The Electoral College Is an Undemocratic Mess

The contested presidential election of 1876. Photo credit: US House of Representatives
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While most Americans have a basic understanding of the Electoral College, far fewer of them know it’s an extraordinarily undemocratic system.

Did you know, for example, that it is mathematically possible to win an election with less than 22% of the popular vote even if only two candidates are running? Or that electors are not bound by the choice of the voters in their state?

Thanks to the current system, small states are given much more weight and candidates only bother to show up in a few tightly contested states. Everybody else really doesn’t matter.

As you wait for election results to come in, watch these three short videos to learn more about the Electoral College and the mess it is. And if you like chaos, you’ll be rooting for Trump and Clinton to each win 269 electors.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from electoral college map (CGP Grey / YouTube)

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18 responses to “The Electoral College Is an Undemocratic Mess”

  1. […] not the fact Hillary won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. The justifiability of the electoral college is never brought […]

  2. David S says:

    You don’t need to watch Idiocracy, just turn on the news and watch America at work. We are already there.

  3. Kathy says:

    And I hope it would be struck down as unconstitutional. All I want is a plurality of the brainwashed populace deciding my fate even more than they do now.

  4. Richard Ellwood says:

    The electoral college was set up by the founders based on slavery.
    It had nothing top do with protecting the minority or big vs small states.etc. The only thing it protected was slavery. By counting slaves as 3/5 a person it gave the South more votes in the College. In the election of 1800 Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons that Virginia.
    Because of the slave based electoral college Virginia had 20% more electoral votes. Without the extra votes from the slave-based electoral college no southerner wins the presidency during the first 50 years of the republic. James Madison himself said as much.
    Read Lawrence Goldstone’s “Dark Bargain”

    See also Paul Finkelman’s “Slavery and the Founders”

  5. jojo says:

    Proves my point. The only humane form of government is a Benevolent Dictatorship or Monarchy, emphasis on benevolent. We had one in old Siam for centuries when the country was ruled by philosopher-kings. Now, after toxic democracies, we have the next best thing – a Benevolent Military government.

  6. truthmonger says:

    That’s exactly the point. The founders specifically avoided a democratic form of government. An excellent book on the matter is “The Evolution and Destruction of the Original Electoral College”

  7. Roddy Pfeiffer says:

    America was not founded as a democracy. The word does not appear in the Constitution. Recite the Pledge Of Allegiance. Stop at the word “republic”.
    If you want to see what democracy turns into, watch the movie “Idiocracy”.

    • David S says:

      You don’t need to watch Idiocracy, just turn on the news and watch America at work. We are already there.

  8. James Richard says:

    Luckily, we are not a democracy, a word that is used in short for “social democracy”, but a republic. The Founding Fathers set up the Electoral College to prevent election by majority. Don’t like it? I do. I do not want to be ruled by a majority, or a minority for that matter. Don’t want to be ruled. All you social democrats out there need to get a life, and stop worrying about how I’m living mine. Anyone who says we are a democracy has no respect for the Constitution.

    • David S says:

      Indeed, the Constitution was supposed to protect the minority from the majority. It of course has failed miserably.

    • Sean H says:

      Why would you say that? The national county map fully validates the electoral college. NYC and California in no way represent the entire country. We are 50 separate states united for security and economics – not 50 provinces.

    • David S says:

      Our INALIENABLE rights were supposed to be protected by the Constitution. The “will of the people” has destroyed them. My point was not about the electoral college specifically, but rather how a constitutional republic was supposed to work, how our constitution was supposed to work, and how it absolutely has not. When the majority speaks, the minority gets the shaft – regardless of the supposed limits on government power.

    • Richard Ellwood says:

      The electoral college was set up by the founders based on slavery.
      It had nothing top do with protecting the minority or big vs small states.etc. The only thing it protected was slavery. By counting slaves as 3/5 a person it gave the South more votes in the College. In the election of 1800 Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons that Virginia.
      Because of the slave based electoral college Virginia had 20% more electoral votes. Without the extra votes from the slave-based electoral college no southerner wins the presidency during the first 50 years of the republic. James Madison himself said as much.
      Read Lawrence Goldstone’s “Dark Bargain”

      See also Paul Finkelman’s “Slavery and the Founders”

    • james warren says:

      Our military, the VA, our library system, police and fire departments, highways, Social Security insurance and many other features of American life are based on a socialist system. Some get alarmed, upset and defensive whenever the words “socialism” or “ruled by” make their appearance.

  9. David S says:

    The fundamental problem is that 322,000,000+ people should NOT be governed by 535 “representatives” and 1 president. The fundamental problem is that the federal government should NEVER be allowed to have the kind of power they currently posses over our economy, our money, our lives, our freedoms, our income, our bodies, our property, or be in a position to pick winners and losers throughout our economy. We could stop worrying about all of this if we simply slashed government power by 99%, put in place the numbers of representatives that were called out when this country began (1 US House member for ever 25,000 citizens), or realize that this country is far too big to ever be considered “united” or governable as a unit without the imposition of the kind of tyranny we now live under.

  10. devans00 says:

    Democrats have won a majority of popular votes since the 1990s. But “somehow” Republicans keep becoming President. This spits in the face of the concept of democracy, and makes us huge hypocrites when we try to shove democracy down the throats of countries that didn’t evolve it organically.

    • David S says:

      But if everyone in every state knew that their votes “counted”, would those results be the same? If you don’t care about any other ballot issue besides the presidency, and your state always votes democrat or republican, if you are going to be voting for the other party, why would you even bother to vote? And if that is the case throughout America (a reasonable assumption), then wouldn’t that change if there were no Electoral College? And given that the last election where someone won the popular but lost the Electoral vote was 2000 (and we had a democrat before that) and Obama has been in office for the two terms after Bush, I fail to see any substance to your claim.

    • Lars Mårten Rikard Nilsson says:

      That’s because the only states that have laws forcing the electoral collages to vote for whichever the state’s majority votes supported are the “democrat”, so when one of those happen to have a majority of republican votes the republicans get free votes from “the enemy” by law.

  11. toto says:

    The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes.
    No more handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill was approved this year by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
    The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country

    NationalPopularVote