Reevaluating the Electoral College

In this Nov. 8, 2016, photo, a voter fills out his ballot at the Wilson School House in unincorporated Wilson, Idaho. Donald Trump’s victory came as a surprise to many Americans, the nation’s pollsters most of all. (Otto Kitsinger/AP)

In the wake of last Tuesday’s surprising election results there has been much discussion on the Electoral College. The most recent estimates of the popular vote total have Hillary Clinton up by about 1 million votes, while Donald Trump won in the Electoral College 306-232. Concerns have been raised over the fact that the candidate with a million more supporters in the country at large lost because of narrow wins by Trump in several swing states. Harkening back to the 2000 election, there has even been a growing movement to abolish the Electoral College outright.

It should be noted that the Electoral College provides some benefits. Those in favor of the system argue that it contributes to the overall cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support. In other words, since most of the U.S. population lives on the coast an election by popular vote would incentivize candidates to only campaign there, which could lead to the neglect of voters in less densely populated areas. In a similar fashion, it is believed that the Electoral College protects minority interests by giving smaller states a voice in the process.

These were some of the concerns that the Founders had when they put this system into place. But it should be noted that this was a completely different time. Difficulty in transportation and communication made a national campaign a logistical nightmare. In addition, there were only 13 states at the time, and political differences where based on issues between states. Because there were fewer states, the risk of large states dominating the smaller ones was a much more realistic fear.

However, the makeup of our nation has evolved. Communication technology has made political information readily for virtually everyone in the country. Politically speaking, arguments and power balance is not between the states themselves but political parties. It is no longer the interests of Connecticut vs. Massachusetts but the interests of Republicans across the country versus the interests of Democrats that shape political discussion.

These changes and other shifts has caused adverse effects stemming from the Electoral College. For example, one original benefit was that campaigns would not be focusing only on the most populous areas, and would have to appeal to a variety of groups. However, we now have elections that are decided more often than not by about 10 swing states. Candidates only attempt to appeal to the voters in these states, as virtually every other state is in line with one party or the other.

The arguments about protecting the interests of smaller states falls short here, as only a couple of swing states such as New Hampshire and Nevada have small populations. Most swing states, and especially the ones that receive the majority of attention, are larger. These include Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. The Electoral College has ended up creating essentially the same problem it is trying to solve.

Of course, the argument can be made that focusing on select areas will occur whatever election system is used and that the swing states are generally diverse enough to account for a wide variety of interests. Swing states come from a variety of regions and have various needs, while the biggest population centers in the country might not have as much diversity.

As going by popular vote alone has risks, the best solution for our current solution might be a compromise. It may be best if the electors were awarded proportionally. So, if a candidate won Florida 51 percent -49 percent they would not win all 29 electoral votes but instead might win 15 or 16. This would allow minority voices in states a voice, as a Republican in New York or Democrat in Mississippi has essentially no say in the outcome of a presidential election. If all states awarded electoral votes proportionally it would prevent this minority suppression, allow candidates to not only focus on swing states and could potentially mirror the popular vote more effectively. It is difficult to foresee all of the consequences of changing the system as it is, but the flaws present now cannot continue to go unaddressed.


Jacob Kowalski is a weekly columnist to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu