In its 243-year history, the United States has elected five presidents who won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. Considering that this includes two of the last three presidents, it isn’t surprising that since the 2016 election calls to abolish the Electoral College have become more common. While this cause is gaining traction among the liberals in, our country, calling for the dissolution of the Electoral College is a waste of time.
The Electoral College is a body of electors that elects the president of the U.S. Each voter’s ballot goes to a statewide tally. In 48 states, the winner of the popular vote receives all the electoral votes for that state. This system is enshrined in the Constitution. To amend the Constitution, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states’ legislatures or ratifying conventions. This means that 38 out of 50 states must vote to amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College. It is extremely unlikely that this many states would vote to get rid of the Electoral College, as 30 state legislatures are held by the Republican Party. The Democrats have led the movement to abolish the Electoral College, while Republicans largely want to keep it.
The U.S. cannot realistically abolish the Electoral College, but some of the common critiques of the Electoral College can be fixed by reforming it. There are two basic ways to amend the Constitution to make the Electoral College more democratic and to better reflect the popular vote. One is to change the number of electoral votes each state gets, and the other is to require the states to award the electoral votes proportionally based on the popular vote in each state.
Article II of the Constitution requires that electoral votes be determined by the number of representatives and senators each state has in Congress. For example, Michigan has 16 electoral votes because it has 14 representatives and two senators. Critics of the Electoral College argue that this system gives disproportionate weight to voters in smaller states, like Wyoming, while voters in bigger states, like California, have less impact on national elections. Removing the two votes that each state gets from their senators would have little effect on California but would cause Wyoming to go from three to one electoral vote. This would make each state’s electoral votes more proportional to the population of their state.
However, this would likely not garner the support of 38 state legislatures. States with fewer electoral votes would likely not vote for a system that would significantly reduce their power. 12 states have four electoral votes or fewer; in order for this amendment to pass, the remaining 38 states would have to vote to ratify, which seems doubtful considering the partisan nature of our country and the fact that the majority of state legislatures are Republican.
An amendment to the Constitution that would improve the Electoral College and could actually be ratified is an amendment that would require each state to allot their electoral votes proportionally to the popular vote in that state. In Ohio, President Donald Trump secured 51.3% of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton obtained 43.2% and Gary Johnson received 3.2%. Trump received all 18 of Ohio’s electoral votes. If electoral votes were determined based on Ohio’s popular vote, Trump would have received nine electoral votes, Clinton would have received eight and Johnson would have received one.
This could lead to problems, but those problems are fixable. One such problem would have arisen in Michigan, where this method would have led to three candidates receiving a sum of 17 electoral votes; Michigan has 16 electoral votes. Clinton and Trump would have each received eight electoral votes and Johnson would have received one. I propose that because Trump received 47.3% of the popular vote to Clinton’s 47%, Johnson would take one of Clinton’s electoral votes.
Two states, Maine and Nebraska, do a version of this in which they award two electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state, and one electoral vote to the popular vote winner in each congressional district. Nebraska is a solidly red state; 270towin.com marked it a “Safe Trump” state for the 2020 election. If a Republican state can award its electoral votes semi-proportionally to its popular vote, other states would be more willing to consider the idea of ratifying an amendment to transition away from the current winner-take-all system. This is not to say that this amendment would be easy to ratify, but it is much more likely than abolishing the Electoral College altogether.
Beside the impracticality of abolishing the Electoral College, there are genuine arguments for its continuation. It helps to preserve American federalism to allow for the division of power between the state and federal government. It allows for stability in our elections as recounts are done at a state level, rather than a federal level. This helps to prevent the chaos that ensued in Florida in 2000 from happening nationally. While people complain that the Electoral College unfairly amplifies the voices of small states, a national popular vote could easily do the same for cities.
If we reform the Electoral College, we can continue to benefit from its good qualities while simultaneously improving our democracy. No matter how you may feel about the Electoral College, a constitutional amendment that would abolish it would almost certainly not pass. Requiring the states to award their electoral votes based on the popular vote in their state would make our elections more reflective of popular opinion and would also have a better chance of gaining support from 38 states.
Lydia Storella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.