Justifying the Electoral College


Enoch Orozco

Current projected electoral map as of the 19th of November, 2020. Results are essentially finalized but not guaranteed (Photo Courtesy of Enoch Orozco).

Every four years we hear the same sort of thing from people upset about US presidential election results: The Electoral College is stupid! or Why do we use the Electoral College anyway? While this discourse mostly fades away after a month or so, some people still hold onto the idea that the Electoral College doesn’t make sense. While I understand many of the arguments presented, I believe most of them originate from a genuine lack of understanding. 

For starters, as of November 2020, only five presidents have ever won by Electoral votes and NOT the popular vote: John Quincy Adams (1824),Rutherford B. Hayes (1876),Benjamin Harrison (1888),George W. Bush (2000), and Donald Trump (2016).

This means only five out of 45, or 11% of presidents, have been elected by only Electoral votes. This alone goes to show that the Electoral votes generally follow the popular vote. However, some people would then argue that there is no need for the Electoral College since on average they lean the same way. 

The problem arises when you look at population distributions in cities compared to rural areas. Essentially, the big cities have a much larger population than small cities and rural areas. In essence, without the Electoral system, the president would only really need to win over New York City and Los Angeles to win popular votes. This takes away the voice of the smaller cities, who would be ignored in the presidential campaigns. In order to spell out how unfair this would be, I’ve created a fake scenario to represent what might happen.

Let’s say Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is running for President in the US without an Electoral College. Since Mr. Johnson is a smart man, he understands that he only needs to win over the hearts of the people within the big cities to get elected as president.  He campaigns in places like L. A and New York City, promising everything they could ever ask for, at the cost of the rural areas. His promises to expand the cities costs, the rural areas their land, and ways to make money, which they obviously oppose. However, since he only needs the popular vote, he ignores them and continues his Big City Campaign. Inevitably, Mr. Johnson wins as president and follows through with his promises, completely destroying the rural areas and wildlife in order to expand the big cities. As the cities grow, their population grows as well, and the next president does the same thing, so on and so forth. This creates a vicious cycle where the politicians only care for the big cities and ignore the smaller more rural areas.

 Obviously, to counter the popular vote system from resulting in my fake scenario, the US created the Electoral College system. It seems much more confusing than it is. Essentially, each state has as many “electors” as members in the Senate and House combined. So California, the most populous state, gets 55 electors, while Wyoming, the least populous state, gets three. Generally, the electors meet together and determine who won their state based on the popular vote. The approach is winner take all, so even if the difference is slim, whoever gets more popular votes within the state wins all of the state’s electoral votes (except for Maine and Nebraska). Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner take all approach, and instead, President A could get two and President B could get two for example. This way, even if the big cities are mainly one way or the other, the candidates are forced to reach out to the smaller cities and win them over as well. 

This is not to say the Electoral College is flawless. Instead of focusing on every state, the candidates only focus on “swing states.” Since most candidates know that South Carolina will always be Republican and California will always be Democratic, they don’t feel a need to campaign in those places. Instead, they only focus on the crucial areas they need to turn over to their side to win. However, focusing on a few states is much better than only focusing on a few cities. 

All in all, the Electoral system is not flawless, and there may be a better system out there. However, as compared to the popular vote alternative, it is much better. Honestly, I don’t see the Electoral College disappearing anytime soon.