It doesn’t take a college education to hate the Electoral College

Between swing states and diluted voting power, the Electoral College makes our presidential elections less equitable.

(Audrey Schreck / Daily Trojan)

Despite a few states having yet to hold their presidential primaries, the general election campaign season has officially begun. President Joe Biden has visited every battleground state since his State of the Union address, paying extra attention to Wisconsin and Michigan. They are two of the three states which make up the “blue wall,” so named for their historic support of Democrats. But in 2016, these two states, as well as Pennsylvania, flipped red for Trump.

In 2020, Biden was able to flip all three states back to blue, as well as capture Arizona and Georgia, which was instrumental in his victory over Trump because of the states’ power in the Electoral College.

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The Brennan Center for Justice asserts “The Electoral College has racist origins … and continues to dilute the political power of voters of color.” The Electoral College is made up of representatives from each state, equivalent to the state’s number of congressmen. This means states with smaller populations have proportionally more power than larger states, giving a handful of people’s votes far more weight in the elections.

That handful of people are mostly white. The Constitutional Convention established the Electoral College for similar purposes as it did the notorious three-fifths compromise: to advantage Southern slaveholders. To this day, the highest concentrations of Black folks are in the South, and despite statistics demonstrating Black Americans typically lean Democrat, their states vote for Republicans.

A 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of people favored changing the presidential election system so the person who wins the popular vote wins the presidency. Two states allow electoral votes to be split by awarding one vote to each congressional district and the two remaining votes to the statewide winner. This allowed Nebraska and Maine to split their electoral votes in 2020, which is arguably more equitable than a winner-take-all system.

There have been two instances in the last six elections — and only five, ever — in which the president-elect lost the popular vote, and both were Republicans: former President George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016.

Further, the Electoral College forces much of the campaigning into just a few states — those that ride the line between red and blue. People in these states receive more attention from candidates, uplifting their concerns while leaving others’ behind. However, recently concerns from some of these key states have gone unaddressed by the Biden administration.

Following in the footsteps of Listen to Michigan, a coalition of grassroots organizers in Wisconsin created a campaign to encourage Democratic voters to select “Uninstructed Delegation” as their choice in the presidential primary. The effort’s website calls for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza, and to keep funds for our communities – not for genocide abroad.”

“Uninstructed Delegation” managed to garner over 48,000 votes, or about 8% of the state. In 2020, Biden only won Wisconsin by slightly less than 20,000 votes — and a loss of Wisconsin means a loss of 10 electoral votes, which political analysts speculate would be necessary for a Biden win this year. Wisconsin’s and Michigan’s calls to listen are still falling on deaf ears as the Biden administration refuses to withhold military aid to Israel or force their hand for a lasting ceasefire.

An unexpected state may be in play this year: On April 1, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the state’s 15-week abortion ban, and by extension allowed their 6-week ban to go into effect May 1. Simultaneously, the court greenlit an abortion ballot member for the November election — albeit the measure requires a 60% threshold to pass. 

The result could be an influx of female or issue-based voters showing up to support the initiative, which garnered more than 1.5 million signatures to get on the ballot. The state has historically flipped parties depending on the candidate, but Trump won Florida in both 2016 and 2020 by decent margins, and the state is his official residence.

I wouldn’t call Florida a full-fledged swing state yet, but in each of the six states that have voted to codify abortion in their constitutions since the Dobbs decision, freedom for women’s right to choose prevailed. The measure may help other races down-ballot, if not the presidential contest for their 30 electoral votes.

Despite common belief that the U.S. is a representative democracy, that designation does not extend to how we elect our highest leader. Instead of electing the president, our collective representative, we elect delegates to elect the president in the Electoral College. Until U.S. officials actually listen to their people — who want a change in the electoral system, and a ceasefire while we’re at it — we cannot call ourselves a functioning democracy at all.

Kate McQuarrie is a senior writing about the 2024 election cycle as it unfolds. She is also an opinion editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “The Ballot Box,” runs every other Thursday.

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