Another Reason To Get Rid Of The Electoral College

A few days ago, Heather Cox Richardson–a historian who writes Substack’s popular “Letters from an American”–reported on several aspects of the Trump coup effort. Among the various efforts she itemized was the following

Over the past several days, news has broken that lawmakers or partisan officials in various states forged documents claiming that Trump won the 2020 election. This links them to the insurrection; as conservative editor Bill Kristol of The Bulwark notes, false electoral counts were part of Trump’s plan to get then–Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count a number of Biden’s electoral votes on the grounds that the states had sent in conflicting ballots.

Interestingly, on December 17, 2021, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that in four states there were an “alternate slate of electors voted upon that Congress will decide in January.” McEnany talked to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol yesterday.

Over the past few election cycles, the history and operation of the Electoral College has come under increasing scrutiny. And the more closely this odd element of our electoral process is examined, the more anti-democratic and positively dangerous it looks.

Whether, as several constitutional scholars insist, the Electoral College was a concession to the slave states, or as its defenders contend, it was an effort to give added electoral heft to smaller states–it  It currently undermines democracy and–as Richardson’s report illustrates–facilitates the efforts of those who would overturn the will of American voters.

Structurally, there is a great deal wrong with the Electoral College. For one thing, it substantially advantages white rural voters. Research suggests that–thanks to the current operation of the College– every rural vote is worth one and a third of every urban vote. Small states already have a significant advantage by virtue of the fact that every state–no matter how thinly or densely populated–has two Senators.

No other advanced democracy in the world uses anything like the Electoral College (and as political scientists have noted, there are good reasons for that). And for those who fashion themselves as “originalists,” it’s worth pointing out that our current version of the Electoral College is dramatically different from the mechanism as it was originally conceived and even as it was later amended.

According to law professor Edward Foley, who wrote a book on the subject, the changes made to the College by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804 rested on the assumption that the candidate who won a majority of the popular vote would be elected. Those who crafted the Amendment failed to foresee the emergence of third party candidates whose presence on the ballot often means that the winner of a given state doesn’t win a majority, but a plurality of the vote.

These issues aside, the main problem with the Electoral College today isn’t even the  undemocratic and disproportionate power it gives rural voters and smaller states. It’s the statewide winner-take-all laws, under which  states award all their electors to the candidate with the most popular votes in their state– erasing all the voters in that state who didn’t vote for the winning candidate.

Forty-eight states have winner-take-all rules. As a result, most are “safe” for one party. The only states that really matter in any given federal election are “battleground” states — especially bigger ones like Florida and Pennsylvania, where a swing of a few thousand or even a few hundred votes can shift the entire pot of electors from one candidate to the other.

Winner-take-all has an even more pernicious effect–it disincentivizes voting by people who are in their state’s political minority. If your state is red and you are blue, or vice-versa, it’s easy to convince yourself your Presidential vote is meaningless, because it is.

Winner take all rules are why Democratic votes for President simply don’t count in Indiana and Republican votes for President don’t count in New York. Even if the margin is incredibly thin, the candidate who comes out on top gets all of that state’s electoral votes. If the votes were apportioned instead—if a winner of 51% of the popular vote got 51% of the electoral vote, and the candidate who got 49% got 49%, it wouldn’t just be fairer. It would encourage voters who support the “other” party in reliably red or blue states to vote, because–suddenly– that vote would count.

Joe Biden had to win the popular vote by five percentage points or more — by more than seven million votes — to insure his win in the 2020 election. That’s not only an unfair and undemocratic burden–it’s insane.

Now we learn that–in addition to its multiple anti-democratic effects–the College facilitates cheating. It really needs to go.


  1. The system used in Maine and Nebraska (Iowa?) where electoral votes are determined by Congressional district is a move in the better direction. It can be accomplished state-by-state without a Constitutional amendment. Abolition is radical and, just as the Radical Right is a divisive force so too is the Radical Left.
    The congressional district approach would invigorate voting where the parties are evenly matched and might eliminate the third party problem cited.

