The United States recently elected a president against all odds. No one thought a billionaire reality TV star with no political experience could win, but he did. There is a famous quote that says, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”
But in this presidential election, the person with the most votes didn’t win.
The US chooses its president through an antiquated process called the Electoral College. The history of the Electoral College dates back to the beginning of the United States. The Founding Fathers chose the Electoral College system for different reasons. One reason was to try to balance the power between the states with bigger and smaller populations. States with large numbers of non-voting slaves worried they would be bullied by states with larger populations of white voters.
Nowadays, the Electoral College uses a system of 538 points, called ‘electoral votes,’ which decides the winner. Each of America’s fifty states is given a certain number of these points based on its size. The bigger the state, the more points it’s worth. The candidate with the most votes in each state gets all of that state’s points. So it’s all or nothing.
This Electoral College system creates many different imbalances in the voting process. For example, the state of California, with a population of 37 million, is worth 55 points. Wyoming, on the other hand, with a mere 563,000 people, is only worth 3 points. If you do the math, you find out that each point in Wyoming represents 187,000 people, while each point in California represents 677,000 people. That means voters in Wyoming have 3.6 times the voting power of voters in California!
This state-by-state Electoral College point system sometimes creates a situation where a candidate can get the most votes on a national level, but get fewer Electoral College points. Hillary Clinton got 2 million more votes than Donald Trump, but she received fewer Electoral College points. The same thing happened in the year 2000, when George Bush beat Al Gore with fewer votes, but more Electoral College points. In the end, the number of votes from real people doesn’t always decide an election.
Many people have complained that the Electoral College system is undemocratic and needs to change. So why has this antiquated system stuck around for all these years?
In 2012, Donald Trump said on Twitter, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” After his win in 2016, he unsurprisingly changed his tune. Trump now says, “The Electoral College is actually genius…”