The Trouble with the Electoral College


In a fair democracy everyone’s vote should count equally, but the method that the United States uses to elect its president, called the electoral college, violates this principle by making sure that some people’s votes are more equal than others.

The Electoral College is, essentially, the 538 votes that determine who wins the presidency.

If these votes were split evenly across the population every 574,000 people would be represented by one vote.

But that’s not what happens because the Electoral College doesn’t give votes to people, only states. Which has some unfair consequences.

For example there are 11,500,000 people in Ohio so, to fairly represent them, it should get 20 electoral votes. But the Electoral college doesn’t give Ohio 20 votes, it only gets 18 – two less than it should.

Where’d those other votes go? To states like Rhode Island.

Plucky Rhode Island has 1.1 million people in it, so it should have about two votes, but instead it gets four!

Those extra two votes that should be representing Ohioans go to representing Rhode Islanders instead? Why?

Because, according to the rules of the electoral college, every state, no matter how few people live there, gets three votes to start with before the rest are distributed according to population.

Because of this rule there are a lot of states with a few people that should only have one or two votes for president but instead get three or four.

So Georgians, Virginians, Michiganders & Jerseyites are each missing one vote,

Pennsylvanians, North Carolinians, Ohioans & Hoosiers are missing two, Floridians are missing 4, New Yorkers, 5, Texans 6, and Californians are 10 short of what they should get.

Because of this vote redistribution, the Electoral College essentially pretends that fewer people live where they do and more people live where they don’t.

An American who lives in one of these states, has their vote for president count for less than an American who lives in one of these states.

In some cases the Electoral College bends the results just a little, but if you live in a particularly large or small state, it bends them a lot.

One Vermonter’s vote, according to the Electoral College is worth three Texans’ votes. And one Wyomingite’s vote is worth four Californians’.

Now, hold on there son, you might be saying to yourself right now: you’re missing the whole point of the electoral college. It’s to protect the small states from the big states.

Give the small states more voting power and the presidential candidates will have to pay them more attention in an election.

If that’s the goal of the electoral college, it’s failing spectacularly.

Here’s a graph showing the number of visits the presidential Candidates paid to each of the states in the last two months of the previous election.

If it looks like there are a few states missing, you’re right. Only 18 of the 50 states received even a single visit from a candidate. And just two of those states, Mane and New Hampshire have very small populations.

The area of the country with the most small states is conspicuously missing.

The Electoral College doesn’t make candidates care about small states.

But, interestingly the biggest states, California, Texas and New York are missing as well so what’s going on?

Looking closer, just four states, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia received a majority of the candidates’ attention during the election.

And if you follow the money, it’s the same story.

Why do candidates spend so much money and time in so few states? Because the way the electoral college works forces them to do so.

The elections are winner-take-all. As long as a candidate gets just over 50% of the popular vote in a state he wins 100% of that state’s electoral votes.

That means winning by millions of citizens’ votes is no better than winning by a single vote.

So candidates are safe to ignore states where they poll with big margins.

Instead, the electoral college makes candidates intensely interested in the needs of just a few states with close races, to the detriment of of almost all Americans, which is why it should be abolished.

But wait! You might say, won’t abolishing the electoral college and voting directly for president cause candidates to spend all their time in big cities? That wouldn’t fair to most Americans either.

This sounds like a reasonable fear, but ignores the mathematical reality of population distribution.

There are 309 million people in the United States, only 8 million of which live in New York, the largest city by far. That’s 2.6% of the total population. But after New York, the size of cities drops fast.

LA has 3.8 million and Chicago has 2.7 but you can’t even make it to the tenth biggest city, San Jose before you’re under a million people.

These top ten cities added together are only 7.9% of the popular vote hardly enough to win an election.

And even winning the next 90 biggest cities in the United States all the way down to Spokane is still not yet 20% of the total population.

So unless there’s a city with a few hundred million people hiding somewhere in America that’s been left out of the census, the idea, that a candidate can just spend their campaign Jetting between New York, LA and Chicago while ignoring everyone else and still become president is mathematically ludicrous.

Want to see the real way to unfairly win?

How YOU can become President with only 22% of the popular vote by taking advantage of the Electoral College today!

Don’t believe that’s possible in a democracy? Just watch:

Here’s the action plan: win the votes of the people who count the most and ignore the people who count the least.

Start with Wyoming, the state where 0.18% of Americans live but who get 0.56% of the electoral college votes for president.

And, because it’s a winner take all system, you don’t need all of them to vote for you, just half plus one or 0.09%.

Next up is the District of Columbia where winning 0.1% of the population also gets you an additional 0.56% of the electoral college.

Then add in wins in Vermont, and North Dakota, and Alaska.

Notice how the votes your getting to win the presidency go up much faster than the percent of the population who voted for you because of the Electoral College’s rules.

Next is South Dakota, then Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey.

Congratulations, by taking advantage of unfair rules and winning states, not people, you’ve won a majority in the Electoral College even though 78% of the population voted against you.

This is not Democracy, this is indefensible.

While this particular scenario is unlikely, if you have a voting system that allows losers to win, you shouldn’t be surprised when they do.

Not once, not twice, but thrice in American history the candidate with the most votes from the people actually lost because of the electoral college.

Three errors in 55+ elections is a failure rate of 5%.

Would anyone tolerate a sport where, by a quirk of the rules, there was a 5% chance that the loser would win? Not likely.

Given how much more important electing the president of the United States is, that’s a rather dangerously high percentage of the time to get it wrong.

If we abolish the Electoral College and simply let citizens vote for the president directly, all of these problems will go away and everyone’s vote will be equal.

Corrections & Notes

The Trouble with the Electoral College

  • 0:23 Should read 'People per electoral vote' not 'Electoral votes per person'
  • 0:30 11.5 Million is 11,500,000, not 11,500,00
  • 1:47 The Wyoming Guy should have a vote in his hand
  • People from Illinois are Illinoisan not Hoosiers.
  • People from Michigan are called mish-uh-GAN-ders
  • North Carolina changes color from votes count less to votes count more
  • Iowa is IA not IO


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