It’s been two days since a revolutionary election took place and Donald J. Trump was chosen as the 45th President of the United States of America. This has been a campaign season riddled with controversy, anger and confusion. Some of this confusion centers on how our electoral system functions and if the president is truly chosen “by the people.” Admittedly, I myself, have struggled to answer questions posed to me about the U.S. Electoral College. So, as a D.C. native, Government and Politics major and political enthusiast, I’ve done my due diligence and am here to explain: “What the hell is the Electoral College anyway and how does it REALLY work? Let’s get started.
On Wednesday morning you may have felt like you and some of your friends woke up in separate worlds.
Your co-worker, Lauren, faced the day like:
While maybe you felt like:
You exclaimed, ‘How could this have happened?!’, as you saw the final counts come in:
According the most recent numbers (as of 11:47AM, November 10th), Donald Trump has won the Electoral College and Hillary Clinton the Popular Vote… But what does it all MEAN?
Don’t feel embarrassed if the details of the Electoral College are a little confusing; you’re not alone.
So, how does the Electoral College system work?
Every four years, the United States votes to elect a new president. Surprisingly, the U.S. president is not directly chosen by the voters, but rather by electors voted upon by the 50 states and the District of Columbia. These electors then meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to officially vote for the president. The first person to reach 270 electoral votes (or electors) wins.
Who are these “electors?”
Electors tend to be people who are very active in their party or somehow connected to the political sphere. This includes party leaders, officials, activists, etc. And while the Constitution does not mention any qualifications that must be met to become a member of the Electoral College, it does state that they cannot be:
1. A member of Congress
2. A high-ranking U.S. official
3. Someone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. …whatever that means.
Why do some states have more electoral votes than others?
The number of electors per state is directly proportional to each state’s members of Congress, based on its population. In short, the more people in a state, the more electors it has. For example, California has the most electoral votes with 55, whereas Wyoming, the least populous state, has 3.
There are 538 electors in total, which corresponds to the 435 members in the House of Representatives, 100 Senators and 3 additional electors chosen by the District of Columbia.
This is where it gets tricky (stay with me now): Each state is guaranteed at least 3 electoral votes, regardless of population.
Back to our example: Little Wyoming, with a population around 500,000 has 3 electoral votes and California, with a population around 38,000,000, only has 55.
It doesn’t take a math genius to calculate (no really, I’m very bad at math) that if these votes were equally distributed by population, California should have 76 electoral votes. And if you look at a state like Hawaii, with a population of 1,500,000, 3xs that of Wyoming, only has 4 electoral votes.
If your next question is:
Let me help.
Why do we have the Electoral College?
The Founders established the Electoral College to create “regional balance.” This ensures that it is not possible for a candidate with mass support in one region to “overwhelm the vote.” This can clearly be seen in the electoral map of this year’s election, where Hillary Clinton’s support (noted in blue), was centralized in small pockets of densely populated regions like the North East and California:
What are the arguments?
The Electoral College is highly debated and most people find themselves on one side or the other. Here are the main arguments FOR and AGAINST the Electoral College:
FOR the Electoral College:
- Contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president
A president MUST have wide reaching support across the country
- Enhances the status of minority interests
Minority states and interests are always represented
- Contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system
AGAINST the Electoral College:
- The possibility of electing a minority president.
Meaning the president-elect received less TOTAL VOTES than their opponent, which has happened in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and is poised to happen in our current election
- The risk of so-called “faithless” Electors
A situation may arise where the Elector does NOT vote for the candidate they are supposed to vote for. This has happened before, albeit very rarely.
- The possible role of the Electoral College in depressing voter turnout
The Electoral College can be said to render “safe states” (those states which historically vote majority Democrat or Republican) irrelevant and discourage voter turn out.
Don’t like the Electoral College? Instead of saying:
Get involved in the political process! Educate yourself, educate others (share this post), run for office, BE THE CHANGE. So that the next time an election rolls around, you can be the one strolling into the office like:
And there you have it folks! All-in with Allyn’s “What the hell is the Electoral College anyway and how does it REALLY work?
You’re welcome, Beyonce.
That’s a WRAP! Until next time: