Electoral College

America uses a system to select the president that is unique in the world. As you know, rather than having a national election on election day, America has 51 separate elections (the fifty states plus the District of Columbia). Candidates for president, therefore, must work to assemble a group of state-by-state victories totaling 270 electoral college votes, as 270 votes is a majority of the total of 538 available electors.

The number of electors allocated to each state is the sum of its number of senators (always 2) plus its number of House members. So, states with small populations and only 1 House member have three electors, while larger states have more electors. California, the most populous state, has 55 electors. We allocate three electors to the District of Columbia.

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Under this system, small states have a say in the presidential election disproportionate to their size. The smallest (by population) state, Wyoming, has one elector per 192,920 residents, while Texas has one per 763,050 residents.

Here’s each state’s total number of electors:

state number of votes
Alabama 9
Alaska 3
Arizona 11
Arkansas 6
California 55
Colorado 9
Connecticut 7
Delaware 3
Dist. of Columbia 3
Florida 29
Georgia 16
Hawaii 4
Idaho 4
Illinois 20
Indiana 11
Iowa 6
Kansas 6
Kentucky 8
Louisiana 8
Maine 4
Maryland 10
Massachusetts 11
Michigan 16
Minnesota 10
Mississippi 6
Missouri 10
Montana 3
Nebraska 5
Nevada 6
New Hampshire 4
New Jersey 14
New Mexico 5
New York 29
North Carolina 15
North Dakota 3
Ohio 18
Oklahoma 7
Oregon 7
Pennsylvania 20
Rhode Island 4
South Carolina 9
South Dakota 3
Tennessee 11
Texas 38
Utah 6
Vermont 3
Virginia 13
Washington 12
West Virginia 5
Wisconsin 10
Wyoming 3
Total 538

 

Various arguments are made as to the desirability of retaining the Electoral College, as you’ve read. Whatever the arguments, we know that twice in the last 20 years, the winner of the national popular vote went to the loser of the election.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by 543,895 votes, but lost the election after controversially losing the state of Florida by a margin of just 537 votes.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.87 million votes, a margin of 2.1%. A swing of just 79,646 votes (0.06% of the total votes cast) combined in three states would have given Clinton the presidency.

In 2020, it was even closer. Though Joe Biden won the popular vote by over 7 million votes, a margin of 4.5%, a swing of just 42,918 votes (0.026 of the total votes cast) combined, again in three states, would likely have caused Biden to lose in the Electoral College.

 

Does the fact that a candidate can win the popular vote by over 7 million votes and still come within a whisker of losing the election matter when you think about this issue?

What’s your opinion? Given what you’ve read, should we keep the Electoral College? Should we try to achieve a “workaround” like the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact? Should we push to amend the constitution?

 

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