In a strangely fitting end to the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for president of the United States and lost the Electoral College, making her only the fifth candidate to have done so. Following the results, many people, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, have claimed that the Electoral College needs to be abolished. However, abolishing the Electoral College would stand against the principles upon which the United States was founded. Rather, there is a better way to ensure that the Electoral College still serves its intended purpose while simultaneously making it more representative of the electorate.
The Electoral College was created to ensure that the number of voters in more populous states do not overwhelm those in more rural states. The total number of Electoral College votes are divided up among states based on the number of delegates each has in Congress, thus giving more weight to states that have higher populations (New York, Texas, Florida, and California, for example) while not completely excluding the states with smaller populations (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana) from being able to affect the election.
The system was designed to ensure that one portion of the population could not determine the election for the entire nation due to its sheer size, and this is exactly what the Electoral College did this year. Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote by a margin of about 2.3 million votes. Part of this popular vote lead can be traced to California, where she currently leads by slightly over 4 million votes. If the election was determined only by popular vote, this large margin would have been enough to push the election in her favor. However, due to the Electoral College and the distributive nature of its votes, this did not happen.
This is not to say that the Electoral College is perfect. By nature, it creates a system where a Democratic vote in Texas or a Republican vote in Illinois are rendered basically worthless in the overall election. The best way to reform the Electoral College is to pass a constitutional amendment that would transform the system in all states to match that which is currently in place in Maine and Nebraska. Both of these states allocate their Electoral College votes based on the popular vote in the whole state and within each congressional district. The winner of the popular vote in the entire state is given two Electoral College votes in accordance with the two Senate seats that each state has. Additionally, the winner of the entire state must also win at least one congressional district (assuming all other districts end in a perfect tie), thus guaranteeing the popular vote winner in each state with three Electoral College votes. The remaining Electoral College votes in each state are then determined by the winner of each congressional district within the state.
One could apply this thought experiment to every state and evaluate how electoral votes are affected. Assuming that each district voted for president the way it voted for its House of Representatives seat, New York’s votes would have been divided 20-9 in favor of Clinton. Working under the same assumptions for Texas, its votes would have been divided 27-11 in favor of Trump. For less populated states, though, such as North Dakota, this change would have very little effect, as its votes would still have been delegated 3-0 in favor of Trump.
This logic could also be extended to the rest of the states in the nation. Using The New York Times’ Electoral College map in combination with Ballotpedia’s House of Representatives results, the Electoral College results for the 2016 election would be 299-237 in favor of Trump, enough to still give Trump the presidency. These numbers assume that the candidates maintain their respective victories, despite active recounts or requests for recounts in four states. Additionally, two Electoral College votes are missing from this total: two House of Representative districts in Louisiana have yet to be decided.
It’s time to change the Electoral College, and this is the way to do it. Simply eliminating the whole system undermines the ideals behind the Electoral College, which is part of the original U.S. Constitution. While the district solution would also necessitate a constitutional amendment just like the full elimination of the Electoral College would, the benefits of such a system far outweigh the drawbacks. Such a system would allow states to split their Electoral College votes instead of tying all of them to the popular vote winner within the state and would encourage candidates to campaign in more locations, thus making them more responsive to people across the full United States. After all, who wouldn’t want a system more responsive and representative of the people?