As we wrap up another presidential election, we have again become familiarized with the odd workings of the Electoral College. While both sides of the political spectrum have had qualms with this centuries-old institution, the big question remains: why the hell do we use it, anyway?
The central issue with the Electoral College is not the disproportionate amount of power given to smaller states. After all, Electoral College winners have only lost the national popular vote five times in our nation’s history. Rather, it is, as Jesse Wegman of The New York Times has suggested, the winner-take-all laws at the state level.
These laws, on the books everywhere in the U.S. but Nebraska and Maine, require that a state’s electoral votes go to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in that state. The result is the classic map of red and blue states we see on TV every four years, and the effective disenfranchisement of millions of voters across the country. And it will only get worse. In places like Texas, a Republican stronghold, changing demographics will likely make the state blue in a few cycles. That’s millions of Republican voters effectively silenced, guaranteeing Democratic victory for decades to come.
With most of the country classified as reliably red or blue, we tend to fixate on a handful of states that may go either way. These swing states become the focus of both candidates and the media, as these states effectively decide the election. Candidates tend to pander toward issues that matter for the citizens of these states, at the detriment of the rest of the country. For them, the majority of states are a given.
You may be drawn to see this as entirely reasonable. We assume that because some states tend to go a particular way, they must have fairly strong political consensuses. But this isn’t true.