After just a few days in office, President Donald Trump’s controversial policies have ignited protests throughout the country at an unprecedented scale. With such fierce and widespread opposition, it is time to take a step back and examine the system that brought a man who lost the popular vote by millions of ballots into power.
Under the current system, the president is not chosen by the voters themselves. Instead, the Electoral College, a group of officials chosen by the Republican and Democratic parties, makes the decision. Each state has a number of electors equal to the representation of that state in both the House and the Senate, and each elector has one vote. For example, Florida has 27 representatives and 2 senators, so the state has 29 electoral votes.
Since the U.S. is meant to be a representative democracy, this disconnected system of voting is fine as long as those electors do indeed represent the people. Unfortunately, history has proven they do not, and as a result, critics of the process have called for an end to the Electoral College and a shift to popular vote. However, there are just as many problems with using a popular vote, including the fact that our country is actually a federal republic and holding one national election would limit the role of states. The issue is not that an Electoral College exists, but that the electoral votes themselves are distributed by states in a manner that does not adequately represent the masses.
When the Founding Fathers put together the Constitution, they established the Electoral College but intentionally left it up to the states to determine how to allocate electoral votes to candidates. Almost every state chose to use a winner-takes-all system, which means that the party that receives the majority of votes in a state, no matter how slim, gets all of that state’s electoral votes. In a swing state such as Florida, this means a candidate who wins with 51 percent gets all 29 votes despite the opposition of nearly half the voters. As a result of this system, every vote that is not part of the majority in a state has absolutely no impact on the election.
However, there is an alternative: voting by proportional representation. With this method, the Electoral College would continue to exist, but states would allocate electoral votes based on the percentage of support a candidate received; if a candidate had 51 percent of the vote in Florida and his or her opponent had 49 percent, they would earn 15 and 14 electoral votes, respectively. Such a system would undoubtedly represent the populations of each state better, and every vote would actually count. Swing states would no longer decide elections based on a few thousand votes, and Republicans in a blue state such as California would have their voices heard (and vice-versa). Campaigns would cease to focus exclusively on swing states and turn to the nation as a whole because every vote would matter.
If electoral reform would be so beneficial to our democracy, why has such an attempt not yet been made? The answer is simple: many of those in positions to make change support the Electoral College as it is now, even though it does not represent the people the way a democracy ought to. After all, it helped put them in power. The ruling party of any state, Democrat or Republican, will not advocate for a change that would give more electoral votes to their opponents. Thus, it will ultimately be left to the people, not the government, to begin the process of reform.
The Electoral College has lasted for over 200 years, and in that time, it has consistently failed to represent the people. It is time to let go of the past and embrace a future where every vote counts.