Class Notes

Will we ever change the Electoral College? This is not a normal article that I am sending to papers, but I have been asked by a couple online readers if I ever see the possibility of the Electoral College going away. I thought it would be easier to just make a post rather than answer people one at a time.

My simple answer is no. There has been some talk lately about fixing the way we vote for the president. I do not see any of the ideas working, mostly because in order to change how the Electoral College works it takes a Constitutional amendment. Not that we can’t pass an amendment, but in this case, there are too many states that benefit from the current system to vote for a change.

The idea behind the changes are to create fairer system. As of now the Electoral College only rewards the winning candidate of each state. A Democrat in Oklahoma or a Republican in California might as well not vote. Their side will never win their state and so their votes are not counted. Yes, they go towards the popular vote, but as you all know that does not matter. A first suggestion is simply to use the popular vote. In many ways this seems to make the most sense and be the fairest. The reason this will never pass is that there is no benefit for the red states to ratify a new amendment for a popular vote. You need three-fourths of the states to agree, or 40 states. If we went with a popular vote the Republicans know their chance of winning future elections is difficult. With a popular vote, the nation’s largest cities get to choose the next presidents. Here is a 2016 election map by county. If you gave this to someone unfamiliar with the U.S. and asked who won the election based on population, they would most likely say the red candidate. Yet as we know, the blue candidate actually won. So, red states can make the argument that in fact it is not fair that the cities get to choose who governs the entire nation. What it really comes down to is an amendment will not pass because there is no incentive for red states to agree to a popular vote.

Another idea picking up some momentum since this past election is proportional voting. Nebraska, which allows for proportional voting, looked as if it may have been the deciding vote at one point early on. Proportional voting means where one area of the state votes differently they can pick up votes for their district. So, in Nebraska four of their electoral votes went to Trump, but because Omaha, their largest city, went to Biden that one district and its corresponding electoral vote went to Biden. While this system also seems fairer than winner take all, if you implement this system it swings elections overwhelmingly to Republicans. If you want to see a cool trick look up an election map like the one at the bottom. If you click on the blue states, they suddenly turn red. Except for CA, AZ, CO and most of New England, the other blue states are mostly red when seen on the state level. In other words, most areas in the state voted for Trump but are outnumbered by their city’s population. If you started counting proportionally, then Trump would have run away with the election. Just look at Virginia, Trump won 87 counties while Biden took only 32. While that state gave its 13 votes to Biden, if done like Nebraska, the majority of those votes would have been Trump’s even though the majority of the population voted for Biden. In case you are wondering, there are no such states that Trump won that would go to Biden if given proportionally. So, this idea would also fail. Again, it requires three-fourths of the states’ votes to get a new amendment. This time there is no incentive for blue states to vote for this.

There is another plan that picked up steam a few years ago but has seemed to have died out for a good reason. The plan was to bypass a Constitutional amendment by getting states to pass laws agreeing to allow their electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote instead of their state’s winners. While legal, states can make their own rules, how many election cycles can you imagine this agreement lasting. If states electors voted against their state’s winner, especially if it helped the other candidate win, there would be outrage. My guess it would only last one election before states demanded a switch back. It was mostly blue states pushing for this, but what is the point of an agreement among blue states if the red states did not join in. Again, there is no incentive for red states to agree to this.

This is just a long way of saying that like it or not, I do not see the Electoral College going away any time soon. It is not a perfect system but it’s the one we have.

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