What is the Electoral College?

In the 2020 election, president-elect Joe Biden won the popular vote, but it is the electoral votes that matter. When US citizens vote in the presidential election, they are not actually voting for their president; they are voting for elected officials who make up the electoral college.

The electoral college is made up of a number of electors from each state that generally corresponds to their population. Every state receives as many electors as they have lawmakers in Congress (the House of Representatives and senators). Each state has two senators and a minimum of three votes overall. There are 538 electors in total- each one representing a vote. A candidate needs a minimum of 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Most of the time, states give all their electoral college votes to whoever won the poll of regular voters in their state. For example, in Georgia, if Candidate A wins by a very small margin, all 16 of it’s electoral votes would go to that candidate. The same result would occur if the candidate won the state in a landslide. For this reason, it is possible for the candidate who received less votes to win the election. Hillary Clinton got around 3 million more votes than Trump, but due to the electoral college system, he won. He is one of five US presidents who lost the popular vote. As a result, presidential candidates generally target swing states, as with each state they win, they are a few electoral votes closer to the 270 they require. Maine and Nebraska, however, separate their electoral college votes based on the proportion of votes the candidate gets. Members of the electoral college are permitted to vote for whoever they want in some states, but they almost always vote for who their state picked. If an elector does vote against their state’s selection, they are deemed ‘faithless’, which was 7 electoral votes in 2016.

States with smaller populations are overrepresented and states with larger populations are underrepresented in the electoral college. For example, California’s ratio of one electoral vote to people is 1: 718,000. On the other hand Wyoming’s ratio is 1: 193,000. In other words, an electoral vote in California represents more than three times as many people as an electoral vote from Wyoming. Professor George Edwards III at Texas A&M University claims this system ‘violates the core tenet of democracy, that all votes count equally,’ and that it ‘favours Republicans because of the way Republican votes are distributed across the country.’

Why this system? In 1787, when the US constitution was being created, a popular voting system nation-wide was impossible to achieve. There was no way for easy communication. Smaller states preferred the electoral college system, as it gave them more of a voice in the country. Southern states particularly favoured this system, as slaves were a large proportion of their population. Slaves could not vote but they were counted at ⅗ person in the US census.

What system do you think would work better?

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