The Electoral College has received A LOT of attention recently which has resulted in A LOT of misleading propaganda and misunderstanding. If you are on social media AT ALL, odds are you have seen something like the meme below. So, let me explain why it is WRONG.
Image Source: Google Images (modified)
First, how are Electors apportioned. Propagandists will tell you it is one per “congressional seat,” meaning one per Representative in the House and one per Senator. While that is technically correct, like all good propaganda it is misleading. To understand the discrepancy, you have to understand the role of a House Member vs the role of a Senator. The House represents “The People” and the Senate represents the States. So, each state has an Elector for each House District and two statewide Electors for their Senators that represent the state as a whole.
So, using the California vs Wyoming example above, California has 53 “People’s Electors” and 2 “State Electors” while Wyoming has ONLY ONE “People’s Elector,” but also has the same 2 “State Electors” as California. Right off the bat we see balance at the state level, every state has 2 “State Electors.” but what about the “voice of the people” and Wyoming’s lopsided power?
I don’t know where anyone else got there numbers, but for the sake of a fair comparison I’ll use the U.S. Census Population estimates, July 1, 2016, for California and Wyoming.
California Population: 39,250,017 divided by 53 “People’s Electors” or 740,566 people per “People’s Elector.” plus 2 “State Electors.”
Wyoming Population: 585,501 and they only have ONE “People’s Elector , 585,501 people per “People’s Elector.” plus 2 “State Electors.”
Here’s where the propagandists get you again. They equate the population with votes, but the entire populations of California and Wyoming ARE NOT VOTERS. Many aren’t old enough to vote or aren’t eligible to vote, etc.
*Side Note: California also has 53 times more representation in the U.S House of Representatives than Wyoming does.*
Of course, whoever wins the ONE “People’s Elector” in Wyoming will automatically win the state as well, getting the 2 “State Electors,” which is why propagandists like to use Wyoming. Because Wyoming only has one House District, it’s a winner take all state (by default) WITHOUT disenfranchising other Districts. California is a little different, since it has multiple Districts and multiple “People’s Electors” it is actually LESS FAIR than Wyoming. California is a “Winner Take All” state (by law), a candidate doesn’t have to win all 53 House Districts, they just have to win the popular vote to get all 53 “People’s Electors” from all Districts and the 2 “State Electors.” So, people in House Districts that DIDN’T vote for the winner get there “People’s Elector” taken away from them and given to their opponent.
It takes fewer votes in California, per elector, than in Wyoming. Let’s step away from population numbers for a minute, since the entire state population can’t vote, and look at actual votes. For example, Hillary got roughly 8.8 million votes in California vs Trump’s 4.5 million. Hillary got all 53 “People’s Electors,” which is 166,000 votes per “People’s Elector” in California, plus the other 2 “State Electors” for winning the state. Trump got 175,000 votes in Wyoming vs Hillary’s 56,000. Trump got the ONE “People’s Elector,” which is 175,000 votes per “People’s Elector” in Wyoming, plus the other 2 “State Electors” for winning the state. Still looks pretty damn balanced to me, UNTIL you look at the numbers of people whose “VOICE” wasn’t heard. In Wyoming it’s pretty straightforward, one House District which Trump won along with the state and only about 56,000 people on the losing side. In California, Hillary DID NOT win all 53 House Districts, but still got all 53 Electors apportioned for those House Districts. There were 4.5 Million Californians, over a third of the votes cast, in House Districts that Trump won, whose “VOICE” was not heard. The same holds true in TX, FL, NY, PA, etc where it is “Winner Take All” and House Districts that vote the other way are disenfranchised.
That is where the imbalance lies, not in the Electoral College, but in STATE election law, such as “Winner Take All.” The Electoral College was designed to strike a balance between the interests of the people (nationalism) and the interests of the states (federalism) when electing a President. Madison describes this balance in Federalist Paper #39:
“The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many federal as national features.”
However, they gave the States the power to write their own election law to administer the process. If there is a mistake, or flaw, in our Presidential election process, it is on the state level. States, like California, Texas, Florida, New York and most others, wanting more electoral power, opted for “Winner Take All.” That way their 55, 38, 29 electoral votes, etc. drew more attention, power, campaign time and campaign money to their state. Just the top four states have over 150 electoral votes, “Winner Take All,” and account for over HALF the votes needed to hit the current 270 mark to win. However, if the electors were awarded, as allotted, per district plus two for the state win then every District in every state would have a voice that carries weight in the form of one electoral vote each. They also wouldn’t be so predictable, which would destroy the “swing state” argument against the Electoral College. Not that the “swing state” argument holds any water as it is. Swing states change from cycle to cycle as the demographics and ideologies of the state change between cycles. Hell, Texas was once reliably Democrat and California was once reliably Republican, things change.
The key to winning the Electoral College is being able to identify changes from cycle to cycle and having a message that resonates with a broad coalition of Americans. You have to appeal to big state issues as well as small state issues, both urban and rural issues, issues that matter to people individually as well as collectively. People cite the discrepancy between the National Popular Vote and the Electoral College Vote as a flaw. If the Electoral College was just supposed to reflect the popular vote, then we wouldn’t need it. The Electoral College reflects a balance of interests, not just popularity. When the Electoral College and popular vote disagree, it is usually when our nation is most divided. The Electoral College rewards the candidate with the broadest appeal rather than the most popular appeal. Our populations are largely clumped into dense urban areas, so it’s not hard to win the popular vote if you only appeal to urban voters, but the President doesn’t JUST represent urban voters. The President is supposed to represent ALL, or at least the widest variety of, voters AND states possible. That is the balance between nationalism and federalism that the Electoral College was designed to achieve.
Even with power-hungry states mucking up their election laws, the Electoral College still achieves that balance, generally speaking. California and Wyoming are prime examples of the two extremes still relatively balanced. The Electoral College ain’t broke, so don’t fix it. If you MUST fix something, then fix the election laws in your own states so that they better represent YOUR voice and YOUR will.