Here’s Why The Popular Vote Doesn’t Decide The Election

Almost a year after the 2016 presidential election, people are still complaining about how Hillary Clinton should be president because she won the popular vote. I’ve seen posts by some of these people asking “why should your vote count more than mine?” (can’t find the Facebook post to get the link, sorry). The answer is, it shouldn’t, and that is why we have the Electoral College. While I’m not saying it is perfect (I’ll talk more about this either later in the post or in another post), it is better than the popular vote being the deciding factor.

The way the Electoral College works is that each state has a certain amount of elected representatives who cast their votes based upon the outcome of their state’s popular vote (at least, that’s what they’re supposed to do). In most of the states, the candidate who the majority of the representatives vote for receives all of the votes from that state. However, there are exceptions, in which case each candidate gets any and all votes that are for them from the states that don’t follow the aforementioned all-or-nothing way.

There are two groups of elected representatives who cast their votes, the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Senate, each state elects two Senators. In the House of Representatives, the number of representatives to be elected is based upon a state’s population. For example, as you can see in the below map of the number of seats in House of Representatives each state has (I don’t know if is correct or not, but it gets the point across), California, a heavily-populated state, has 55 representatives who vote, while Rhode Island, a state with a much smaller population than California, only has 4 seats in the House of Representatives.

Electoral Votes Map

click here for original image

Some of you may be wondering why there are two groups. Basically, when the current system was being created, people in small states were worried that the larger states would control the country if the system were based on population alone. This would be a problem because different states have different interests, obviously. However, the larger states didn’t think it would be fair if the smaller states had an equal say in things, since obviously the larger states were speaking on behalf of much more people. As a compromise, it was decided that there would be two groups of representatives, one based on population (House of Representatives) and one where every state has an equal say (Senate), and any bills would have to be passed by both groups in order to find their way to the president’s desk and be signed into law. I would add a link to a webpage that has more details, but I just wrote this all down from the top of my head from what I remember from a very detailed year of US I with Dos, and I’m too lazy I don’t feel like looking one up right now. However, feel free to use a Google search for more info. A good search term would probably be “origins of US electoral system” or something like that.

Circling back to the first paragraph of this post, this is exactly how no one person’s vote counts more than another’s (except for, of course, the elected Congressmen and women, but they’re supposed to vote the way their state did, as I stated above). If the election were decided on the popular vote alone, the larger states would have control of the Unites States simply because they have more people living there. The problem with that is that the economy of each state varies. For example, while one state’s economy may be centered around agriculture, another state’s economy may revolve around industry. Let’s say the agricultural state is less populated than the industrial state. If popular vote was the deciding factor in any decision affecting the economy, then the industrial state would have control, and while laws, reforms, and regulations that may help industry would most likely be passed, laws, reforms, and regulations that may help agriculture would be tossed aside, leaving the agricultural state to suffer.

Of course, as with any system, there are flaws. Personally, I think we should keep the idea of representatives, but divide each state into as many sections as it has votes (for example, Rhode Island would be divided into six sections, four for the House of Representatives and two for the Senate), and the outcome of the popular vote of each section should decide one vote. Also, it should not be a winner-take-all system, as it is in most states. Before I really get going outlining my plan for Electoral College reform (which I actually do have, because it was a history project of mine in high school), I’m going to stop myself, because that isn’t why I started this post. Another time, perhaps.

Before I begin to bore you (if I haven’t already), I’m going to end this post. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, or even use Google to try and find an answer. Thanks for reading!


6 thoughts on “Here’s Why The Popular Vote Doesn’t Decide The Election

  1. Ooh, I actually wrote a paper on this exact subject last semester. I was very much against the electoral college system, mainly because if you live in New York like me, your vote counts over three and a half times less that someone’s vote in Wisconsin. (In Wisconsin, one electoral vote represents about 150k people, whereas in New York, one electoral vote represents about 520k people.) I get that smaller states need a voice, but do they really a need a voice that’s so disproportionally larger than the size of their population?

    There’s also the fact that, (and the history books just kind of gloss over this part), a big reason the electoral college was created was to appease the slave states. As Yale Professor Akhil Reed Amar explained, (and I’m literally just copying and pasting this from my essay now): “‘In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge percentage of its population were slaves, and slaves couldn’t vote.’ The electoral college accounted for slaves in its distribution of electoral votes (3/5ths of them), which gave the South an advantage in elections throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. ‘Thus it’s no surprise that eight of the first nine presidential races were won by a Virginian.'” (Vox Media & Illing, 2016.)

