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Friday, January 6, 2017

The College

In the wake of our most recent Presidential election, I have seen numerous charming posts on social media telling everyone why the U. S. Electoral College is such a wonderful thing. These posts are, of course, intended to show everyone who reads them that the Electoral College's selection of Donald Trump as the Pesident of the United States in spite of the popular vote being in favor of Hillary Clinton is a good thing. Before some of you get your knickers in a twist, I am not going to say anything in this post about who I wanted or didn't want elected. This is all about understanding the Electoral College.

As I said before, since the election I have seen a lot of charming posts about why the Electoral College is so fabulous. Why do I keep referring to them as being charming? Because even though they are well-intentioned and sound quite brilliant and factual, most of them are simply misguided regurgitations of incorrect information. I'd like to address acouple of the misconceptions that keep being stated as facts.

Claim: the Electoral College was created to balance the voting power between higher- and lower-population areas. Actually, this is not the case. The Electoral College was created because our Founding Fathers weren't sure that the power to elect the President should lie in the hands (votes) of the uneducated, inexperienced (not so bright?) general public. The FFs wanted the President to be chosen by a vote of the Congress. The Electoral College process was created as an alternative to choosing one option or the other.

Claim: the Electoral College gives an equal say in the election to areas with lower population density. Have you seen the same meme that I have? It shows a map of the USA that is mostly shaded in gray. There are scattered areas that are shaded in blue, and on the map it states that half of the US population is in these counties. It goes on to say, "Now, imagine living in the gray areas and the blue zones voted opposite of you. This is why we have an Electoral College. Civics 101. You're welcome." Here's the meme in question:

Guess what? The Electoral College does exactly what this meme claims it protects us from. You see, this meme implies that the College prevents the larger populations from deciding for the smaller ones. In a nutshell, here's how the votes are apportioned. The 50 States and the District of Columbia all have Electoral College votes. Each State (for this purpose, we will use the term State to refer to DC) has at least 3 votes. Each State has 2 votes because each State has 2 Senators. Each State has at least one other vote, because they also get one vote for each member the State has in the House of Representatives. And how is the number of each State's Representatives determined? Why, by population, of course.

And how are the votes distributed? Well, before the election, each State selects groups of Electoral College voters. Alaska, which has 3 votes, has 3 electors selected by their individual parties. These voters are dedicated to giving their votes to their party's candidate. In the 2016 election, in other words, there would be 3 electors with votes for Clinton, 3 for Trump, etcetera. I know that some of you are thinking that adds up to more than 3. So here's where it gets even more interesting. In 49 of the 51 Electoral States (everywhere but Maine and Nebraska), it's an all-or-nothing vote. So if the majority of the general public's votes in Alaska go to the Democratic cadidate, the 3 Democratic Electors represent the entire State and all 3 votes go to the Democratic candidate. 

Let's take this a step further. The higher the State's population, the higher their number of Representatives, and the higher their number of Electoral College votes. And the truth is that regardless of people's opinions to the contrary, larger population blocs carry those votes. Colorado has 9 votes, and the greatest population density is in the Denver-Boulder Metro area. Yes, we potentially decide the Electoral votes for the whole State. But there are 48 other Electoral States that work the same way. The largest number of votes in the State determines the Electoral votes from that State. There are 6 Electoral States that have 20 or more votes each, with a total of 191. There are 33 Electoral States with 10 or less votes each, totaling 189 votes. The numbers don't lie. That's 6 States with more Electoral power than 33 other states. So I think this begs the question: do you still believe those posts saying that the Electoral College is the great equalizer?

Note: My source of information on the Electoral College is the National Archives and Records Administration, which you can access through this link.

Electoral College 


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