Why the Electoral College is the absolute worst, explained

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from VOX,

The counting isn’t finalized yet, but so far Hillary Clinton has won more votes than Donald Trump in Tuesday’s presidential election, and her margin is expected to rise as more votes from California gradually get tallied.

But due to the magic of the Electoral College, Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

Yes, this week was the venerable ritual in which the residents of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a few other states got the privilege of choosing the president of the United States of America.

Or, to be more precise, it was the venerable ritual in which all the states chose their representatives in the Electoral College. It’s those people who are going to technically pick the president, weeks after the election.

It’s a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster of a system, which in the best of times merely ensures millions of Americans’ votes are irrelevant to the outcome because they don’t live in competitive states, and in the worst of times could be vulnerable to a major crisis.

Amazingly enough, though, nothing in the Constitution gives American voters the right to choose their president. That power is reserved for those 538 actual people who will meet in their respective states on December 19 — the electors. It’s up to the states to decide how to appoint them.

Despite the oddness and unfairness of this system, its defenders argue that it ordinarily “works” just fine. States award electors based on the outcome of the popular vote in the state. Those electors almost always end up voting the way they’re expected to. And the winner of the national popular vote is usually also the winner in the Electoral College.

But “usually” will be cold comfort to Democrats, who have now won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College in two of the past five elections.

how does it work?

The presidential election is generally portrayed as a battle to win states and their accompanying electoral votes. Hillary Clinton won Vermont, so she got its three electoral votes. Donald Trump won Alaska, so he got its three electoral votes. Whoever gets to 270 or more electoral votes first — a majority of the 538 total — wins the election.

So rather simply trying to win the most actual votes in the country, a presidential campaign must try to put together a map of state victories that will amass more than 270 electoral votes. That’s the simplified version.

What’s happening under the hood, though, is more complicated. When people go to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate on Tuesday, what they are actually doing is voting for each party’s nominated slate of electors in their respective states (or, in the case of Maine and Nebraska, in congressional districts too).

So when Donald Trump won the state of Alaska, the practical effect was that the Republican Party’s nominated elector slate there — former Gov. Sean Parnell, Jacqueline Tupou, and Carolyn Leman — officially became Alaska’s three electors.

This process repeated itself across the country, resulting in the selection of the Electoral College — the 538 electors who will cast their votes for president in their respective states on December 19. (In the modern era, this ceremonial occasion has been a formality that reiterates an outcome known well in advance.)

The Democratic and Republican parties have each developed solid bases in a series of states that are all but certain to vote for them in a presidential year. But the Electoral College winner will be determined by those few swing states that are more divided politically and look like they could go either way. This year, only the states in gray above were decided by a margin of less than 9 percentage points, as of Wednesday afternoon.

The swing states’ dominance is a consequence of the fact that almost every state chooses to allot all its electoral votes to whoever comes in first place statewide, regardless of his or her margin of victory.

That is, it doesn’t matter whether Clinton wins New York by a 30 percent margin or a 10 percent margin, since she’ll get the same amount of electoral votes either way. But the difference between winning Florida by 0.1 percent and losing it by 0.1 percent is crucial, since 29 electoral votes could flip.

Naturally, then, when the general election comes around, candidates ignore every noncompetitive state — meaning the vast majority of the country.

there’s a lot that’s unfair — or at the very least undemocratic — about the Electoral College.

For one, the winner of the nationwide popular vote can lose the presidency. In 2000, Al Gore won half a million more votes than George W. Bush nationwide, but Bush won the presidency after he was declared the winner in Florida by a mere 537 votes. And that wasn’t the first time — electoral college/popular vote splits happened in 1876 and 1888 too, and, as mentioned, will perhaps occur in 2016 too.

Second, there’s swing state privilege.

Third, a small state bias is also built in, since every state is guaranteed at least three electors (the combination of their representation in the House and Senate). The way this shakes out in the math, the 4 percent of the country’s population in the smallest states end up being allotted 8 percent of Electoral College votes.

And fourth, there’s the possibility for those electors themselves to hijack the outcome.

The electoral college is, essentially, a vestigial structure — a leftover from a bygone era in which the founding fathers specifically did not want a nationwide vote of the American people to choose their next president.

Instead, the framers gave a small, lucky group of people called the “electors” the power to make that choice.

But over the new nation’s first few decades, two powerful trends in American politics brought attention to the Electoral College system’s shortcomings — the rise of national political parties that would contest presidential elections, and the growing consensus that all white men (not just the elite) should get the right to vote, including for president.

The parties and states responded to these trends by trying to jury-rig the existing system. Political parties began to nominate slates of electors in each state — electors they believed could be counted on to vote for the presidential nominee.

Is there any hope that the US will ditch the Electoral College someday?

For decades, polls have shown that large majorities of Americans would prefer a popular vote system instead of the Electoral College. For instance, a 2013 Gallup poll showed 63 percent of adults wanted to do away with it, and a mere 29 percent wanted to keep it.

There is one potential workaround, however: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a clever proposal that uses the Constitution’s ambiguity on electors to its own ends.

t’s a fun proposal that’s already been enacted into law by 10 states (including massive California and New York) and the District of Columbia, which together control 165 electoral votes. But there’s one big obstacle: All of the states that have adopted it are solidly Democratic, with zero being Republican or swing states.

So unless a bunch of swing states decide to reduce their own power, or Republican politicians conclude that a system bringing the power of small and rural states in line with that of big urban centers is a good idea, the compact isn’t going to get the support it needs.

As messed up as the Electoral College is, then, we’re likely stuck with it for some time. Your safe state vote might be wasted, or it might even be subverted by rogue electors.

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