While it is understandable that some people are disappointed with the recent U.S. election results, it is not so easy to understand why the election ended with people upset with the American voting system. What is the Electoral College and why to be upset about it?
In the U.S. citizens do not directly vote for a presidential candidate. Instead, their votes go to electors — people selected by the political parties, who will then vote for their parties’ candidates. The number of electoral votes delegated to each state depends on its size. In order to win the election, a candidate must get at least 270 electoral votes out of 538. Although we would like to think that each vote matters, in America it is more complicated than that. No matter how many democrats voted for Hillary Clinton in California, the highest number of electoral votes that the state could contribute to Clinton was 55. Trump lost the popular vote, but he also won the majority in more states, outnumbering Clinton in electoral votes.
To the dismay of Democrats, this is not the first time when a Republican lost the popular vote, but won the elections. In 2000, despite losing the popular vote, George W. Bush won the election after the Florida’s ballots recount controversy. Ironically, in 2012, Donald Trump called the electoral system “a disaster for a democracy” on his infamous Twitter account. Yet, he was the person to benefit from the system. The polls predicted Clinton’s win, because not many believed that Trump would be able to secure the crucial swing states. The exit polls, nevertheless, may explain the unexpected outcome. According to The Guardian, the majority of Trump’s voters are male and Caucasian without college degree. Clinton’s voters are mostly females and people of color. The Telegraph mentions that the swing state Wisconsin, which secured Trump’s election with its last ten votes, has “35.7% of its population as non-college educated white people.” The polls were wrong about this state by 7.4%, which shows that the election was more racially divided than it was expected to be.
Before calling the U.S. election system undemocratic, it is important to recognize that the Electoral College does have a purpose. It makes sure that bigger states do not overpower smaller states and shields the country from the blind majority rule. However the founding fathers also had another, extremely disconcerting, goal in mind. James Madison considered the popular vote election faulty because then southern states would “have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.” Since slave-owning states consisted of a large number of slaves who could not vote, without the electoral system the northern states would have dominated the politics. That is why Madison came up with the electoral college and the three-fifths compromise, which allowed southern states to count a slave as three-fifths of a person.
The people’s frustration over the racial aspect of the 2016 election, coupled with the slavery origins of the Electoral College may have added to the growing negative sentiment towards the current election system. For now, though, no one proposed any serious alternatives. Although Hillary Clinton made statements against the Electoral College before, she did not even mention it after her loss.
This article was written by Mira Yoo. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Illustration Credit: Gabriela Naumnik