Frequently Asked Questions

Why Doesn’t The Electoral College Treat Every Vote Equally?

The Electoral College consists of 538 electoral votes distributed across the states and Washington DC. In order to win, a candidate must get at least 270 electoral votes—a majority. The number of electoral votes a state gets is equal to the number of members in Congress that state has. And since every state gets 2 Senators and at least 1 Representative in the House, every state gets at least 3 electoral votes.

For example, Wyoming—the smallest state with just about 600,000 people—has 2 Senators and 1 Representative in the House. So it gets 3 electoral votes. Texas, one of the largest states with a population of nearly 30 million, has 2 Senators and 36 Representatives in the House. So it gets 38 electoral votes.

But this means that each electoral vote in Wyoming represents about 200,000 voters, while each electoral vote in Texas represents more than 700,000 voters. Because of this, a single voter in Wyoming carries as much weight as about 4 voters in Texas. Since every state gets at least 3 electoral votes regardless of population small states generally have more electoral votes per voter than other states.

Because of this inequality, the Electoral College violates an important democratic principle—one person, one vote. We’re all equally United States citizens, so we should all have an equal voice in selecting our president. As most know, we don’t. In two of the last five elections, the candidate that received the most votes nationwide did not become president.
To fix this inequality, some advocate replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote. A national popular vote does away with electors, electoral votes, and the Electoral College. All the people in the country vote for the president and, regardless of their state, their votes carry equal weight. The candidate that wins the most votes nationwide wins the presidency. Others advocate getting rid of winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes, which produces undemocratic results, as described below.

Is This All In The Constitution?

Not necessarily. Some of this can be changed without a constitutional amendment.

In 48 states, the candidate who wins the most votes receives all of the state’s electoral votes. This is true even if the candidate doesn’t win a majority of the votes. In 1992, for example, Bill Clinton won just 37% of the vote in Nevada. But because Clinton won more votes than any other candidate, he got all of the state’s electoral votes. Even though more than 60% of Nevada voters didn’t vote for him. And while outcomes this skewed are rare, it isn’t uncommon for the winning candidate in a state to not get the majority of the state’s votes. This system is known as “winner-take-all.” 48 out of 50 states use it to decide how they will give electoral votes to the candidates. Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that do not have a “winner-take-all system.”

The winner-take-all outcome in most states is fairly predictable. Unless there is a big political shift, states that have traditionally been won by Democrats will be won by the Democratic candidate in the next election. And states that have traditionally been won by Republicans will be won by the Republican candidate in the next election. Presidential campaigns know this, too, which is why they spend almost no time campaigning in these “safe” states.

Just a handful of “swing states” or “battleground states” get all the attention in presidential elections. In 2016, there were 14 swing states. Those states saw 95% of campaign appearances and 99% of ad spending, but have only a third of the nation’s population. Yet these voters prove decisive in elections—because of winner-take-all. 2020 is expected to be even more skewed, with the election coming down to just six states.

What Are Some Other Problems?

And there other issues too. Weirdly, there is an even number of Electoral College votes, so there could be a tie—and ties are decided in a very antiquated, undemocratic way by the House of Representatives. There is also the issue of why we even have human members of the electoral college if they have no authority to actually cast votes in a way that they want to.

Finally, there is the matter of the origin of the Electoral College and its connection to slavery. The Electoral College, like other features of our Constitution, were created in the 18th Century, when only white men were permitted to vote. This feature gave more representation to slave-holding than they should have gotten. Although we abolished slavery in the 1800s, some think we should revisit the Electoral College both because its origins were dubious and it continues to corrupt our political system and skew elections.

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