Electoral College: How Equal Is It?

Once again, we have an election where the candidate with the most vovotetes did not win the Presidency. As things stand now on December 1, 2016, according to CNN, Trump has 306 Electoral Votes and Clinton has 232. Put another way, Trump is projected to have 57% of the Electoral College votes. But in the popular vote, Clinton has almost 65 million votes compared to Trump’s almost 63 million votes. By CNN’s calculations, Clinton won 48 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 46 percent. See CNN Click Here

This mismatch has provoked questions about the Electoral College.

The Constitution says Electors from each state will be equivalent to its Congressional delegation: the number of Senators and Representatives. Every state has two Senators, regardless of population size. The House of Representatives is proportional, with number of Representatives reflecting the population of each state.

The Constitution further stipulated: “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.” That requirement was deleted when Congress capped the number of Representatives at 433 in the Apportionment Act of 1911 and finalized in 1929 at 435. Given our current population of over 300 million, the House of Representatives would have over 10,000 members to maintain that 1/30,000 ratio.  The current ratio is around 1 representative for every 720,000 people.

The problem for the Electoral College is that it includes the two senators from each state: Alaska, with 735,000 people gets 2 Senators, and California, with 38 million gets 2 Senators. At the time of the Constitution was being written, compromises were made. The Senate was one of those compromises; small states did not want to be swallowed up by the large states so each state was guaranteed equal representation. The People’s House was reflected the states’ population.

However, when translated into Electoral College votes, there is a bias towards the small states. Alaska has a small population and gets 3 Electors. CNN reported that 246,591 ballots were counted in the Presidential race in Alaska. This means that there are 82,197 voters for every 1 Electoral College voter. California, being a large state, gets 55 electors. Almost 12 million ballots were counted in California, resulting in 217,351 voters for every 1 Elector. An Alaska voter has a louder voice than a voter in California.

Looking at population and electoral college votes, rather than the number of people who actually vote, also shows this same distortion.

The 5 states with the fewest people are: South Dakota (844,000), Alaska (735,000), North Dakota (723,000), Vermont (627,000) and Wyoming (583,000). These five states have a total of 3.5 million people. Each of these states gets 3 electoral college voters. So, Wyoming has 1 electoral college voter for every 198,000 people. South Dakota has 1 for every 281,000 people.

California, with its 38 million people has 55 electoral votes. So, there is 1 electoral college voter for every 700,000 people.

When the 5 smallest states are combined, their 3.5 million people have 15 electoral college voters.  Iowa, which has a population of 3 million, only has 6 electoral college voters.  Michigan has just under 10 million people and  16 electoral college voters. It has has almost 3 times the population for almost the same number of electoral college voters as the 5 smallest states combined.

Clearly, there is a built-in inequity. The Constitution is silent on whether this was intentional.

Whether the Electoral College helps or hinders democracy is a political question. If you believe that a national election should be determined by the nation’s voters and that every vote should count equally, then the Electoral College should be abolished.  If you believe that the Constitution was attempting to protect the smaller states from the larger states, or that the Constitution should stand as it is just because it’s always been this way, then you might be reluctant to abolish it.

For more information about the Electoral College:Click Here

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