By Ralph Dickerson
The Framers of the United States Constitution designed the Electoral College process for electing the president to prevent one large state, in those days Virginia, from dominating the process for electing the president, and in effect becoming the “king maker.” At that time, Virginia was the largest, most populous state in the union, encompassing the states of Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia. To prevent one state from dominating the electoral process, the framers made winning states, not the popular vote, the path to winning the presidency. Were such fears justified? Can one state actually make much difference?
Today, California is the state with the largest population with over 39 million people. What would happen if we eliminated the Electoral College and simply used the popular vote? Could one state actually tip the scales and basically be the state to determine the winner of the presidential election? Let us look at the 2016 election to see if such a situation can happen.
In discussing the 2016 election, many pundits mention Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote with a tally of 65,853,514 to Trump’s 62,984,828 votes, for a final margin of 2,868,686 votes. What happens if we remove California’s votes from each candidate? When counting the vote totals from the remaining 49 states, which candidate holds the popular vote lead?
Hillary Clinton won California with 8, 753,788 votes to Trump’s 4,483,810, for a margin of 4,269,978 votes. When subtracting these vote total from each candidate, we learn Trump held a popular vote total of 58,501,018 to Clinton’s 57,099,726. In other words, the remaining 49 states gave Trump a 1,401,292 popular vote lead over Clinton. In effect, California swung the vote total to Clinton. California preferred Clinton as president, but the remaining 49 states preferred Trump.
When voters go to the polls, a vote case in Boise, Idaho should have the same chance of electing the president as a vote case in Los Angeles, California. Going to a popular vote election model swings the scales to the most populous states in the union, at the expense of smaller states. The most populous states tend to be more urban, which means their voices will dominate the election process. Candidates will address their issues and ignore the issues important to smaller, more rural states.
I agree the current Electoral College system of “Winner Take all” magnifies the voting power of smaller, rural states over urban states, and the system needs to be better balanced. Going to a popular vote model does not balance the system.
The best way to balance the system is to modify the Electoral College model. First, eliminate the Electoral College as a living body, and simply make it a point system, similar to awarding points when a football player scores a touchdown. The “points” for each state will be determined like they are now, the total number of a state’s House of Representatives members plus their two senators.
Second, award the “points” on a proportional basis. If a candidate wins a state with 65-percent of the state’s votes, like Clinton did California in 2016, then the candidate receives 65-percent of the state’s Electoral College “points.”
Such a system prevents candidates from concentrating on the most populous states and ignoring the rest. The candidate will need to win as many states as possible to pull out a victory. This forces candidates to address the issues and concerns of all states, not just a few.