A Modest Radical Proposal Regarding the Electoral College

I’ve been thinking about the Electoral College a lot. Who hasn’t?

A) I’m not convinced it’s an inherently bad idea. I understand the Founding Fathers’ reasoning behind its creation, and I understand how it works. President and Vice President are the only offices who represent the entire country as a whole, so it’s not necessarily wrong that we elect them differently than we do our representatives. It does require candidates to pay more attention to smaller states and distribute their efforts to less populated areas in addition to large cities.

B) I’m not convinced it’s an inherently good idea. In its current form, the distribution of votes is not fairly balanced, where an individual vote in a small state carries considerably (as much as three times as much) more weight than an individual vote in a large state. (See, for example, the proportion of voters to electors in Wyoming vs. California.) It also results in the “swing state” phenomenon, where candidates spend notably more time in states that are not foregone conclusions.

A proposal I have not seen among all the arguing from both supporters and opponents of the EC is simply enlarging it. Indeed, while we’re at it, why not enlarge the House of Representatives, too, since the number of electors is based on the number of representatives in Congress plus 3 for D.C.

I’m serious.

The size of the House was fixed in 1929*. The population of the country in 1929 was 121.8 million. Current population is nearly 325 million, nearly 2.6 times greater. And, we have more states than we did in 1929! (There were 48 — Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959.) All of this means that we have the same number of congressional districts as we did 87 years and 203 million people (and 2 states) ago.

Plus, the distribution of the population has changed, moving into urban centers and reducing the population of rural areas. Which means rural areas are proportionately over-represented in Congress and get a whole lot more attention, relatively speaking, than large urban areas.

I’m not saying that rural areas should be ignored, but should they be MORE important than other areas?

James Madison wanted to have a constitutional amendment that would dictate the number of people per congressional district, requiring redistricting with each census. That amendment wasn’t added, and until 1920, there wasn’t much of a problem. The problem came when the House was no longer allowed to grow larger while the population of the country continued to increase exponentially.

So, distribute congressional districts equally. Pick a number…100,000?…people per district and draw lines accordingly. However many districts you end up with, that’s how many representatives you have. Wyoming would have 5, while California would have 388! Yes, that’s a lot of representatives, but there are a lot of people in California! Need to build a bigger chamber, add seats, adjust protocols? Then do it.

The Senate is fixed at 2 senators per state. Meaning, if we ever add a 51st state, then we would have 102 senators, right? So why can’t the House grow, too?

And then, accordingly, increase the number of electors to match the number of representatives.

A final note, Americans living in the territories don’t have any electors representing them, even though the president has control over those areas. So for the ~4 million Americans living in Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, etc., they are truly disenfranchised. So, if D.C. gets 3 electors, shouldn’t, too, the other territories?

Another final note, the population doesn’t get to vote on the vice president at all — he just gets to tag along with whomever is voted in as president. But, the Electoral College does place separate votes for president and vice president. Does this seem odd to anyone else?

*See: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/enlarging-the-house-of-representatives/?_r=0