  2. Cant the same argument be made about Republican votes not being counted in New York or California? The electoral college guards against mob rule by one party or another. One ruling thought nationally. It allows states to stand up against the central government controoled corrupt politicians. I lean the other direstion on this argument and insist that we repeal the 17th amendment to allow the USSenate to operate like it was intended, to be a voice elected into state legislatures to have a voice and each state have a say.
    The move to get rid of the electoral in effect would place rural production of food under the rule of those in urban areas that know nothing about food production.
    Each sector of our economy has to have a say and that starts at the state level. Each state needs to move as a voting block to ensure its own legitimate role. If you break up the states influence as a whole then yiu are doing what the 17th amendment did, allow huge donations to flow across state lines and elect USSenators with a voice from beyond its borders, an influence that has nothing to do with the state having a voice.
    We forget that we are united states. Our goal should be to not end up like Greece where inflation destroyed our economy. But remember that a balanced society must be ruled by liberal and conservative voices. If not, then we will continue to head down the road that will destroy us . President Washington concluded that our nation will cease to exist when we realize we can borrow against ourselves. States like California and New York have huge debts that would live to have the assets of other states pay off.
    There are many reasons why the Constitution should guarantee states have a say.

  3. Heather Cox Richardson’s letter today was just as important about voting rights.” Voter fraud is about an individual breaking the law and is almost always caught. It is not a threat to democracy.

    Election fraud means that people in power have rigged the system so that the will of the voters is overturned. When it happens, it threatens to destroy our nation. “

    Those four sentences say it all!

    Remove money from politics (I secretly wonder how many politicians would resign?), pass voting rights laws federally, and outlaw gerrymandering might get us back to a Democracy.

    There was a historian I watched recently that said that Switzerland is the only true form of Democracy left on the planet. I may be a resident, but I can’t vote and never will be able to.

  4. The notion that a state with 600K residents has the same representation in the Senate as a state with 60M is just as preposterous as the Electoral College in its current form. One could argue that if the Electoral College should be abolished then so should the Senate but I’ve always thought that a bicameral parliament has its benefits. So if we could blow up the Constitution and rewrite it, with a guarantee that Democracy of some kind would survive, we should consolidate the 50 states and certain territories down to 10-15 each having a population of no more than 25-30 million residents. Sorry California, you get to be split up – as many in the Northern part of the state have wanted for decades. And goodbye Indiana.

  5. “Over the past few election cycles, the history and operation of the Electoral College has come under increasing scrutiny. And the more closely this odd element of our electoral process is examined, the more anti-democratic and positively dangerous it looks.”

    Research the National Archives and the section “About the electorals”; the process to APPOINT these few numbers to decide the Presidency and Vice Presidency is certainly anti-democratic and positively dangerous…not to mention confusing enough to boggle the mind and to be used to personal advantage by parties. The term “Electoral College” is not mentioned in the Constitution. Thank you Morton Marcus for reminding us that Maine and Nebraska ARE mentioned directly in the Constitution regarding the appointment of these chosen few who decide who will be named to the most powerful position on earth. There must be a reason for this referral IF an actual reason for this process can be discerned in the garbled writings of the founding fathers on this issue. What was in those snuff boxes they all snorted while deciding the future of this new nation?

  6. I’m with Patrick; let’s blow it all up, including all the play money that has been distributed, and start anew with a more enlightened approach not stacked in favor of oligarchs.

    People and planet first, thank you. Technology serves the people; if it means more leisure time for living and less “working,” all the better.

    Can we get started before I retire?

