when Trump beat Clinton despite her winning the popular vote. In 2020 there was concern that this might occur again due to the over-representation of Republican states over bigger Democrat states, as is the case with Republican voting Wyoming and Democrat voting California. Luckily for the supporters of Biden he pulled through and managed to win the 270 EC votes needed to win the election. Biden not only won the most votes in this election, but he also had the most votes in any Presidential election ever. This should have been a slam dunk for Biden in terms of his electoral support but because of the focus on the Electoral College system, and with every state having 2 votes regardless of population, there are huge disparities and disengaged voters who see their vote as wasted. 

Additionally, it is a winner takes all in most states, the exceptions being Maine and Nebraska. This means that even if a state’s result is a close-call, as was the case in several states in 2020,  the opponents’ votes are immediately disregarded. If the votes were distributed more fractionally it would create a fairer system that is clearer for the general public to understand and presents a more representative result.

 The Electoral College system is written in the constitution and any processes to amend it can take an excessive amount of time. It is shocking that five elections have been won by the candidate who didn’t receive the most votes. If this happens again, which it is likely to, it might be time for those who favour the Electoral College to assess how democratic the American Electoral system really is. 



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