Donald Trump will be our next president. It is an unavoidable conclusion considering he has won a majority of the electoral vote. People have been throwing around the idea that faithless electors may save us from Trump and to that I say: don’t hold your breath.
For those of you who may not know, in about 20 states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, the law permits electors to disregard their pledge and vote for whomever they choose. However, this is very uncommon and is unlikely to happen even when faced with having to vote for Trump.
Despite the fact that Trump will likely be our next president, he didn’t actually win the most votes. Hillary Clinton won a plurality of votes by a margin of more than 600,000 and that number grows as I write this. According to the New York Times, “By the time all the ballots are counted, she seems likely to be ahead by more than two million votes and more than 1.5 percentage points… She will have won by a wider percentage margin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but also Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.”
Just for reference, two million is roughly the population of Houston, TX, or to put it another way, the entire population of New Mexico. It is not a small amount by any means. No amount of recounts could realistically evaporate her lead; Clinton won the most votes in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, despite winning only 47.3 percent of the vote, is projected to carry 307 electoral votes or roughly 57% of the Electoral College. So why do we have a system that can go so contrary to the majority opinion?
According to Federalist No. 68, written by Alexander Hamilton, the electoral college “will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes.”
In other words, the electoral college is meant to prevent “favorite son” candidates from getting elected. Favorite son candidates are those who appeal mostly to certain states or regions as opposed to the country as a whole. The theory was that by giving a plurality in each state more power than a national majority, we could avoid presidents who only appealed to just the north or just the south, also conveniently forcing presidential candidates to reach out to all walks of life.
This was also an attempt to check regional political power on national elections. It is, however, an outdated colonial construct that is irrelevant in the modern United States. We are no longer two relatively homogeneous regions, but a diverse collection of 50 states, many with their own heterogeneous populations.
The best example of how the Electoral College is irrelevant is the candidacy of George Wallace. Wallace, arguably Hamilton’s ideal favorite son candidate, appealed almost exclusively to white, southern segregationists in the 1968 election. He ended up winning 13.5% of the popular vote and about 8.5% of the electoral college, taking Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia as well as one elector in North Carolina. George Wallace, a man that appeals exclusively to a certain homogeneous group, is much less likely to make headway now than in 1789.
This serves as a good modern example of how the electoral college is no longer the necessary safeguard. The Electoral College now does more to suppress votes than it does to stop tyranny due to the heterogeneous demographics of many states. New York has a conservative population in the north that is completely suppressed in national elections by the heavily liberal New York City. The same is true for Texas Democrats in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, whose votes are suppressed by Republicans in the more rural areas.
So how did all of this affect the 2016 election? Well, it actually affected it remarkably.
A big trend of young and educated voters has been movement towards places such as Texas and California. This makes their votes less powerful because those are heavily red and blue states.
The effects of these population shifts are apparent in the results, however. Clinton lost Texas by 10 points. That sounds like a lot until you learn that Obama lost it by 16 points in 2012. Considering 2012 Obama far and above outperformed Clinton overall, this is a significant shift. So, despite the fact that Clinton underperformed Obama in key states like Wisconsin and Michigan, she overperformed in states like Texas which have seen an influx of liberal voting blocs like young people, educated people and Hispanics.
The same is true in Arizona, where immigration has caused the once reliably red state to fall into the swing-state category. While these demographic shifts don’t change the actual popular vote, they take democratic votes away from swingable states like Michigan and Wisconsin: states that would be and were likely affected by these demographics shifts, and bring them to harder-to-swing states like Texas and Arizona.
Another interesting point is how racialized the impacts of the Electoral College are.
This is not intentional or inherent in its design nor is it always the case in elections. However, the voting in this election swung heavily based on race, with whites greatly favoring Trump, and Black people, Latinx people, and Asian people overwhelmingly favoring Clinton. This shift across racial lines, as opposed to ideological ones, is what caused states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to turn red.
While those states each have smaller populations of Black Americans and Latinx Americans, their politics are heavily dominated by white, working class people.
This means that white, working class people, due to their electoral power, have much more of an effect on the election’s outcome than black people, who tend to live heavily in solid red states like Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana and Hispanics who tend to live more in solid blue California and New York as well as red-leaning Texas.
In other words, the huge uptick in Hispanic, Asian and Black voters this year, as well as the increasing proportion of minorities vs. whites in the US, didn’t do anything to affect the election’s outcome–effectively silencing their voices and the very real issues that are affecting their communities.
Imagine a world without the electoral college.
Imagine elections where presidential candidates don’t just visit a handful of swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Florida. Imagine them coming to swing districts, swing counties and swing cities instead. You know what’s a swing county? Dutchess County! Dutchess voted for Trump by a margin of just 1.1%, 48.4 to 47.3, making it closer than Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida or Colorado.
Imagine presidential candidates no longer being deterred from reaching out to voters in New York, California or Texas. Imagine them coming to places like Poughkeepsie to hear our voices and our issues. The electoral college isn’t the only thing suppressing certain voting communities. As many people know, strict voter ID laws in North Carolina, Ohio and many other states targeted minority communities with, as so elegantly put by a NC judge, “surgical precision.”
The illegality of convicted felons voting is another huge suppression, and there is little evidence to suggest that, while they are heavily more black than white, felon populations would even vote more democratic.
The electoral college has become a tool of voter suppression just like all these modern designs for suppression, and it is time that we do away with it to make way for a 21st century style of democracy. One person should have one vote: no more, no less. That is why it is time to lose the electoral college for good.