On November 3rd, the entire United States and other countries looked towards the government, focusing on President Donald Trump and Candidate Joe Biden. Ballot counting, electoral college votes, and viewer anticipation skyrocketed.
I hosted a viewer party with several of my closest friends, including fellow Suffolk University students, and other college students. We discussed our thoughts, opinions, and foretold what we believed was going to happen. However, all of us ended the night, slightly disappointed, anxious for the results of one of the most hyped elections in our lifetime.
However, we were not focused on how many citizens voted for each candidate. We didn’t care ABC news broadcasted Biden having 77.6 million votes, and Trump having 72.4 million. Our focus was not on the people’s will, but the will of the electoral college.
What is the Electoral College?
Within the United States Constitution, the Electoral college is a set of representatives, equaling both the House of Representatives and Senate, currently totaling 538 voters, who determine how each state represents itself. Once each state’s electoral votes are counted, the first candidate to reach 270 votes wins the presidency.
The electoral college was added into the Constitution after the founding fathers failed to decide who should have the power to elect the President of the United States. As a result, James Madison distinguishes the reasons for the electoral college in essays titled The Federalist no. 68.
The reasons include fair representation in voting, ensuring that the people’s voice is heard while making sure certain groups are not overpowered by the majority. Another reason is fair opportunity, since the electoral college is not picked from the House or Representatives or the Senate, bias within government positions is lessened. Madison also attempts to justify the electoral college by saying it will cause less chaos and will procure a more reliable result than popular voting.
Is Madison’s Justification Still True Today?
Madison makes three main justifications for the addition of the electoral college along with popular voting. To determine whether these justifications are still true, 233 years later, we need to look at elections during this century. We will focus not only on the 2000 U.S election, but also look at the 2016 and 2020 election.
Fair representation means each person is considered not only during the popular vote, but when decided the House of Representative seats and electoral college votes. In the article, “Apportionment Matters: Fair Representation in the U.S House and Electoral College”, authors Brian Gaines and Jeffrey Jenkins examine the census during the 2000 election.
For a recap, the 2000 election was between George W. Bush (republican) and Al. Gore (democrat) which was eventually chose by the supreme court. There was such a small percentage in both the popular votes and electoral college, recounts were being called for and eventually the election was so chaotic that the supreme court made the final decision for the 2000 presidency.
So how is the population being fairly represented, if they neither the popular vote nor the electoral college chose the President of the United States? That is exactly what Gaines and Jenkins discuss. They argue that fair representation of the population was not present in the electoral college. The 2000 census was not considered when allotting votes for the electoral college, and if it were, Bush would have had a larger winning platform.
In 2016, President Donald Trump won the electoral college votes even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. How is this possible? Well it can happen occasionally, and we saw it in the 2000 election as well.
However, many people have noticed what is considered an electoral college bias. We see these opposing votes between popular and electoral more frequently, and political scientist Robert Erickson discusses the bias of electoral voting in the article “Electoral College Bias and the 2020 Presidential Election.”
The results showed that there is a bias of the electoral college to continue voting the way it has in previous years, no matter what the popular votes say. There is rarely a change in state’s voting, even when there is such a stark change between the popular voting in states. Is this fair opportunity? Citizens within a state have their vote hushed based on previous elections that the electoral voting follows.
Less Chaos and More Reliable Results
In the beginning of our country, there was a worry about chaos accepting the president, and accepting the votes of the people. There was tension between the North and South, regarding voting, slavery, and the electoral college. Part of the founding father’s reasons for the electoral college, is to ensure that the south could have voting power. In The Atlantic, the author discusses how the North and South had relatively equal populations, however voting was disproportionate. This is due to the 3/5 Compromise, which each slave only counted as a 3/5 vote. Therefore, the South would not have the same equal voting opportunity. Therefore, the electoral college was created to ensure there would not be chaos and tension between the north and south, and the elected president results would be seen as accepted by both sides.
However, today we see more tension and chaos within the government, and chaos surrounding the election.
The results of the 2020 election have caused chaos surrounding the President of the United States. Current President Donald Trump is denying the results of the election, and claims he refuses to leave office. Donald Trump is causing supporters to deny the election results, and therefore denying the results of the electoral college. This is causing more chaos and tension within the U.S government.
What Does this Mean for the Electoral College?
