A recent social media video was describing how a state like New York or California is underrepresented in the electoral college, which proves that the electoral college system is not fair and should be discarded.
The video was correct in one aspect. Populated states like California are underrepresented in the electoral college, but, contrary to the wise conclusion they made in the video, it’s a good thing. A very good thing.
So what’s really going on?
The electoral college system is wrongly accused of not choosing the president by popular vote, and critics point to the 2000 election as proof that the system is flawed. However, the system is working just find and for a good purpose. And, by the way, the results are based upon population, not nationally, but on the state level.
Here’s how it works in case you need a refresher course. Each state is allotted a certain number of electoral votes based upon their population. Those numbers can change every ten years after a census, but the total number of electoral votes always remains 538. Therefore, if a state loses a lot of people, they may lose one vote in the electoral college. The votes correspond to how many senators a state has (always 2) and how many representatives they have in the House of Representatives. Each state has one congressional district for every representative they have in the house. In the case of Wyoming, the least populous state in the union, that is exactly 1. So Wyoming, in the electoral college, has three votes – 1 for their rep, and 2 for their senator.
However, since Wyoming has so few people, they end up being over-represented. If it was truly based on population, they would lose some of their representation in the electoral college and that vote would go to a more populous state such as California.
So yes, California should have more votes, but they don’t.
So why is that good?
Because the United States wasn’t founded as a unitary nation where all the power is concentrated in the central government. The united states was founded as a federal nation, where the thirteen original states voluntarily joined together, but in doing so, they worked hard to preserve the identity and powers which the states had to themselves. Founders such as Thomas Jefferson were adamant that the states hold onto much power, thus limiting the federal government which he viewed with suspicion. And with good reason. They had just fought a war against a government (King George) who wielded too much power and didn’t listen to the individual concerns of his colonies. The electoral college ensured that each state would continue to have a voice, regardless of how many people lived there. The electoral college acknowledges how America was founded and designed. It hearkens to the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights which says that whatever power is not delegated to the federal government is reserved for the states. The power of having a voice of who elects the president is one of those powers. It’s an important power.
In addition, the electoral college insures that more rural states still have an important and viable voice in American politics. Without the electoral college, the election would be decided by a handful of urbanized areas with little regard for the hard-working folks living in the hinterlands.
What happened in 2000 is meaningless. We are a nation of states. Therefore, the electoral college is the best system for preserving the individual states rights and giving a voice to everyone, not just the urban elites.