Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

A relic of political stagnation: The Electoral College

Illustration+Kellyn+Taylor
Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice. 

Imagine this: it’s March of 2024. The presidential election is around the corner. We vote, and our votes go directly to elect a candidate into a position of power, one that will have the ability to completely change the tide for both domestic and international politics. 

Wrong. That was a lie! Our election system lingers in the 1700s and is unlikely to change in the near future. 

Hello, Electoral College. How lovely would it be to say goodbye. In my opinion, immortality is the worst curse that could befall anything. How horrifying it is to see a voting system, as old as the small, racist, and confined founding of this country, still in place.

For the unacquainted, the United States’s voting system for presidency is not through the popular vote (one person, one vote). The election for presidency has two steps: political parties of each state will choose potential electors before the general election; these are called slates. Then, through the general election, voters will cast their ballots to select these electors. The set of electors chosen is called the Electoral College—and these electors will ultimately elect the president. The College has a total of 538 electors, and a majority of 270 electoral votes is needed to elect a president. 

While there’s no constitutional guarantee that the electors will vote for that specific party’s candidate, it’s common for political parties to get pledges from electors to vote specifically for their nominees. Some states, to prevent “faithless electors,” subject fines to or disqualify electors who go against pledges—and in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that states are allowed to set requirements for electors on their votes. For the most part, though, it is exceedingly rare to see any “faithless electors,” as most electors are individuals who hold some kind of leadership position in their party or have some everlasting loyalty to their party. 

So that leaves us with our modern-day standing: voting for Biden will be casting a vote for electors who will most likely vote for Biden, and voting for Trump will be casting a vote for those who will most likely vote for Trump. 

Now, the idea of the Electoral College was created with the birth of the Constitution—“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…” as seen in Article II, but it was officially established in 1804 in the 12th Amendment as parties were being created. It has stayed that way, despite the numerous changes that rippled across the nation oh-so-many times. States have been added, laws have been changed, the Constitution itself has been ratified, populations have grown exponentially, and sociopolitical workings within this country have evolved and devolved, constantly shifting. Yet, the most fundamental monument to represent the democratic pride of Americans has remained static. 

The Electoral College is a relic of the white-centric, oppressive, tiny colonial America that existed centuries ago. It’s riddled with issues that grow more and more prominent as the years pass and have yet to be remedied:

Disproportionate voting power

There’s disproportionate voting power within the states, as the system favors smaller states than states with a larger population—all states get an allocation of a minimum of three electoral votes, but each state’s total electors are based on the number of representatives in the Senate (two people) and the House, which varies on population. For example, Washington D.C.—treated as a state for the purposes of voting—has a larger population than Wyoming (around 680,000 versus around 580,000), yet both only get three electoral votes. 

The political formula says that one of D.C.’s electoral votes accounts for a higher proportion of people, which means that more people have less genuine individual influence, while one of Wyoming’s electoral votes accounts for a lower number of people, which means there’s more individual influence—one vote in D.C. counts for around 226,000 people, while one vote in Wyoming counts for around 195,000.

The thing is, though, for both states, voting power for each individual is astronomically low. Instead of the “one person, one vote” that countless Supreme Court cases fought for, we see that one person ends up standing for around 1/226,000 of a vote. While the direct translation might be seen as flawed, the actual meaning behind it is the same: our individual votes mean little when all it does is go to an electoral vote. This disproportionate voting power that is apparent across the country creates a huge imbalance in actual represented voices.

Winner-take-all

Our country has a winner-take-all voting system (also known as the first-past-the-post) for 48 states. This means the candidate who receives majority votes will receive all the electoral votes even if the margin of difference is one vote. On the surface, it might seem fair to think that the top-voted candidates get all the votes, but in reality, it just means that many voters are simply not represented, as losing candidates receive nothing. 

For example, imagine a race where there are five candidates where the winner has garnered 23 percent of the votes. Despite the fact that they have only 23 percent out of 77 percent, they still win the entire race as they have the majority. 

This means that many minority groups such as women, queer people, communities of color, third parties, residents in gerrymandered districts (a whole ‘nother can of worms that you can read about here), etc. will virtually have no representation as they would make up a low percentage of voters in a given state. The system also encourages a lack of meaningful campaigning to target those outside of a candidate’s party, shrinking any kind of cross-party interaction. It also creates essentially wasted votes, as many votes will go to virtually no one if directed towards a losing candidate, creating a predetermined result for many areas where one party is dominant, and ultimately lowering voter turnout. 

