The Electoral College (EC) is back in the news yet again for being objectively terrible, as a harrowing new study proves that it is much more of a tool that ensures minority rule, rather than one which prevents the supposed “tyranny of the majority.” Let’s start with the new news, then add nine more reasons why America needs to get rid of this relic of slavery which is certain to elect more Donald Trumps in the future (technically 12 reasons total if you include the two schlubs in the title photo).
A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (a nonprofit economic research organization with 29 Nobel Prize winners in economics) looked at every presidential election from 1836 to 2016 and found that on average, the popular vote winner should lose the electoral college 40% of the time in elections decided by two million votes or less.
To put that figure in some context, only four American cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston—have more than two million residents.
The study is absolutely stunning—stating that Republicans are expected to win 65% of presidential races in which they narrowly lose the popular vote, thanks to the concentration of Democrats in solid blue states. The fact is that Donald Trump has an extremely good chance of being reelected in 2020 (he could even be a slight favorite as of right now), thanks to the massive advantages the electoral college creates for him.
James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, wrote in his journal during the 1787 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention that:
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes.
Slave-owning states wanted political representation that was proportional to their population, but they didn’t want most of their population to have political representation. That is the genesis of things like the Three-Fifths compromise. Any rudimentary study of the time when our Constitution was being written reveals that slavery was at the heart of every dispute in this new government as far as appropriating political power goes, and you’ll never guess what Madison said the solution was to fusing a practical union between “this difficulty” in presidential elections.
The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to fewest objections.
Like so many institutions rotting our crumbling empire to its core, the electoral college was built entirely around the demands of slave owners. This is a fact. Disputing it is to dispute a founding father’s contemporaneous writings.
It seems impossible in the context of our current electoral map, but Barack Obama somehow won Indiana in 2008. Our increasing polarization is reflected in the narrowing number of swing states today. The 2020 election is likely going to come down to just four: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those four states comprise 86% of the current true tossup EVs, and 32% of the total votes needed to win, all while housing just 15% of the population.
There is absolutely, positively no electoral college-specific reason for a presidential candidate to campaign in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska (minus one of its split EV votes), Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska. Those states, which account for 54% of the population, are already decided by majority rule, and it’s hard to argue that any one singular vote really matters in any of those states in a presidential race.
Imagine a hurricane hitting the southeast just before the election, with the catastrophic damage extending from Florida to Virginia. The President has control of where to send disaster funds, and the electoral college incentivizes the President to prioritize helping out losable states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia over safe/unwinnable states like South Carolina and Georgia. This incentive system extends to every power within any President’s massive reach. Given the collapse that Democrats experienced in the Midwest in 2016, it’s not unreasonable to assert that President Obama bailing out the auto industry won him reelection in 2012.
I thought Americans hated ties? This is very much within the realm of possible in 2020.
This actually happened once, back in 1800 when Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson (at one point in 2012, a tie also looked possible). The mechanism for dealing with a tie is not exactly what you would imagine given America’s professed love of logic and democracy. The vote goes to the House, where legislators vote for President—but a majority of legislators is not needed to win—a majority of states is needed. This means that all 36 House members from Texas’ vote would count the same as the vote from the one Wyoming representative.
So what happens if the House winds up in a 25-25 tie?
At the same time the House is choosing the President, the Senate is voting for the Vice President. The Vice President-elect could theoretically serve as President indefinitely if the House is unable to break the 25-25 deadlock. So come to hell with me for a moment, and envision, if you will, a GOP landslide loss in the popular vote/tie in the electoral college where the still-GOP-controlled Senate elects President Mike Pence while just enough GOP legislators in the House minority are able to hold 25 states until the next election. Genius rebuke to monarchy we’ve got here.
One study found that it is possible to win the electoral college by amassing just over 50% of the vote in Washington D.C. and 39 less populous states. Imagine watching your favorite basketball team lose by a score of 78 to 22, and somehow win the game. That’s possible, but for the most powerful position on Earth, thanks to the magic of the electoral college.
If a candidate wins 50% of the vote +1 nationwide, they may not win the presidency.
If a candidate wins 50% of the vote +1 in a single state, they win all the votes from that state.
The electoral college is so incoherent, its very structure contradicts itself.
While some liberals love to get all hot and bothered about Ralph Nader collecting a percentage of the national vote in each of his presidential contests that’s less than an average polling margin of error, those supposed spoiler campaigns pale in comparison to Ross Perot’s 1992 success(?) that put Bill Clinton in the White House. Perot won 18.9% of the vote as a third-party candidate, but zero electoral votes. Ross Perot convinced 48.5 million people to vote for him (roughly equal to the combined populations of California and Virginia today), and had nothing to show for it. All his campaign succeeded in doing in our winner-take-all system (except where it matters) was depleting President Bush’s support in swing states, making it easier for Bill Clinton to waltz into the White House with very little resistance despite just 43% of the voting public’s blessing.
The fact that most of the original 13 states are small, and that the further you go west, the bigger the newer states get should give you a clue as to how over time, Americans realized the massive powers of arbitrary lines drawn by the federal government. Hell, the entire reason why Maine and Missouri exist is thanks to a famed compromise. Every state line has been drawn with a focus on consolidating political and economic power for key actors in that region.
As far as the topography of the area is concerned, New York City might as well be in a different universe from most of New York state. There is absolutely no real logic as to why people living in the Four Corners region should have dramatically different powers over electing our President than their neighbors across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona have. To say this is all how it’s planned is to deny the randomness of the path to our present construction.
The electoral college compounds this arbitrary distribution of very real power. If you dissolved New York’s 29 votes and treated New York City like its own state, New York state would then have roughly the same population of Ohio—a state with 18 EVs—and NYC would have roughly the same population as Virginia, who has 13 EVs. Hyper-blue New York City (save for Manhattan) drags the rest of the extremely populous state to the left, and ensures that upstate New York Republicans have just as much say in U.S. presidential elections as they do in the Canadian elections across the border.
The famed Warren Court, a brief liberal respite in the Supreme Court’s longstanding history of reactionary conservatism, established the “one person, one vote” principle in 1962 with Baker v. Carr and in 1964 with Reynolds v. Sims, stating that the constitution mandated state legislative districts be roughly equal in population, in order to ensure that everyone’s vote counts the same in statewide elections.
If you extend this ruling to a national scale in the presidential election, you can see how it got conservatives all hot and bothered when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asserted that the Electoral College is unconstitutional (according to the Warren Court, he’s almost surely correct).
One person, one vote is the democratic manifestation of the constitution’s promise that “all men are created equal.” While we are definitionally a republic, we were initially constituted as a republic of slave owners who preached democratic ideals far more than they practiced them. “All men are created equal” logically should extend to “one person, one vote”—otherwise you are rebuking direct democracy, and asserting that some of your citizens should be considered less important than others when it comes to electing their President, and that whether or not we get a 2nd Trump term should be determined entirely by whether the Democrats can win a majority of votes in three of these states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
You thought 2016 was bad?
*Will Smith Independence Day Voice*
Welcome to 2020.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.