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The election and the Electoral College

Shannon Bohrer

(9/2017) The presidential election was decided last November and yet we often hear the experts and pundits say that the election is still being fought. Some of the issues that are still being discussed include the possible Russian influence, fake news and the popular vote. To individuals and groups discussing these topics – they are important, to others, the election is over. What is usually not discussed, but is really important, is the Electoral College.

When President Trump was elected he received 306 Electoral College votes to Hillary’s 232 Electoral College votes. It was neither an historical win, nor a close race. The magic number necessary to win the election is 270, so President Trump was well within that margin. However, in the same election Hillary Clinton received 65,844,610 votes and Trump received 62,979,636 votes. Winning three million more votes than a competitor and then losing the election – does not seem reflective of a democracy.

I believe the popular vote count annoys President Trump, since on several occasions he has complained that if not for the illegal votes he would have won the popular vote. This alternative fact has been disproven numerous times, but there are others that still believe it. What it does say is that even President Trump is not happy with losing the popular vote. It could also say that even President Trump believes that winning an election in a democracy – means winning more votes than your opponent.

So -why do we have the Electoral College? The Electoral College voting system was created early in our history with the 12th amendment. The purpose, according to historians, was to prevent the more populated states from ruling over the less populated states. This was in contrast over a direct election (where everyone’s vote counts) and was thought to balance the interests of small and large states. The reality is, and has been, that our differences are not small and large states. Our differences have been the northern and southern states and also the costal and the interior states.

Another poplar argument for the Electoral College system, at that time, was that many citizens would lack the knowledge to make informed decisions. To address this, even with the Electoral College the electors are not bound by law to vote for the person receiving the most votes. So basically, the electors could determine who wins, ignoring the popular vote.

Very early in our history the Electoral College system demonstrated that it had problems. In the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams won the election with 113,122 votes, or 31 percent of the known popular vote. Andrew Jackson received 151, 271 votes, which equaled 41 percent of the votes - and he lost. There were two other candidates received 88,387 votes, or 24 percent.

So you might be asking yourself, in that 1824 election, how did John Quincy Adams win with so few votes? Or how did Andrew Jackson, who had the most votes - lose? In the 1824 election the electors could not reach a consensus in selecting a president, which at that time required 131 Electoral College votes. As there were four candidates reaching the right number (131) became difficult. So the president was selected by the House of Representatives. Could this happen again?

Following the 1824 election, in 1876, 1888, and 2000 and again in 2016, the winner of the presidency, lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral College. Since President Trump is our 45th president, and in five elections the individual that won the presidency lost the popular vote, that means that eleven percent of the time, the person receiving the most votes – is not elected. That’s significant.

Currently the Electoral College consists of 538 electors, representing the 435 members of congress, the 100 senators and 3 electors from the District of Columbia. With 538 electors, 270 votes are needed to win. The number of Electoral College votes for each state is determined by the number of senators and congressmen that each state has. Since every state has 2 senators, which was another way of not offending the smaller states, each state starts with 2. Currently, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming all have 3 electors, because each of these states has 1 congress person and 2 senators. California has the most with 57 electors, representing their 2 senators and 55 members of congress. Behind California is the State of Texas with 40 electors, representing the 2 senators and 38 members of congress.

While the 12th amendment was created for "fairness" to the smaller states, it is anything but fair. If you divide the population of each state by the number of Electoral College votes each state receives, the representation is anything but equal. In Texas and California, each Electoral College vote represents about 696,000 voters. However, in South Dakota, each Electoral College vote represents 281,625 voters. In Wyoming, each Electoral College vote represents 194,219 voters. All of the states that have a minimum of 3 representatives have more voting representation over the other states. That seems unfair.

Another issue that seems unfair with the Electoral College system is that in 48 of the fifty states, all Electoral College votes all go to the winner in that state. So if your candidate loses with 49 percent of the vote, they get nothing. In the states of Main and Nebraska they use the congressional district method, which means the winner in each congressional district gets the Electoral College vote. Even in those states the person with the most popular vote, state wide, is not guaranteed the Electoral College votes. Think about this, there is not one state that divides the each Electoral College vote by the popular vote in that state. Of course, it really doesn’t matter since the electors are not bound by the voting. Somehow – that makes it seem worse.

With the unfairness of the Electoral College system, you may want to ask yourself – why does it exist and why has it not been changed? It could be that because the beneficiary of its existence is the TWO PARTY system. It is almost impossible for a third party to obtain the 270 Electoral College votes. Additionally, the more candidates running in an election the higher the probability that no one will reach the magic number of 270. So if no one wins the Electoral College vote, the party that controls the House of Representatives would vote for their candidate, even if he, or she, came in third or maybe even fourth. The Electoral College system ensures that the president will be a republican or a democrat.

Maybe we should be asking our congressional representatives – to fix the system. How annoyed will you be when the congress appoints a party member as president that was third, or fourth in the presidential election? It will happen again - we just don’t know when.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer