By James Reid
Four long days after voting finished in America, Joe Biden was finally projected to be the winner. It marked the end of days of nail-biting coverage of the razor-thin margins in key states that would ultimately decide the result.
Yet it did not have to be this close. It wasn’t this close. Joe Biden won just over 4 million more votes than Donald Trump. That is not a razor-thin margin. That is not a margin that required taken four days to determine the winner.
Such a delay can be put down to many reasons; the increased use of mail-in ballots, laws that only allowed counting to start after voting had closed, the sheer number of votes that needed to be counted. However, there is only one reason why this election took to so long to call and was seemingly so close: the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is an archaic method of determining who becomes the president. Designed by the Framers, it gives each state a number of electoral college votes based roughly on population.
At first glance, this may seem like a fairly sensible idea. The US is underpinned by the idea of federalism and the Electoral College looks to give each state a distinct voice in electing the next president. Indeed, the system partly came out a desire from the Framers to ensure that small states were not overridden by ones larger in population.
However, this is not the reality. In practice, the Electoral College serves to over-represent those living in small states while simultaneously rendering useless the votes of anyone who lives in a safe state but does not vote for the winning party.
Wyoming’s three electoral votes represent it’s 578,000-person population, while California’s 55 represent it’s 39.51 million people. This means that Wyoming’s voters are over-represented. They are not the only ones either. States such as Montana, Alaska, and Vermont all benefit from the same imbalance. Worryingly, this has a partisan imbalance to, largely favouring the Republicans. Whatever your political leanings, an electoral system that institutionally favours one over the other is not fit for purpose.
Further, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states apportion their Electoral College votes on a winner-takes-all basis. This means that the nearly 5 million voters in California who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 have essentially no say on the outcome of the election. While their votes are tallied towards the overall popular vote, they will likely never actually contribute any all-important electoral college votes.
The popular vote is a contentious issue with regards to the Electoral College. Common sense would dictate that when directly electing an individual to an office such as the presidency, then the candidate with the most votes should win. This usually works, despite the convolutions of the Electoral College. Indeed, Joe Biden won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. But this is not always the case.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton famously lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote. All told, it has happened five times: not a rare occurrence. Such an outcome feels completely at odds with democracy; how can the candidate with the most votes lose?
It is, of course, down to the Electoral College and the way in which it matters not just how many votes you get, but where you get them. One of the arguments for the Electoral College is that it forces candidates to campaign nationwide. However, the reality is that the system causes the election to boil down to just a few states that have the ability to tip the balance either way.
Subsequently, candidates end up disproportionately focusing on these states, such as Florida and Pennsylvania, at the expense of others. This can lead to the issues prominent in those states dominating national debate because everyone knows that ultimately only a few states are really in play.
Finally, the Electoral College is a symbol of a bygone era. Its foundation is rooted in slavery and the Framers’ distrust of popular democracy. The Electoral College was designed as a safety net against popular democracy, should the choice of voters be deemed unacceptable. Further, it is the product of a compromise that ensured the representation of slave states. Neither of these things America should wish to hold onto.
The Electoral College is archaic, anti-democratic and serves only the interests of those who benefit from its skewed results. It is time for it to go.