Why The Electoral College Should Be Abolished

In just a few days, voters will be heading to the polls to cast their ballots for president (and have been for the last few weeks)... well, sort of. As we may all remember dimly from high school, when we vote for president, we don't actually vote for the president, but for a slate of electors who cast the real votes for president. The Electoral College may have made sense in 1789 when it was created as part of the U.S. Constitution, but it makes almost no sense today. It's time to abolish the Electoral College and let the people choose the president directly.

Before we get into why I believe we should jettison the Electoral College, it's important to understand why we have the Electoral College in the first place. As C.G.P. Grey noted in his fantastic pair of explainer videos on the Electoral College, when the Electoral College was instituted by the founding fathers in the 18th century, the fastest way to send information was to "write it down on a piece of paper, hand it to a guy on a horse, wish him 'godspeed, good sir,' and hope he didn't get killed by Indians or die of dysentery along the way."

Because of this, not only is there a lot of time built in to the electoral calendar, but the Electoral College was created to allow the states (through their representative electors) to respond quickly to any last-minute developments. For instance, if a presidential candidate died after Election Day but before the electors cast their ballots, the electors would be able to make a decision based on the most up-to-date information without having to wait for the guy on the horse to go all the way back to his home state.

But we don't need that kind of backup system anymore. And considering that the Electoral College doesn't always select the most popular candidate to be president, it's a pretty faulty system.

Moreover, because of how the Electoral College apportions votes — one Electoral College vote for each representative in Congress — larger states are disadvantaged to the benefit of smaller ones. This means your vote is literally worth less if you live in a very large state, and worth more if you live in a small state.

Finally, because most states apportion their electors with a winner-take-all rule, states that are more likely to vote for one candidate or another get ignored in the run-up to the election. According to FairVote, following the conventions in 2012, the four ticket-topping candidates only visited 11 states, and more than half of those visits were to Ohio, Florida, and Virginia.

Of course, changing the Constitution to a popular vote system would be tricky, since we'd have to pass an amendment (unlikely in the current political atmosphere). However, several states have signed on to a workaround called the National Popular Vote bill. Once enough states have signed on to represent an Electoral College majority, those states would automatically assign their electors to the candidate who wins the national popular vote regardless of who wins the state. The problem would be solved, no amendment needed.


Until we get that fix — or even engage in more hands-on electoral reform — we'll have to deal with the Electoral College, keeping a close eye on it to make sure it fairly and accurately represents the people.