On Nov. 1, 2016, I watched the television, waiting for CNN to announce the U.S. had finally elected the first female president. There was no way Donald Trump could beat her, right? I gazed in abject horror, my mouth agape as Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan slowly turned from gray to scarlet. Outrage ensued when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and many Democrats thought, “How could this happen? We’re smarter than this!” Today, about 61 percent of Americans support abolishing the electoral college. However, given that we’ve amended the Constitution only 27 times in the last 230 years, I wouldn’t count on outright eliminating the Electoral College. Fortunately, we have other alternatives to make the national popular vote a reality.
The Framers initially established the Electoral College because they did not trust the masses to have the education necessary to make an informed vote. Google exists now, making this concern less relevant. Unfortunately, the Electoral College is not a benign institution. I don’t think the system works because it does not encourage candidates to appeal to a wide range of voters.
In 2012, a handful of states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia hosted most of the presidential campaign events. Because Republicans and Democrats are virtually guaranteed to win states like Mississippi and Vermont, respectively, they have no reason to host campaign events in those places. I love democracy, and I believe candidates should have to earn every vote even in their party’s strongholds.
Some states have begun to form their solution with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement would let states give all of their electoral delegates to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, even if citizens voted for their opponent. For this solution to become a reality, states with 270 combined electoral delegates would agree to the compact. So far, 16 of them have signed onto the agreement with 196 combined representatives, with nine more state legislatures engaged in political duels.
While it seems like the NPVIC would be a pragmatic solution to neuter the Electoral College, I don’t think it’s the right policy we should pursue. Some may find my lack of faith disturbing, but the NPVIC would only shift the problem elsewhere. Conservatives often argue that presidential candidates would need to campaign only in highly populated states to win the national popular vote. While I firmly believe the people should be responsible for electing the president, there is merit to many Republicans’ arguments. Democrats could focus only on stronghold states like New York and California, skipping red states like South Carolina and potentially even swing states like Ohio.
As such, I would support abolishing the winner-take-all system – this is where the fun begins. In the winner-take-all system, the presidential candidate who wins a state’s popular vote receives all electoral delegates.
To demonstrate how this system undermines democracy, let’s look at Massachusetts. According to an electoral map, they have 11 electoral votes with a state population of about 6.9 million people. Montana, Wyoming and the two Dakotas have a combined 12 electoral votes. Yet, they have a total population of approximately 1.46 million people. This situation is outrageous. It’s unfair! How can you have a fifth of the population but have more electoral power?
If we instead vote by congressional districts, states like California and Texas become significantly more competitive. In 2016, almost four million Texans voted for Hillary Clinton – a surprise to be sure but a welcome one for liberals. Trump won a little over half of the popular vote, yet he took all 38 electoral delegates.
As a progressive in a decidedly conservative state, I know my vote likely won’t matter in 2020. However, eliminating the winner-take-all system can provide voters with tangible evidence that their vote matters, even if they’re living in the opposing party’s stronghold. As such, candidates would need to adopt a 50-state strategy and visit more states in the union if they want to secure the election.
Liberty will not die in thunderous applause – it ends with “I voted” stickers lying unused at polling locations near you. I understand you may not be enthusiastic about your choices. Trust me. I’m not thrilled either. However, things will get better. Let’s elect people who will abolish the winner-take-all system to bring peace, freedom, justice and security to our great union.
Caleb Powell is a biomedical engineering sophomore and columnist for The Battalion. His column is typically published online every other Wednesday when not in the Thursday newspaper.