The Necessity of the Electoral College in One Picture



Most people don’t understand the electoral college – they think it is an arcane system from the 1800s, and screws the voters. In reality, it’s a somewhat-arcane system from the 1700s, and is designed not to screw voters.

The United States, for all its preaching of democracy (and its attempts to democratise the rest of the world) is not actually a democracy. It’s a constitutional republic. That’s a real difference. In a democracy, when people vote, the simple majority carries the day. The issue with that, as is evidenced in the map above and in the US population demographics, is that certain majorities arise out of various factors that may or may not reflect the will of various groups, thereby leaving those groups “out in the cold”. Looking at the above, you can see that based on population, California, Texas, Florida, and New York comprise most of the population of the US. That’s fine, except that for the vast majority of everyone else (46 states) what’s good for CA/TX/NY/FL isn’t necessarily good for everyone else.

The founding fathers knew this, and they designed the electoral college to account for it. It’s the same reason we have a Senate and a House of Representatives – in the former, every state gets two representatives, and in the latter, representation is done proportionately by population. In this way, the folks in Rhode Island have an equal voice in the Senate whereas without that the HoR would put them at a great disadvantage because the state itself is geographically tiny. Even with twice as many people they’d not come close to having anywhere near as many as New York or California.

In fact, the number of electors in the electoral college (538) is a combination of the 435 representatives in the House of Representatives, the 100 senators from the Senate, and 3 for the District of Columbia. The electoral college is designed to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” – wherein one candidate (such as Hillary Clinton) who receives more of the popular vote (because the areas that might be inclined to vote for her contain more people through the vagaries of geography and/or borders) is not actually and automatically the chosen candidate.

You might consider this unfair – after all, if more people wanted Hillary Clinton that Donald Trump, shouldn’t she have won?

In a democracy, maybe, but the United States is not a democracy.

If you don’t like it, you have two choices – leave, or change the system. The latter will require a constitutional amendment.