Presidential Election Brings Up Questions Surrounding Electoral College


The Electoral College is under scrutiny once again after the 2020 presidential election (Courtesy of Twitter).

At the time that I am writing this article, The Associated Press has given Joe Biden 290 electoral votes and Donald Trump 214. Possessing more than the 270 electoral votes needed for election, Joe Biden has been chosen by the American people to be the 46th president of the United States. As of now, President Trump has refused to concede the election, by contrast tweeting on the morning of Nov. 7, “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT.” The president has also made conflicting claims of widespread election fraud across the country, begging for ballots to stop being counted in states where he was winning and continuing the count in decisive states that he needed to win. The Trump campaign has filed numerous legal challenges in swing states alleging election fraud in a flailing and last-ditch attempt to steal the election from the American people and maintain power. 

As election night coverage dragged on from Tuesday all the way into Saturday when President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivered victory speeches in Wilmington, Delaware, the margin by which Biden won the popular vote was seldom mentioned. News outlets were quick to report that the Biden-Harris ticket received the most votes of any presidential campaign in American history, but this fact was rather inconsequential due to the use of the Electoral College in selecting a president. While the Electoral College has greatly benefitted the Republican Party in recent years, it has let down American voters of both parties. 

Late into Wednesday night, Biden held a 4 million vote lead over President Trump, and yet the president still had a path to reelection. If Trump had won, it would have meant that Biden’s 4 million vote lead at the time was entirely meaningless and President Trump would have been elected without winning the popular vote for a second time. The Electoral College is a system that gives disproportionate value to votes from certain states and can create a situation where the American people are deprived of the presidential candidate that the majority of the country voted to elect. 

The argument for abolishing the Electoral College was made frequently after the 2016 election, as it seemed unthinkable to have elected Donald Trump when Secretary Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote by over two million votes, but the occurrence of a “minority president” is not a new one. Aside from the 2016 election, Al Gore won the popular vote by about 550,000 votes in 2000 but lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush. As the country sat watching the election over the last few days, the question was best posed by Emory University Professor Carol Anderson as time dragged on: “Why, when somebody has won millions more votes than their opponent, are we still deliberating over 10,000 votes here, 5,000 votes there?” The answer lies in the mathematical intricacies of the Electoral College. 

Benjamin Bollinger uses California and Wyoming as examples of the disproportionate value of certain votes compared to others in his article “Point: Abolishing the Electoral College,” in which he says, “California gets one electoral vote per 615,848 residents; Wyoming receives one vote per 164,594 residents. That is nearly a 4:1 ratio in favor of Wyoming.” In a system that is supposed to operate on fair representation, such a ratio is inconceivable and unacceptable. In the last 30 years, a majority of the American people have only voted once to elect a Republican president, yet three have been elected through the Electoral College. 

Consider, for a moment, being a Republican in California. At the time of writing, the Associated Press had reported 86% of the state’s votes, with President-elect Biden commanding a roughly 65% majority and 4.5 million vote lead over President Trump. Considering that under the Electoral College the popular vote is inconsequential, if you are a Republican in California, your vote for the president in this election really didn’t matter. The state wasn’t going to flip red. The same goes for a Democrat in Alabama, where Trump won by around 600,000 votes and a 62% majority. This, of course, is not to discourage anyone from voting in any state. We are freer, stronger and safer when we all vote and every citizen who is able to should exercise their fundamental right to make their voice heard. However, the presence of the Electoral College, as we have seen in this last week, means that presidential elections essentially come down to the opinions of voters in a few “swing states” rather than representing the interests of all Americans. 

If President Trump won the election this week, it would have essentially stated that millions of Americans’ voices were ignored. Rampant division in the country would have persisted, and the American people would have been robbed of the Biden presidency that they clearly chose. Luckily, this didn’t happen. The voices of the American people were heard and democracy functioned as it should. 

Despite President Trump’s best and continuing efforts to ignore millions of Americans who chose to vote by mail due to coronavirus, the people took to the streets on Saturday to celebrate a victory of hope over fear. A victory of unity over division. In addition to the question of why we care about a few thousand votes in certain places more than millions across the country, it might also be beneficial to reflect on the following: Would President Trump have cried foul, fraud and theft in the election if he had actually ended up winning?

Julian Shuttleworth, FCRH ’24, is a political science major from Columbus, Ohio.