With only 60-some days until the election, it’s too late to consider doing anything about the electoral college now.
But we are in a season of dismantling, or at least re-examining, outdated systems.
I know what you’re thinking: “But, doing away with the electoral college would disenfranchise smaller states and give all the power to the larger states.”
I’ve recently heard this misconception described as “folk civics,” that is civics lessons through folk lore.
There are interesting arguments made in the case against continued use of the electoral college.
Jesse Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board and author of “Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College” addressed this misconception saying it is the largest and most pervasive rumor surrounding the institution.
“In 40 percent of presidential elections this century, the electoral college selected a candidate who lost the popular vote,” he said.
Wegman argues that the system, which has been flawed since its inception, had contributed to voter apathy as more and more people opt not to participate in democracy because they do not feel their vote matters.
He explained the process this way: “This is a system whereby presidential electors are chosen within each state and they represent the number of congress members and senators each state has….In California, for example, there are 53 members of congress and two senators so they get 55 electoral votes. You add all of those up for the country and you get 538 electoral votes and you need 270 to win. So, a candidate wins 270 electoral votes or more they can be president regardless of what happens in the popular vote.”
For generations we’ve been defending the system, but many don’t know the particulars of how it worked.
“The idea that the college would benefit big states at the expense of small states is really a misunderstanding of both of how big big states are—which is not as big as people think relative to the size of the country—but also a misunderstanding of how the electoral college operates today. The way it operates is under the ‘Winner Take All’ system which is the rule by which states award all their electors to the state-wide popular vote. No how close the race is, the candidate that wins the most votes gets all that state’’s electors,” he said. “That creates an incredible distortion between the electoral college and the outcome of the vote…It creates what we think of as safe state and battleground states.”
He postured that the battleground state map is completely based on the “winner take all” rule, and that no state is entirely red or blue—they’re each made up of individuals on both sides of the aisle.
Wegman believes it corrodes democracy when you erase tens of millions of voters.
“When candidates have to zero in on just those few voters in swing states it’s really destructive to the idea of representative democracy. This is a person that’s supposed to be president of the United States, not president of the battle ground states, not president of Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin,” he said.
Wegman adds, “There have been more than 700 attempts over the course of the nation’s history to abolish the electoral college.”
There are passionate people on both sides of this argument. There are those who say it should be kept because our nation’s Founding Fathers thought it was the best method, and those who argue that it was used to find the first presidential candidate and was irrelevant moving forward. There are those who say the electoral college serves as a safeguard against uninformed or uneducated voters, while others say it discourages voters from participating. Many say it ignores the will of the people.
There is nothing to be done now. But while we’re in this season of examination of processes, maybe it’s the perfect time to begin discussion. Maybe it is time to set a new precedent for upcoming elections. Maybe, when all is said and done, we will find that this system has more good points than bad and only small changes need to be made. Or maybe we find a better way to represent our collective national voice.