Nov 9, 2020
For the second time in four years, the Electoral College has played an important role in the outcome of the presidential election. If the president were elected by the popular vote, we’d have known the outcome the day after the election: Biden has more than four million votes more than Trump. But the electoral votes in five states were still up in the air as of four days after the election, and neither candidate had passed the threshold of 270 electoral votes.
Four years ago, Clinton got three million votes more than Trump—but lost the election anyway. Because what really elects the president in the United States isn’t the popular vote at all, but the Electoral College. The more than 250 million potential voters don’t elect the president—a group of 538 Electors do. And they are chosen by the governments in each of the states.
Most of those Electors are chosen according to the popular vote—but that’s according to laws set up in each state, not according to anything in the Constitution, and it’s not iron-clad. In the big majority of states, ALL of their electoral votes are allocated to the winner of the popular vote in that state. So a candidate who squeaks through with only 13,000 votes will win all of the electoral votes, just as if they won the state by 4 million votes.
So in 2016, Trump, with 63 million votes, was defeated in the popular vote by Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won it with 65.9 million. And yet 56.5% of the Electors voted Trump the winner.
In addition, in each state, the number of Electors corresponds to the sum of the number of representatives and senators in Congress. But even if the number of representatives is proportional to the population, all states have two senators, regardless of their population: Wyoming (580,000 inhabitants) has as many as California (39.5 million). The system of Electors therefore favors sparsely populated states. A vote in Wyoming carries four times the weight of a vote in California, because it has proportionally four times the Electors.
If this all sounds undemocratic, that’s because it is. And it is not an accident. The “Founding Fathers,” the framers of the Constitution, knew exactly what they were doing when they set this system up.
Those framers, Southern slave owners as well as Northern bankers, merchants and manufacturers, wealthy men all, feared the “passions of the masses.” And they had good reason to fear them, since just a few years before 1787, there had been several major rebellions by poor farmers who wanted greater representation, distribution of land, and far less taxes. The framers wanted a “government of the people,” BUT they wanted to make sure that the wealthy minority would remain fully in control of that government—the only “People” who mattered. They spoke openly about the differing interests of the different classes; and they built a State that they, the wealthy minority, would control.
So among other things, they created the Electoral College—a system that would make sure that there would be a ‘firewall’ between the popular vote and the actual choosing of the president. The state governments don’t even really need to obey the popular vote in choosing their electors. They could ignore the popular vote and choose someone else, which has actually happened several times in U.S. history.
There has been lots of talk in recent years about getting rid of the Electoral College, or finding a work-around, to allow the popular vote to actually choose the president. But the Electoral College is only one brick in the wall of this undemocratic State, created and run for the wealthy class. To really move forward, we need to get rid of the whole thing—and set up a system that We, working people, truly control in our own interests.