To rage against the U.S. Electoral College is worse than a distraction. It is useless, it’s a waste of time.
If you want to know the names of the president and vice president who will be sworn in next January, 2021, if you care who the next president will be, you have to WIN A MAJORITY of the Electoral College in the November 2020 presidential election. It’s as simple as that. And as difficult. Just look at the Electoral College map above.
Raging against the Electoral College is worse than a distraction because you can’t get rid of it, and you can’t change it.
Where does the Electoral College come from?
It comes from the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1.
“Each State shall appoint, in such a Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress . . . The Electors shall meet in their respective States and vote by Ballot for two Persons . . . And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed . . . to the President of the Senate. . . . The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the president, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed . . .
. . . after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President.”
Each state gets a number of electors equal to its two U.S. Senators plus the number of members the state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. The candidate with the most electoral votes is the next president.
But only if that number is a majority of all the electoral votes. That’s important. Note that the Constitution requires a MAJORITY of the Electoral College. Not a minority.
The above system has been used in every presidential election since the first one in 1788, when a majority chose George Washington without a whole lot of dispute.
The Electoral College is arithmetic, specifically addition! No subtraction, multiplication, long division, geometry or calculus.
So why the consternation about the Electoral College?
Good question. It starts with the fact that the electoral votes of smaller states are proportionately greater than the votes of larger states. That’s because large states and small states all have two U.S. senators as the base point for their number of electors. But that proportional difference is quite small, in the context of 538 total electoral votes for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A winner-take-all system of awarding the electoral votes makes the proportional difference worse. Much, much worse.
The presidential candidate who wins a state’s popular vote wins ALL that state’s electoral votes. The losing candidate gets NONE of the state’s electoral votes. Even though he or she may have won 45 percent of the state’s popular vote. (The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska.)
As a result of the winner-take-all system, on top of the proportional advantage of the smaller states, the electoral vote count for president does not accurately reflect the total popular vote nationwide.
One candidate can receive a majority in the Electoral College and another candidate can receive a majority of the national popular vote! Usually it’s not a problem. It’s only happened a few times in the whole history of the U.S.
But it happened in 2016!
Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote. And Hillary Clinton narrowly won the national popular vote. Many people think Clinton should therefore be president. But sorry, the winner was Trump, the one with the Electoral College majority. It says so in the Constitution, and the Constitution is the law of the land.
And that, my friends, is why many people are displeased (to put it mildly) with the Electoral College. And people are wondering if the same thing might happen again in 2020.
In the next post, Part 2, we’ll discuss how the winner-take-all system came to be.
And more important, why it’s a waste of time worrying about the Electoral College, because we’re not going to change it. At least not before the November election. Which is only five months away.
Rather than raging against the Electoral College, your time would be better spent trying to WIN the Electoral College majority for the candidate of your choice. That is the point of this series of posts.
See you in Part 2.
— John Hayden