The justifications for the electoral college, supported by the founding fathers, does not match today’s society. We continue to see more electoral college bias, unequal representation of the people’s votes, and more chaos and disrespect to the election results.
So, what should we do?
Well, if a system is no longer suitable for the society we live in, we need to change it. The electoral college is a good system, but it needs to be modified to fit our society, especially now more than ever. The founding fathers had quite a lower population, they had less partisan fighting, and overall, the system was a lot more skeletal than today.
Our voting system needs to encompass the entire population we have and prioritize what is important to U.S citizens. The only way for us to achieve this, is for citizens to demand change.
ABC News, editor. “2020 U.S Presidential Election Live Results.” ABC News, abcnews.go.com/Elections/2020-us-presidential-election-results-live-map/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
Codrington, Wilfred. “The Electoral College’s Racist Origins.” The Atlantic, 17 Nov. 2019, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/11/electoral-college-racist-origins/601918/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
Erikson, Robert. “Electoral College Bias and the 2020 Presidential Election.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, 26 Oct. 2020, www.pnas.org/content/117/45/27940. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
“The Federalist No. 68, [12 March 1788],” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-04-02-0218. [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, January 1787 – May 1788, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 586–590.]
Gaines, Brian J., and Jeffery A. Jenkins. “Apportionment Matters: Fair Representation in the US House and Electoral College.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 7, no. 4, 2009, pp. 849–857. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40407083. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
Ordonez, Franco. “Trump Wants To Fight Election, But ‘It’s Dawning On Him,’ Former Adviser Says.” National Public Relations, www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-2020-election-results/2020/11/06/932369007/trump-wants-to-fight-election-but-it-s-dawning-on-him-former-adviser-says. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
Philbrick, Steven. “Understanding the 3/5 Compromise.” Constitutional Accountability Center, 16 Sept. 2018, www.theusconstitution.org/news/understanding-the-three-fifths-compromise/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
“The United States Constitution.” Interactive Constitution, National Constitution Center, constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/article/article-ii. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
Thank you for this very well researched blog post. I learned more about the electoral college and enjoyed reading about your perspective. I have always had a different perspective of the electoral college and have always found it to be very important to the United States. The way I see it, there are underrepresented and very vulnerable areas of the United States that do not have high populations but are vital to the continuation of the country. One section of this demographic is the farmers, ranchers and agriculturists who live in very low population areas because it would be impossible for them to live in high population areas. It takes considerable land mass for them to do their job. With the electoral college, states that have high populations of agriculturists, but low overall populations are still able to have a voice. I think that the electoral college is still vitally important in this country.
I enjoyed your post. I do believe that the electoral college shouldn’t be used during our elections. Also, you made an important point at the end addressing the most important point: the system this country was founded on was “skeletal” compared to what we have now. James Madison made his case for the electoral college back when this country was in a completely different state. Fair representation isn’t necessarily ‘fair’ in today’s interpretation of how our voting system disproportionately impacts the minorities in society. Many people don’t really understand how the electoral college functions and in change, don’t see it necessary to vote. Others do understand and argue that future elections need to be reformed in order for elections to be equitable across the board. In an article by Jesse Wegman on the Electoral College, he discusses the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This is an agreement that states would give the electors the candidate that has the most votes in the country. This, in change, would show a full representation of each and every vote. In a sense, the popular vote dictates the election. I believe that this could work in allowing people to have a voice. I also believe that this could be a pivotal step into reforming systemic changes that need to happen.
Thank you for this well-researched blog post! I agree with your point that some of the justifications for the electoral college are a little outdated and that the electoral college diminishes the votes of some groups of people, but I wonder what would be a better alternative. Balancing regional interests was a big concern of the Founders when they drafted the Constitution, and this concern is still very important today. There are many people, such as farmers and ranchers, who live in not-so-densely-populated states and their interests would be gravely damaged if the electoral college was abolished. Would a new way of determining the electoral votes help with the situation? Right now, the number of electoral votes for each state is determined by adding up the number of Senators and House of Representatives. But the apportionment method determining the House of Representatives per state has remained the same since the 1940s, even as the state populations of Texas, Florida, and California have increased dramatically. Can we come up with a new apportionment method that will change the electoral votes per state in a way that both reflect the changing demographics of this country and protect the interests of less populated states?