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In offense of the Electoral College

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In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidency while losing the popular vote. 

The Electoral College, in its current form, is undemocratic, disenfranchises millions of Americans and discourages participation in government. A system that allows for a candidate to receive less than 25% of the popular vote and still become president of the United States has fatal flaws and has no place in a modern democracy. Although we have yet to see something so egregious, our refusal to modernize will only exacerbate the disparities where twice in the past 20 years the president was not chosen by a majority of the American people.

Since the national popular vote was first recorded in 1824, there have been five presidential elections where the winner lost the popular vote, the most recent being Donald Trump, who lost by 2.8 million votes in 2016. This begs the question, why is the president elected by the Electoral College instead of through direct democracy, like all legislators and governors?

As elites, the framers were afraid of the majority. They were scared of the prospect of every white man being able to vote directly on policy, which could lead to a “tyranny of the majority”. As such, the United States is a Democratic Republic, where elected or selected representatives separate individuals from legislative decisions. This separation is the protection from mob rule, and it does not require multiple layers of separation as implemented with the Electoral College. Moreover, the Electoral College was a compromise to give power to smaller, slave-holding states that wanted to see an advantage not only in representation through the racist three-fifths compromise but also in the presidential election.

The framers knew not what the world would become. Even if they did, one should not trust the opinions of 39 young, white, land-holding men from 1787 to decide what is best for the United States in 2020. We are an evolving democracy, and it is ignorant of us to assume the framers were perfect. There have been multiple attempts to abolish the Electoral College, the closest being the Bayh–Celler amendment of 1969 that was filibustered by small states wanting to retain their power. It is fitting that the last time we got close to removing this undemocratic institution, the effort was stopped by a minority acting in their own best interest.

The Electoral College does not ensure the consideration of small states. In fact, a majority of resources in presidential campaigns are focused on swing states. This guarantees that presidential candidates care more about fringe issues in these states. In 2008, there were 18 states where no presidential candidate visited post-convention and two-thirds of visits and funding went to just six states. As long as small states are solidly Republican or Democratic, no mind will be paid to them by either party.

The Electoral College disenfranchises voters. A liberal in Texas or a conservative in California currently has no way to influence the outcome of the presidential election. That alone should be disqualifying. Why should people participate in our government, when they cannot impact an election based on where they live? The Electoral College encourages complacency in our citizens as it creates a system where if you don’t live in a swing state, your vote does not affect the outcome of the election. Those votes should matter, and it is important for our electoral systems to reflect that. Without change, the Electoral College will only worsen our democracy and mute the voices of millions of Americans.

We used to add members to Congress to address these issues. The so-called “Wyoming Rule” ensured that representation in the House was apportioned by the smallest population state. Because this rule was given up with the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, the number of seats in the House has remained fixed at 435. 
We Texans should be furious by our unequal representation. Due to the unequal allocation of electoral votes per population, Texas only receives one electoral vote for every 763,000 citizens, whereas Wyoming receives a vote for every 193,000 citizens. Therefore, a Wyomian vote for president counts nearly four times as much as a Texan vote for president insofar as the Electoral College is concerned. It is a problem which will only worsen with time. 
It is possible that we simply increase the size of the House to 547 by repealing the Permanent Apportionment Act. This would not be any different from how our country operated before 1929. If one believes in the Electoral College and the intention of the framers of the Constitution, then one should also believe that the Wyoming Rule should be re-implemented. This would reduce the likelihood of presidents being elected without winning the popular vote and would not require an amendment to the Constitution.
 

Overall, however, the Electoral College is a holdover from undemocratic and racist ideals. The inability of the Electoral College to grow or evolve in the past 100 years has exacerbated its flaws, and we are at a breaking point. When so many today are challenging the foundations of our democracy, we should not keep a system that causes people to lose faith in the election process. 

I want my vote to count, as do I want yours. 

Fix the Electoral College or get rid of it.

Jacob Hartzer, Class of 2019, graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. 

To submit a letter to the editor or guest column, click here.

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