Is this you: “WTF happened this election? DOWN WITH THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE… I think!?”?
If yes, read on. If you don’t understand the electoral college, definitely read on. If not, whatever, read it anyway.
Donald Trump won the 2016 election with the greater number of electoral college votes *shudders*. Hillary Clinton, however, received the greater number of direct votes *shudders*. I’m sure a few of you are thinking that the electoral college is rigged or flawed or uneccessary. Let’s learn why or why not. By looking closely at what the electoral college is from a mathematician’s point of view, we can see what the politcial implications are. Maybe it’ll give you a deeper argument to prove your point or disprove your friend’s point.
This has only happened 5 times. In 1824 John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson, in 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes beat Samuell J. Tilden, in 1888 Benjamin Harrison beat Grover Cleveland, and in 2000 George W. Bush beat Al Gore. In each of these cases, the loser won the popular vote, but lost the election. There is no obvious pattern we can see that say when these kind of elections are likely to occur. One thing to note is that Republicans (as we know of the party today) have never been victim to losing in this way, but they so happen to be the party that tend to agree with the values behind the electoral college. 5 times isn’t that many. Assuming that there is no pattern of this kind of event occuring, this means that there is only an 8.9% probability (so far) that in a given election, this situation will occur.
What is the electoral college?
Well, each state gets to directly elect a number of Representatives that is proportionate to the population in that state. These people, and the state’s two senators are the electors for each state. After counting the votes from people within each state, the state gives all of their electoral votes to the most popular candidate. Regardless of if 51% or 99% of the population within a state votes for one candidate, 100% of the electoral votes go to the candidate. THAT is why there is sometimes a difference between the candidate with the popular vote and the electoral college vote. Let’s look at this on a small scale:
Montana and The District of Columbia each have three electoral votes (meaning they have very similar population sizes). In the district of Columbia, 93% of people voted for Clinton, so they used their 3 electoral votes for her. Montana, 57% of people voted for Trump, so they used their 3 electoral votes for him. According to the electoral college there would be a tie because there are equal electoral votes. BUT Clinton won by a HUGE margin in the District of Columbia, but in Montana, Trump won by a small margin. So there actually were more people who voted for Clinton, but the electoral college doesn’t account for HOW MUCH a candidate wins by. Elections like this occur when some states REEEEAAALLLYYYY don’t want a candidate to win, but the states that vote for that candidate only SORTA want that candidate to win.
The argument comes down to: Are all people created equal or are all states created equal? If both are created equal… is the electoral college the best way to reflect that?
Let’s look at the simpler argument first. Direct election based on popular vote, would represent that “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” By this, I mean that every person’s vote has equal impact on the outcome of an election. If all men are created equal, and more PEOPLE are voting for Clinton than Trump, OBVIOUSLY she should win, right?
Well… maybe not. Do you think state government is important? Well, I think so! New York is different than Texas in more ways than one. Even if you think that different states all have the same culture (I disagree, but sure), you have to agree with me that different states want different outcomes from an election, based on geographical, historical, and economical concerns (among other concerns as well). Think of the electoral college like two separate direct elections. Each state takes the votes from the people and pick a candidate. Then the nation takes the votes from each state, accounting for population size, and picks the final candidate. This means that even if more people are unhappy, more populations of people are happy. This does not mean that more states are happy, per se, but it means that more of the state’s weighted by their population sizes are happy. So it’s sorta a weird combination of state and individual people happiness.
If you take away anything from this blog post, let it be that EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE WITH DIRECT ELECTION OR THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE, THERE IS A LEGITIMATE ARGUMENT FOR EITHER CASE.
Here is a video of me walking through the question: Is the current electoral college representing all states equally? using math to prove it.
(I misspelled Minnesota and I accidentally wrote Denver instead of Delaware… I’m a math person, not an English, History, or Politics person. Sorry)
Dumb Arguments that I’ve Seen:
People often say that we shouldn’t eliminate the electoral college because it would be hard to. The fact that it would be difficult to ammend the constitution, is NOT a reason to keep it the same. I think America should strive to be the best form of government that it can be and that means change may be required. So scratch that argument. I think it’s invalid and irelevant.
People often say that we should get rid of the electoral college because it’s an outdated system… no, actually, it is a timeless idea (unless you want to argue that all states are exactly the same). And after reading why the electoral college exists, you should understand that the reason it is still around is much more complex than just “it’s convenient and people were more illiterate before”.