For the second time in five elections, a result in which a candidate lost the popular vote yet won the presidency has voters questioning, criticizing, and outright condemning the Electoral College. Any thorough analysis of the Electoral College not only justifies such reactions from the American people, but also unveils various rather shocking biases inherent in this age-old system.
Established by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, the original purpose of the Electoral College was to limit the power of the American people to elect their presidents; elites at the time believed that disaster would be inevitable if the fate of the entire country were left entirely to common, uneducated, and poor men. Thus, they introduced the idea of electors – after residents of each state voted, these electors (the senators and representatives of each state) would be the individuals who actually cast ballots. In this way, any idiotic and self-destructive decisions by the American people could be corrected by the elites who cast ballots on their behalf, acting almost as parents. Nowadays, it is expected and understood that these electors will vote in accordance with the results of their state, and they almost always do, but nothing in the Constitution guarantees this. Every now and then a few “rogue” or “faithless” electors cast their ballot against the will of the people they represent, but this is a small discrepancy unlikely to ever sway an election. Although unfair, it is the least of the Electoral College’s problems.
Perhaps its most profound injustice is the unequal representation it gives to states and the people within them. Because no state can have fewer than three electors (two senators plus at least one member of the House of Representatives), an inherent bias towards states with smaller populations exists. Why is this so important? Because states with smaller populations, in other words more rural states, are much more inclined to vote Republican. This is why every presidential candidate that has lost the general election despite winning the popular vote has been a Democrat. Every US president that has benefitted from the lack of a necessity to win the popular vote has been Republican. This bias in effect often requires Democrats to not only win the popular vote, but also win it by a large margin, to win the Electoral College.
For example, North Dakota, with a population under 1 million, has 3 electors, while California, with a population of 38.8 million, has 55. This means that for every 252, 309 residents in North Dakota, there is one electoral vote. On the other hand, Californians only get one electoral vote per 711, 723 residents. If the ratio (in this specific case) were fair, California would have 154 electoral votes, almost three times as much influence as it currently has. California is, of course, a very liberal state, while North Dakota, a sparsely populated one, almost always votes Republican. Similarly, New York, another democratic state, receives one electoral vote per 681,034 inhabitants, while Wyoming has one per 195,369. While some Republican states also suffer from such underrepresentation, such as Oklahoma, which receives 1 electoral vote per 554,000 residents, Republican states overwhelmingly benefit from this imbalance.
How can we call a system in which a resident of one state has more of a voice than a resident of another democratic? These are not negligible differences; the average Alaskan, for example, has almost three times more power in electing the president of the US than a Pennsylvanian does. The unfortunate reality is that, while fundamentally undemocratic, these profound inequalities are unlikely to be fixed or adjusted any time soon.