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Value Each Voter

Should the Electoral College be maintained, altered or removed?

Photo courtesy of Sasha Kimel

by Rosie Benny

The Electoral College has long been one of the weird quirks of the American political system. A stop-gap between the American people and their government. A caveat in America’s claim that it is the greatest democracy in the world. Therefore, it is no great surprise that there has long been a debate about whether or not the Electoral College should be removed or changed in some way. 


This debate has only gained traction since the 2016 Presidential election when Donald Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg has pledged to remove it altogether. So, is it worth keeping at all?


The whole point of the Electoral College is to prevent a radical populist candidate from being elected into office, who will enact policies that ultimately damage the republic. You can almost taste the irony. The idea being that should such a candidate be chosen by the public, the electors will choose someone else. If ever there was a year whereby this failsafe would kick in, it was 2016. 


But no. Whilst a number of faithless electors voted for a smattering of other candidates, including Colin Powell and Bernie Sanders, most simply waved Trump into office proving that the Electoral College doesn’t even fulfil its sole purpose. 


Removing the Electoral College altogether is politically impossible. Those in power won under this system, so why would they change it? Instead, a more realistic and feasible option is to follow the example of Nebraska and Maine. 


Nebraska and Maine’s Electoral College votes are divided up according to congressional districts. This is an attempt to remove the distortion of the ‘winner takes all’ system used by the other 48 states and D.C. Under this system voters have far more of an incentive to go to the polls – especially those who would be voting for the losing party in that state. American voters have long since struggled with political apathy and this could be one step in increasing voter turnout nationwide. 


It also allows for a much greater understanding of the political make-up of the country. It’s easy to say that California is a blue state full of Hollywood liberals and that Texas is a red state full of redneck conservatives, but that isn’t strictly true. In fact, both these states are much more purple than one might think. If Electoral College votes were assigned proportionally, in 2012, 20 of California’s votes would have gone to Mitt Romney and 16 of Texas’ to Barack Obama. A republican in California and a Democrat in Texas has no reason to vote under the current system, so it’s no wonder so many people stay home. Through a more proportional system, every vote counts, and crucially it removes the swing states.


Swing states – such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida – are where most of the campaigning in presidential elections are done. These states are the ones that really matter. So much so, that up to 80% of all votes cast in the election had no impact on the outcome. No wonder candidates ignore huge swathes of the country – why campaign somewhere when their votes aren’t guaranteed? 


Reforming the Electoral College encourages people to vote, more accurately reflects how people vote and puts the power squarely in the hands of the American people. Making a change to this broken oddity of the American political system can only be a good thing. All it requires is a serious political will.

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