How Much Is Your Vote For President Worth? Not All Votes Are Equal

(Pixabay)

Debate surrounding the Electoral College is once again rife. For the second time in 16 years, a candidate who lost the popular vote will be assuming the presidency. The typical response directed at anyone who dares question the brilliance or validity of the electoral system in 2016 is met with charges of sour grapes, sore losing, or lacking the intelligence necessary to understand why the Electoral College is used. While it would be impossible to claim such responses are fitting of no one, they are to their core presumptuous and used in a way that would be impossible to describe as anything other than intellectually lazy.

The Electoral College is comprised of 538 voters who select the president. Electoral votes are staggered across the country mirroring each state’s two Senators and congressional representatives. While electoral voters are theoretically supposed to represent the popular vote of their state, there is nothing constitutionally binding them to do so. This alone should strike anyone interested in democracy as a major problem. I understand the arguments for why the Electoral College was formed and its purpose when etched into the Constitution. However, I also believe that just because something was fitting for 1778 when the Constitution was officially ratified does not automatically make it suitable for the year 2016.

Even though larger states possess more electoral votes than smaller ones, it remains an anti-democratic practice that favors voters in smaller states. Using the Census population estimates from July 1, 2015, we can determine the comparative value of popular votes along state lines. With a total population of 321,418,820, and given the nation’s 538 electoral votes spread throughout the country, a single electoral vote is equal to roughly 597,433 popular votes. But again, given that electoral votes are distributed based on each state’s two Senators and number of congressional representatives, popular votes are not equal. An electoral vote in California (population 39,144,818) is worth 711,724 popular votes given the state’s 55 electoral votes. In Texas (population 27,469,114) an electoral vote is worth 722,871 popular votes given the state’s 38 electoral votes. Now, compare this to a state like Vermont (population 626,042) where an electoral vote only requires 208,681 popular votes given the state’s three electoral votes. Or, a state like North Dakota (population 756,927) requiring only 252,309 popular votes given the state’s three electoral votes. Simply put, a popular vote in Vermont or North Dakota is worth roughly three times what a vote is worth in California or Texas.

Interestingly, given our current President-elect’s affinity to have an unfiltered opinion on absolutely everything, combined with his impulse control disorder, it didn’t take long for these Tweets to resurface from 2012 after last month’s election. Trump was apparently under the false impression that Obama had won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. Certain Tweets have since been deleted.

(Deleted Tweets)
He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
(Deleted Tweet)
More votes equals a loss…revolution!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012

Fast forward to November 2016, Trump has stunned the world by winning the presidency, albeit a massive popular vote loss to Clinton. Never one to disappoint, he had this to say.

Our 45th President will be inaugurated based on the very voting structure that he found worthy of revolution just four years prior. The Electoral College has gone from being a “disaster for democracy” to “genius.” He did, however, get one thing right as the world is laughing at us. His Tweet just happened to be four years too soon.

Trump’s flip-flopping behavior aside, I have been against the Electoral College since I first voted at 18 years of age. Defenders of the Electoral College are quick to argue that such a system is necessary to protect smaller states and serves its intention by preventing “tyranny of the majority.” Such cliches are tiresome, and it becomes difficult to acknowledge the validity of an argument that begins with one. The main reason this claim is so ill-structured is that it implicitly implies that tyranny of the “minority” is perfectly acceptable. And, that somehow this system they claim protects the minority works regardless of popular will. The argument fills the desired bias of the person making it regardless of the situation. As of now, despite Trumps deranged and conspiratorial claims, Clinton maintains a popular vote count well over two million.

Another puzzling argument in defense of the Electoral College is that America is not a democracy, but rather a republic. While difficult to believe that anyone would employ such a silly claim, there appears to be legitimate confusion surrounding this issue. Democratic systems are either direct or indirect. America is an indirect democracy, also known as a representative democracy. Republics fall under the category of representative democracy. Therefore, while it is true that America is a republic, we are also a democracy. Or, more precisely, we are a democratic republic. Republics and democracies are not mutually exclusive terms.

The most frustrating and possibly worst defense of the Electoral College is the claim that “this is what the Founders intended.” While certainly true, the Founders also didn’t intend for women to vote or African-Americans to be citizens. However, the Founders did understand that things change over time and that the Constitution must maintain the ability to adapt and be amended, hence Article V, outlining the process by which the Congress or states may propose constitutional amendments.

Arguments of “compromise” being the underlying foundation of the USA, thus being the reason why the nation must maintain an archaic voting structure that is undemocratic are widely leveled. This argument might hold more weight if it were not for the fact that every state maintains equal representation in the Senate, regardless of size, which is a compromise that only benefits smaller states. One need only look at the Senate to witness how hyper-partisan ideology and downright obstruction can derail the federal government.

However, the most curious, and perhaps saddening accusation leveled at those who speak against the current system is that they should simply stop complaining. This is at best a crass dismissal of the the very American values that separate us from much of the world. The First Amendment provides an outlet that guarantees our rights to redress grievances with the government (even when constitutional change may be required) while Article V. provides the process for proposing such changes. There is nothing wrong with arguing in favor of the Electoral College, and many have presented compelling arguments. However, simply denouncing those who question or speak against the current system as complainers or sore losers indicates the uncomfortable acknowledgment that their ideas, policies, and values likely lack the appeal capable of withstanding an actual democratic referendum.

As the rush to defend the Electoral College has intensified, a common accusation is that if the roles were reversed, there would be no complaints. This, in fact, may be true regarding some individuals as there is understandable frustration among Democratic voters.

But interestingly, as if a sudden onset of mass amnesia has occurred, those making such an accusation would rather not speak of the threats of revolution, invocation of the 2nd Amendment, and even civil war leveled by Trump supporters if Clinton were to have won. Even more indicative that such an outcome had the potential to be dangerously dramatic are Trump’s statements just four years ago, along with his repeated refusals to confirm that he would honor the election results. So, is it really to be believed that should Clinton have lost the popular vote yet become President-elect that this discussion would not be occurring? Hopefully given Trumps aforementioned Tweets from 2012 and threats from his supporters will help put an end to any potential confusion over what the reaction would likely have been.

Many things have changed over the nation’s 240-year history. The Constitution has been amended 17 times since its inception, and there is nothing that precludes it from being amended again. That being said, I am under no illusion regarding the unlikelihood that there will be any additional amendments, much less one abolishing the Electoral College for the rest of my life. Considering that one political party has now benefited from the current voting structure twice within the past five elections, I cannot see a case where they would agree to move forward with such a proposal. However, I will continue to hope for a future system where all Americans votes for the presidency are equal, despite their geographic location.


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