Every election season I tell myself that this is the year I am going to understand the electoral college. I am college educated but cannot figure out the electoral college. I resorted to watching the Schoolhouse Rock explanation with my 8-year-old son who is in third grade. We watched the cartoonish explanation, and he looked at me and said, “Huh?” I sheepishly shrugged in shared confusion.
Remember in 2000 when Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote? That landed George Bush in the White House, and I just didn’t get it. I can’t seem to reconcile that outcome, and not because I didn’t vote for Bush. I cannot wrap my head around the system; it’s not the politics I’m fretting about. It’s the math.
We have 50 states plus the District of Columbia voting for President (never mind the United States citizens living abroad and in territories like Guam and Puerto Rico). Each state gets a minimum of three electoral votes. The total number of electoral votes is a simple formula of number of senators (2) plus number of House representatives (13 in my home state of North Carolina). This is where census data and Congressional districting come into play. There are 538 total electoral votes, and a candidate needs a simple majority to win (270). The mathematical reality is that the popular vote does not mirror the electoral vote, giving us the Gore/Bush situation of 2000. So the question begs to be asked, should popular majority vote rule? Should we abolish the electoral college?
I say no on both counts. But the truth is, I am confused enough that my opinion could be swayed here.
The electoral college is our country’s representative democracy, giving states equal representation. Basically, this was our founding fathers’ antidote to balance state power so one heavily populated state doesn’t control the election. One might argue that the system means that every vote doesn’t really count equally. In essence, an individual casts a vote for a candidate. That vote isn’t really for the candidate; it is for the electors to determine how they vote as a state. Technically, it is not the voters who elect a president, it is the electorate acting on behalf of the voters. But the catch is that there are no rules or laws or guidelines that require electors to vote based on how the citizens voted! Sure, that might not actually happen, but my point is that it can. This is my big beef with the electoral college that needs to be remedied.
I do fundamentally agree with the underlying premise of the electoral college, confusing as it is. The electoral college boils down to a numbers game. It is mathematical lunacy that ensures that every state is represented fairly based on population. While I did graduate from college (and graduate school), I didn’t major in math. Looks like yet another year of chasing the elusive electoral college.
Image via Gage (Wikimedia Commons)