Reforming The Electoral College Is Easier Than You Think

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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?

Alexander Hutton is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri, with a Major in Political Science and a minor in American Constitutional Democracy. He recently moved to D.C. and is currently pursuing a policy fellowship.

  • There is no need for reform. Without the Electoral College procedure, Hillary needed only the votes from about 6 major cities to win. Just the votes she received from Brooklyn would have made her president by popular vote. And, all the rest of the voters throughout the rest of the country would have been screwed.
    Of course, how many of Hillary’s popular vote were fraudulent? How many dead people, non-citizens and multiple votes by the same people are counted in that Hillary popular vote, no less, all the Trump votes switched to her, discarded or not counted?

    • toto

      The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States.

      Voters in the biggest cities are almost exactly balanced out by rural areas in terms of population and partisan composition.

      16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America has voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

      16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.
      The population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States.

      Suburbs divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

  • If you take away the votes cast by illegals and double voting by Dems, there is no way Hillary came close to winning popular vote either… ID to vote!!!

    • There’s literally zero evidence of that ever happening.

  • “The best way to reform the Electoral College is to pass a constitutional amendment that would transform the system in all states to match…”

    Apologies to the author but the incredible irony here is that stripping the states of their individual sovereignty in favor of federal level standardization is just about the furthest thing from a system that is “more responsive and representative of the people” and in fact specifically undermines the power of the states.

  • The purpose of the Electoral College was to preserve state sovereignty. The states were to be the more powerful entity, not the federal government!! It was the states who elected the President, not the people. Senators were elected originally by their state legislatures also, because we are meant to be a Republic, not a Democracy!!!

  • toto

    In Maine, where they award electoral votes by congressional district, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored).
    In 2012, the whole state was ignored.
    77% of Maine voters support a national popular vote for President
    In 2008, the Maine Senate passed the National Popular Vote bill

    2016 is the first time one electoral vote in Maine will be given to the candidate who did not win the state.

    Republican leaders in Maine proposed and passed a constitutional amendment that, if passed at referendum, would require a 2/3rds vote in all future redistricting decisions. Then they changed their minds and wanted to pass a majority-only plan to make redistricting in their favor even easier.

    In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) 2/3rds of the state were irrelevant.
    In 2012, the whole state was ignored.
    74% of Nebraska voters support a national popular vote for President

    When Nebraska in 2008 gave one electoral vote to the candidate who did not win the state, it was the first time of any state in the past century

    After Obama won 1 congressional district in Nebraska in 2008,Nebraska Republicans moved that district to make it more Republican to avoid another GOP loss there, and the leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party promptly adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support.
    A GOP push to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system of awarding its electoral college votes for president only barely failed in March 2015 and April 2016.

    The National Popular Vote bill is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.