Land of the free and home of the corrupt
(Clay Banks / Unsplash)
This past weekend, we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief once news broke that Joe Biden became the president-elect of the United States with over 75 million votes. He won 290 electoral college votes and broke the record for most votes ever cast for a US presidential candidate.
This sounds like a huge success (which it is), but it still seemed a close call. Election week was an anxious game of watching red states turn blue, then back to red and back to blue. For the most part, our anxieties weren’t because the popular vote wasn’t there. It’s because the Electoral College shamelessly disvalues hundreds of thousands of votes every election.
If you were to explain the Electoral College to someone from any country with a normal voting system, they’d look at you like you were crazy. Frankly, I feel the same way myself.
If it’s been a while since you suffered through a United State’s history class (or maybe you’ve just ejected all knowledge of government in a post-election frenzy), here’s a quick refresher:
In the Electoral College system, each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) gets a certain number of electors — an amount determined based on the number of representatives the state has in Congress. There are a total of 538 electors and each one votes for the most popular candidate in their state. A simple majority of at least 270 electoral votes is needed in order to win.
If it seems like this equation is missing something important, it is: the popular vote. At the end of the day, when you cast your ballot, you’re not voting for a presidential candidate — you’re voting for a specific slate of electors chosen by state legislators who will ultimately file their votes for the candidate of their choosing. Meaning the true outcome of an election lies in the hands of 538 government-chosen individuals trusted to act with the intentions of the people. You know, like democracy intended.
And while electors vote in tandem with their state’s popular vote 99% of the time, no federal law requires they do so. In 2016, seven electors broke with their state on the presidential ballot — the highest number of faithless electors in a single election since 1912. The impact of such electors have never influenced the outcome of an election, but its democratic implications are chilling.
Rather, it seems more and more that our nation is deliberately fashioned with inequality in mind. Since each state is promised a minimum of three electoral votes, regardless of population, smaller states amass a greater chunk of representation in the Electoral College.
To save you the math, 4% of the United State’s population (scattered across the least populated states) ends up accounting for 8% of the electoral votes. Even on the individual level, the vote of a Wyoming resident counts 3.5 times more than that of a Floridian.
These complexities also result in a significant swing state advantage. When it comes to campaigning, the presidential race is all about precedent and numbers. Since victory comes to the candidate who assumes the majority of electoral votes, not the popular vote, nominees are focused on accumulating a map of state wins that will push them over 270.
Thus, the vast majority of votes in consistently blue or red voting states go virtually to waste. Once a state like California, which has been reliably Democratic since 1992, swings blue, the margins of victory make no difference — lessening the impact of tens of thousands of blue votes.
On the other hand, the votes casted by residents of battleground states carry supreme weight in determining the results of presidential elections. A 0.1% margin of error in a swing state such as Florida grants 29 votes to the winning candidate, while the almost 50% of votes toward the opposing nominee are wasted.
No system that historically rewards the candidate with the least national support can call itself democratic; but the Electoral College promotes this possibility more than we care to admit, or maybe even notice. Mathematically, it is possible for a candidate to win the electoral vote, and by proxy the presidency, with less than 22% of the popular vote.
A Republican candidate hasn’t won the popular vote since 1988 — yet two have been elected into office since then.
In 2000, the infamous Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case prematurely stopped the ballot recount in Florida, granting George W. Bush the 271 electoral votes needed to win — despite Al Gore leading the popular vote by over 500,000.
Then in 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a greater margin than any elected president in history. Despite winning the race with a total of 304 electoral votes, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by approximately 2.09% — or 2.8 million votes.
There is no democratic America where the fate of the nation is placed in the good faith of 538 state-appointed officials. There is no democratic America where one person’s vote matters significantly more than their peer’s purely based on the political breakdown of their home state. And there is no democratic America where a presidential nominee can be legally sworn into office when 78% of the population voted against them.
Land doesn’t vote, people vote. And it’s time we gave power back to the people.