The history of the Electoral College and why it is irrelevant

Click here to read our editor’s piece on this topic, “Abolish the Electoral College”

Click here to read Shawn Young’s rebuttal, “Keep the Electoral College”

 

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787,  the question of how the president should be elected was a hot topic on the minds of the founding fathers. James Wilson from Pennsylvanian moved to elect the president by a direct popular vote. James Madison from Virginia opposed, objecting that the North had a larger population that would dominate the South in every presidential election.

Madison proposed a plan that would allow the Southern slave-holding states to count their enormous slave population towards the vote for president. The constitutional convention had already agreed to give the slave-holding states more representatives in the House of Representatives with the 3/5ths clause, counting every 3 out of 5 slaves in order to determine the number of representatives allocated to each state.

Madison’s plan effectively created the Electoral College, an electoral system in which each state would be given a number of electors equal to the total of their senators and representatives. If the presidential election was conducted through the popular vote, slaves, not being able to vote, would have no impact on the election. With Madison’s artificially created gimmick, the slave states would have some 60 more votes in the Electoral College.

The Constitution does not actually use the phrase “Electoral College”. Instead, it says that each state shall appoint electors “equal to the number of representatives in Congress, including two senators“. The system, however, is unfairly skewed to favor the smallest states.

California with 40 million people has 2 senators. The 21 smallest states in the Union have 40 million people and 42 senators, hence 40 more electoral votes than California. California has one senator for every 20 million people, while the 21 smallest states have one senator for just under 500.000 people.

In the last election, Florida voters cast 9.165.556 votes for president. With 29 electoral votes, they had 1 electoral vote for every 316.000 votes cast. Alaska voters cast 246.588 votes and with 3 electoral votes, they had 1 electoral vote for every 82.999 votes cast. Every vote cast in Alaska had nearly 4 times the power of a vote cast in Florida with the electoral college.

On the national level with 133 million voters casting ballots and 538 electoral votes, each electoral vote should represent some 250.000 voters in a perfect world. But the 7 smallest states and the District of Columbia all have 1 electoral vote for less than 100.000 votes cast.

Once slavery was abolished and ex-slaves were made citizens and given the right to vote, the Electoral College served no purpose. It is the last vintage of slavery that we still use in the constitution and needs to be declared null and void or removed.

It became a non-issue for a long time because it did not rear its ugly head until 1888 when Benjamin Harrison was selected over Grover Cleveland or in 2000 when George W. Bush became president despite losing the popular vote by 540.000 votes. It struck again in 2016 when the Electoral College met and named Donald Trump president, who had 7.4 million fewer votes than all his opponents had combined. His largest opponent had nearly 3 million more votes.

It is the only election in the world that does not determine the winner by popular vote. We need to make every vote count the same, whether in Two-Egg, Florida, or New York City.

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