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Presidential Elections: Do We Even Have A Say?

Lindy Tweten, Staff Writer

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, you’ve probably heard the news that Donald Trump has been elected to the position of our next president. “How is this possible?” you ask. “Didn’t Hillary Clinton win the popular vote? Where is Democracy? Where is justice?” But here’s the thing: the citizens of the United States don’t directly choose their next president. One person does not equal one vote. And this is all due to a little institution called the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is not an actual college but a group of 538 people. The number of electoral votes that each state gets is equal to the number of representatives it has plus the number of senators it has. California has the largest influence at 55 electors. The electors cannot be the state’s senators or representatives. These men and women also happen to be the people who choose America’s next president. They look at the popular vote in each of their respective states and then cast their votes for that particular candidate. Technically, Trump is not president until the Electoral College votes for him on December 19th. Although electors do have the power to go against the popular vote in some states, other states make it illegal to do so and in the few instances where electors have cast votes that do not line up with that of their constituents (called “faithless electors”), it has not made any difference. A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.

Now, you probably have some more questions. “Why is this even a thing?” is a common one. Back in the late-1700s, when the Constitution was being drafted, there was a disagreement among the founding fathers about presidential elections. Some believed that the next president should be chosen directly by the people, and others believed that Congress should have the power to choose. The Electoral College was a compromise: the people would be allowed to vote and participate, but the government would have the final say. And you can argue that this is functional for an 18th-century society in which the average citizen had little to no education and the president had much less influence, but do these reasons still apply?

The Electoral College has endured because it’s a part of the Constitution, although certainly a very controversial part. There are pros and cons. It’s beneficial because it allows less populated areas to have more of a say than they would if the president were chosen by popular vote alone. It levels the playing field, so to speak, because the majority of U.S. citizens live along the coasts, and the environments and economies of the coasts are incredibly different from those in the middle of the country. If things were decided by popular vote alone, the people in the interior states would have very little say about presidential choice.

And yet, this leveling of the playing field is also one of the disadvantages of the Electoral College. It means that the vote of a person who lives in a state such as North Dakota or Missouri carries a lot more weight than the vote of a person who lives in California or New York.

But I think that the ultimate weakness of the Electoral College is what we’re experiencing right now: a candidate dramatically losing the popular vote (the candidate is not liked by the majority of the country) but still winning the presidency through the electoral vote. This happens because there is a smaller difference between two states’ electoral votes than between their respective populations. Unfortunately, until we, as a country, can come up with a modern solution to this original compromise, unpopular election outcomes will continue to occur.

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Presidential Elections: Do We Even Have A Say?