Reinforced two-party system

The structural system of the Electoral College makes it so that it is almost impossible for third-party candidates to be elected. The winner-take-all system means that third parties are essentially losing from the get-go as the larger, more prominent parties will most likely always win the larger number of votes. This then discourages people from voting for third parties at all, feeding into a loop that reinforces the existence of two parties. 

Even if somehow the electoral votes were all evenly broken into thirds for a Democratic, Republican, and third-party candidate, the votes would then be sent up to Congress where the House of Representatives would cast votes as their states, and if nothing happens there, it moves to the Senate. Yet this process in and of itself is still based on a two-party system as those sitting in Congress are, in fact, mostly either democratic or republican. The system itself is built to sustain the two-party system. It prevents any third-party candidates from winning the presidency. 

This makes it impossible to break the mold or create any meaningful change—the status quo that has been maintained since literally the inception of this country remains.

It’s a relic of racism and oppression that endures

Back when the Electoral College was created, it was created by men, specifically white slave owners, who sure as hell didn’t know the changes that would come in the future. For a long, long time, the South had great advantages as they could get more electoral votes due to the population of enslaved Black people while refusing to let them vote, which in turn gave politicians who were pro-slavery the advantage. There were also the women of the states who weren’t allowed to vote. This constant white-supremic, oppressive system of voting continued up until Abraham Lincoln took office, but even after that, rampant racism endured. Jim Crow Laws ensured that the oppression of Black Americans would continue as states did everything in their power to disenfranchise and suppress Black voters. 

This blatant suppression would continue until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made it so that voting was not allowed to be restricted on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. Of course, this did not end the racism and oppression within the voting system, it simply changed its form. 

Today, Black voices are just as equally unheard. Despite the concentration of Black people being highest in the South, their preferred political party, and in turn candidates, have extremely high chances of losing to the dominant Republican Party. 

Oppression in other communities also continues as the two-party system, bolstered by the Electoral College, dominates. Third-party candidates have virtually no chance of winning, and as such, voters are either forced to essentially waste their vote or vote for a lesser of two evils. Voices go unheard, constantly, continually, and will do so, under this system that some conceited white guys decided on 237 years ago. 

There are a lot of proposed solutions, like simply instating the popular vote, plurality voting (whichever candidate has the most votes after a single round winning), runoff voting (a candidate winning if they get the most votes the first round, if not, going through another round against the other most voted candidate), preferential voting (ranking candidates with the most preferred winning), and so on. Some say the Electoral College works, despite its flaws, for such a big country. Some say there are flaws to be fixed, but it should still be used. Some don’t have an opinion at all. Some refuse to engage. And to me, those who refuse to engage are the most heinous of them all.

I don’t know what solution would be best—I don’t live inside the minds of billions of other people with complex lives and thoughts and emotions. There are a lot more problems with the College that I haven’t listed, and I also don’t know of. I’m not a politician, I’m not a political scientist. I’m not even pursuing a degree in politics. My head hurts when I think too hard about certain things. I get scared when I read headlines. Still, I know that morally, and ethically, I need to continue to engage with politics. I need to understand the basic voting system of our country and, despite knowing its absolute ridiculousness, still choose to vote for what would make the most sense and help the country in the long run while advocating for more substantial change, however incremental. 

I know how disgusting politics can be, how messy. I hope everyone understands that yeah, it’s complicated, it’s nasty stuff, no one is good and everything sucks, but turning away from it is exactly what politicians want you to do. The most you can do as a normal person like me is choose to engage. Learn the basics, register to vote, vote for candidates that you know actually have a chance and are the better option, even if that candidate is horrible for other reasons. 

For now, politics is based on a broken system that forces you to pick between bad or more bad. Choose bad for now—and as the world moves forward and the generations change, maybe that bad will become neutral, become better, and become good.

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About the Contributor
Rachel Choi, Multimedia Managing Editor, Chief Copy Editor
Rachel Choi (she/her) is a WLP major with a concentration in publishing and a minor in PR. She currently serves as the multimedia managing editor and chief copyeditor for the Beacon. She also occasionally likes to write oddly specific articles.

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