    I also argued that the electoral college should be disbanded because it no longer accomplishes what it was designed to do. Like, if you read through the Federalist papers, (particularly paper #68.) you’ll see Alexander Hamilton’s explanation for the Electoral College, where he basically says:

    1) They did not trust the American people to always elect the best candidate
    2) With the EC, they could ensure the candidate that wins is qualified, and mentally and morally capable of the job.
    3) It’s designed to make sure foreign powers don’t influence the election, and that no candidate becomes a president because of another country’s interference. (“These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”)

    We can disagree on point #2, but even back in last November, the evidence of Russian collusion was, ah, a bit troubling. Every single American intelligence agency agreed that Russia intentionally interfered with the election in order to get Trump the presidency. Now it’s just a question of what the extent of the collusion was, and how much did Trump himself know.

    Either way, the evidence of Russian interference alone should’ve been enough for the electors to cast their votes for someone else. If there was ever a moment for the Electoral College system to prove its worth, to do as the founding fathers had intended for it to do, the 2016 election was it. Instead it did the exact opposite.

    (Should note: I got points taken off my paper for being overly partisan in the last point. But I didn’t get points off for being wrong.)

    Personally, I agree with you in that it shouldn’t be a winner-take-all system. It should be divided up into districts, each worth one electoral vote. Each district should be a winner-take-all system, not the state as a whole. Although, I’ve also heard of the idea of a rank voting system. Where instead of voting one specific candidate in, you’d rank the existing candidates in the order you’d want them to win. So if there was one candidate you liked, but s/he was a third party candidate who didn’t have a chance, you could put him/her at the top of the list, and put the other candidates in whatever order you’d like, and the candidates would win based on who was the most consistently favorable.

    Of course, it would never be put in place because it would mess up the whole two-party system we got going on, but hey, I can still dream.

    (Wow this was a long comment. I apologize.)

    • I actually like that idea of rank voting, but as you said, the whole two-party system thing is a problem with that. No worries about the long comment. I appreciate the discussion! However, I disagree with your point on the whole Russian-interference thing (specifically, the part where you say this should’ve disqualified Trump in the eyes of the electors; we’re not going to go into how horrible it was that any interference even happened). Taking Trump himself out of the equation, why should foreign interference equal a candidate’s downfall? Again, I’m not saying this about this specific election, but about the concept as a whole.

      Thanks for sharing! I *do* enjoy discussing politics with people who seem intelligent and don’t verbally attack anyone who disagrees with them. 🙂

      • Generally speaking, if another country is trying to sway the results of our election in one candidate’s favor, it’s very unlikely that country has our best interests at heart. They do it to help their own agenda, not ours, and Russia’s agenda as of late seems to be to undermine western democracy at every opportunity. Now in hindsight, I don’t think foreign interference should, on its own, disqualify a presidential candidate, (particularly if it was done without the knowledge and/or consent of the candidate in question). But I do think there should be a re-vote once the interference becomes known. Or, if the government finds out about the collusion before the election takes place, they should announce their findings as soon as possible, so people can take it into consideration before voting.

        • I think that’s reasonable. In response to your first statement (that another country interfering probably does not have our best interest at heart), I think that while obviously the interference isn’t to help us, it would be callous to assume that, because of this, any collusion will most likely hinder us. It certainly depends on the issue at hand, as well as whether or not there is a right answer and a wrong answer. If it were an issue which many Americans were debating, then I don’t think one could say that the interference hurt nor helped us, as the solution to the problem in question is a matter of moral and ethical debate.

          Also, as a somewhat-related side note, I’ve been contemplating how a candidate would discover any tampering by another country in their favor, assuming said candidate didn’t encourage this secretly from the start. If I were running for office, I don’t think it would occur to me that another party might be illegally trying to influence the outcome in my favor, as I’m sure would be the case with most people.

  2. Hi Samantha,
    I’m sorry if I’m committing a faux pass by commenting on a post that’s a little bit old; but I enjoyed reading your assessment of the electoral college (even though we have different opinions of it), and I had a question that’s kind of tangentially related: What do you think of using a proportional system (or a mixed electoral system, such as MMP) for Congress?
    I really like the idea of MMP, but I’d want party lists to be based on ranked-choice votes in primaries, rather than created by a party assembly or something. I recognize that it’d be a very long road to switching to something like proportional representation at a national level, but I think that people might be more open to it if a state legislature tried it first.
    PS: Here’s a joke: We should add three more states to America: That way, we’ll have 53—a prime number—we’ll have one nation, indivisible.

    • Dont’t worry, I comment on old posts all the time hahaha. I don’t have time to fully respond to your MMP question right now, but I wanted to respond before a lot of time went by. I actually laughed at the joke lol.

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