OPED-ELECTORAL-COLLEGE-COMMENTARY-LA

Thanks to the electoral college, not every vote really counts.

The Electoral College system is a vital component of the general election. Though it’s not technically in the Constitution, the electoral college ultimately decides who the new president will be every four years. According to History.com, five presidents in U.S. history lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College, including our current president, Donald Trump. 

The rise of racial inequalities and the pandemic is increasing political tensions in the U.S., making this upcoming election crucial to the future of this country. Though this year has been nothing like anyone expected, this is the perfect moment in history to truly take the time and question whether the Electoral College system accounts for everyone’s vote.

Voting is a right, and, some may argue, a duty in this country. Voting’s important because those who’re voted into office will have an immense amount of legislative power for years to come. The policies they pass won’t only affect many people throughout the U.S. but change the political trajectory following their time in office.

Under the Electoral Collegesystem, each state is granted a certain amount of electors equivalent to the number of senators plus the number of representatives allotted for each state. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Virginia has two senators and 11 representatives, so that makes a total of 13 electors. States have different amounts of electors because the amount of representatives is based on population size, including the population of that state’s inmates, who aren’t allowed to vote. For some perspective, California has 53 representatives, while Alaska has only one. 

Most electors cast their vote based on the popular vote outcome in that state. According to Represent Us, all states but Maine and Nebraska vote using a “winner-take-all” system when the electoral college votes. The winner-take-all system means that if Candidate X receives the majority vote in a state, even if it’s by a very small percentage, then Candidate X would receive all of the electoral college votes for that state.

If the candidate someone votes for doesn’t end up being the candidate with the majority of votes in that state, their vote essentially ends at the state level due to the winner-take-all method. This isn’t fair because it creates an unequal system that rules out a large percentage of votes in each state simply because the candidate didn’t receive the majority vote. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures suggests an alternative voting method: ranked-choice voting. In this method, voters rank the selection of candidates based on their first choice, second choice, etc. The first-choice candidates are tallied up and the candidate with the lowest amount of votes for the first choice is eliminated. This process continues until there’s a majority candidate. Rather than the traditional winner-take-all system, this process would ensure that candidates opposed by the majority of people wouldn’t have a chance at winning. It’d also encourage more third-party candidates to run because they’d be on more equal grounds. 

President Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 but won because he got more votes in the Electoral College. According to the Pew Research Center, he won states with a large number of electors by a narrow margin, therefore securing all of the electoral votes in those states and winning the election. Why should a candidate win even if a majority of the general public favors a different candidate?

This results in an election that allows candidates to win even if the public disagrees with it. States ultimately decide what voting methods to use, and most of them have just adopted the winner-take-all system over the years, though the winner-take-all method isn’t actually in the Constitution. If states began to implement voting methods that better reflect the popular vote, then everyone’s vote would carry equal weight compared to the winner-take-all system.

Regardless of the inequalities of the Electoral College system, each vote still counts and is crucial, especially in this upcoming election. But it’s important to remember that ultimately, the candidate with the majority of votes in one’s state will end up winning for that state in the Electoral College. This system is outdated and doesn’t count everyone’s voice equally in general elections because of the winner-take-all mechanism that 48 states now use. It’s time to reform the Electoral College system and adopt one that counts the votes of everyone equally.

Jenna Horrall is a senior computer science major. Contact Jenna at horraljk@dukes.jmu.edu.