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Every four years, America holds an election to choose their next President and Vice President of the United States. This year’s was the 58th quadrennial election, and while most have gone off with relatively few problems, there are five years that stand out – 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and, yes, 2016. In each of these elections, the candidate who the majority of Americans chose to be President in the popular vote did not win the Presidency in the Electoral College.
Following the results of each of these elections, supporters of the popular vote winning candidate cried out, calling to abolish the Electoral College, while the other side explains why we have the system that we do; to give a voice to smaller states, so that their concerns are not overlooked in favor of two or three large states like California, Texas, or New York. As with all things, there is some truth to both arguments. What if, then, there was a way to meet in the middle, that would both ensure that all states, even the smaller ones, have their voices heard, while still making the system more democratic?
Currently, our elections are set up in a way where we are not holding one national election, but rather fifty-one individual elections, one for each of the fifty states and Washington, D.C., that combine to make our national election. In fifty of these elections – Maine being the exception – the winner of the popular vote in that state, regardless of their margin of victory, is awarded all of that state’s electoral votes. A prime example of this is Michigan; Trump and Clinton are just 0.3% away from each other in the popular vote, and both have only a plurality, not a majority – 47.6% to 47.3% – however Trump will be awarded 100% of that state’s electors. Go back sixteen years to Florida’s notorious role in the 2000 election, and you find something very similar; both candidates have only a plurality, and are separated by only 0.01% of the vote – less than one tenth of one percent – with Bush at 48.85%, Gore at 48.84%. Yet that hundredth of one percent determines which of the two will be awarded all twenty-five of that state’s electoral votes.
This is undemocratic by any measure, but there is a simple solution. A solution that does not involve a constitutional amendment, which would be required to abolish the Electoral College entirely. In fact, not only will it not require a constitutional amendment, it would not even be handled at the federal level at all. Instead, each state would be responsible for modernizing the way that their participation in the electoral college works.
Rather than abolishing the electoral college, and rather than giving the winner of each state 100% of that state’s electors, we should instead break up the way electors are allocated so that they are proportional. If a candidate wins only 49.7% of a state’s vote, then that candidate would receive 49.7% of that state’s electoral votes (rounded either up or down as necessary).
Applying this method to the aforementioned 2016 and 2000 elections, we see vastly different – and potentially more democratic – results. In the 2016 race for Michigan, in which the candidates are just 0.3% apart from each other, Trump would be awarded eight electoral votes, Clinton seven, and Johnson one; a distribution far more representative of the way the state voted. Looking back on the role Florida played in the 2000 election, that crisis would have been averted entirely under this system – Bush and Gore would both win twelve electoral votes, and Nader would win one.
There is no denying our current system is undemocratic, regardless of whether that is caused by its very existence or whether it is caused by faithless electors. Either way, we must make an effort to fix the system, and that fix must be to change the way that we distribute electoral votes to presidential candidates.