Given everything that has happened in the last eight years, it is time to initiate a movement to rid ourselves of the archaic electoral college by means of an amendment to the Constitution. This cumbersome device may have served a purpose in 1789, but why are we saddled with it today?
Consider that without the electoral college, there would be no “swing states,” no claims of voter fraud, no “hanging chads” like those from the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. No Jan. 6. The president would be elected by popular vote of all the citizens of the nation, end of story. A few illegal votes in Arizona or Wisconsin would be lost in the hundreds of millions of valid votes cast.
Of course, there are practical problems with this proposal. For one, the electoral college gives voters in small states a huge advantage: The vote of a person in Wyoming, a “red state,” has more than five times the impact of a voter in New York. Or, on the other hand, a voter in “blue” Vermont has more than three times the impact of one in Florida, increasingly a red state. Why should this be so in 2023?
Americans naively go to the polls thinking that they are voting for a presidential candidate rather than a slate of electors. And recent history has shown us that a system in which electors are chosen in each of 50 diverse states is open to manipulation and corruption.
Most important of all is the fact that only five or six states matter at all – the so-called swing states. If you are a Democrat living in Louisiana or a Republican in New York, you might as well not vote. In others words, the electoral college system effectively disenfranchises most Americans. If you are a Wyoming voter, you may like this advantage that the electoral college system confers on you, but you cannot really argue that it is fair. You may feel that it empowers rural versus urban voters and see that as a good. But if you think that it is, there are other ways that small states are advantaged, in particular, the fact that all states have two U.S. senators, regardless of population.
In recent years, only Democrats have been burned by the electoral college system, with Gore losing in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite their winning the popular vote. But the day will come when the same thing will happen to a Republican.
And finally, there is the looming threat that a viable third-party candidate will throw a presidential election into the House, where each state gets one vote. That could even happen next year.
For all of these reasons, we must get rid of the electoral college.
Robert Purrington is a theoretical physicist, retired from Tulane University. He divides his time between Durango and New Orleans.