  7. Why Senate action today is vital to the survival of democracy, Rule of Law, support of the Constitution and the future of the United States of America:
    “In the last 50 years, the filibuster has been used more and more to kill major legislation. And with Biden’s agenda stalled, Democrats are calling for a carveout to pass voting rights legislation. In the last year, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

    If the threshold to end debate on a bill is lowered to 50 votes, for instance, Democrats could end debate on their voting reform bill and eventually move to a final vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate to pass the legislation. Incidentally, Harris, as president of the Senate, would play a key role in any potential rules change. She would be expected to occupy the chair and preside over any rule change action.” Source abc news.

    WHY is our right and ability to vote in question in this country? President Biden has put aside his campaign base of “Build Back Better” to address the survival of this entire nation as a democracy. The opposition continues to be led by a con artist and his followers in Congress; many who are too cowardly to speak out and act against their better judgement due to fear of reprisal from the former appointed president and his lies.

    The world is watching; but…are we?

  8. Each party would like for the states that support the *other* party to adopt proportional voting, while keeping “their” states winner-take-all.

  9. No one has mentioned the real reason the Electoral College was added to the Constitution. In the Federalist, 68, Hamilton stated that the idea was that the voters would vote for men, the “electors”, who would make the final decision. “A small number of men, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.” That is, the electors would have the final say about which of the candidates should be chosen. So, the Founders did not even trust the average voter (white men who owned property) to make the best decision.

  10. The real problem with this last election is that people who should have been filing lawsuits in a push back effort did nothing and got caught with yheir pants down while corrupt politicians subjugated the US Constitution, a law which gave the legislatures of each state the right to discern voting laws. HR1 is a federal law that will take away the states ability to regulate its own election process and put it in the hands of the central corrupt politician who doesn’t care about a state’s sovereignty or intrastate commerce. The federal government has enough control over the interstate commerce and lends its ruling to disrupt the integrity of private ownership.

  11. John S,

    I think the quotes you’re looking for Didn’t come from Washington.

    Alexis De Tocqueville stated; “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the Public’s money.”

    And/or Benjamin Franklin Who stated; ” When the people find out they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the Republic.”

    The way the federal government collects taxes and or distributes them Back to the public realm, is not fair and equitable.

    Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont, get the most federal funding. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, get the most federal funding per resident. New Mexico, West Virginia, Louisiana, have the highest share of benefit recipients.

    California, New York, Illinois, Texas, and Florida, paid the most in federal taxes by state. In Texas and Florida, The areas of these states that produce the most tax revenue where the major cities. Which of course lean heavily towards the Democratic side.

    You can take a look at Indiana, how much tax revenue is generated by Indianapolis and spread across the entire state? Or, how much of that is given directly to the federal government?

    Anyway you look at it, what’s happening now is not sustainable. When large swaths of this country are dependent on other areas that are despised, There’s going to be plenty of ill will spread around. The largest food producing area in the United States is the Simi Valley in California, and, That is in jeopardy because of the water shortages.

    But, I suppose that’s a discussion for another time.

    Collapse is coming, and Unfortunately none of those powers that be in government have the answer to avoid it. historically this type of situation has happened repeatedly. But don’t take my word for it, research it yourselves. The only way Anything could be plugged, another words, prevent disaster would be Either a coming together politically for the greater good, or A change of government to an authoritarian rule. The first is rather unlikely, the second, would definitely Be a change. Unfortunately, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And no matter the good intentions that might lead to this solution, eventually It’s not going to turn out well either. Abraham Lincoln said to change government if you don’t like it, but I don’t think he was thinking about an authoritarian solution.

  12. Yes, please get rid of the Electoral College! I want my vote to count, no matter which state I live in.
    One person, one vote, period. What will it take to move to a Popular Vote only?

  13. The current system stinks, and calling for a Constitutional Convention, at this time, gives much too much clout to the, now, GQP
    Fascists. Election by popular vote seems reasonable, but, again, without the agenda driven inroads of the GQP in the various
    state election apparatuses.

  14. The problem with minority rule is that someone has to choose which minority to rule. Of course, aristocrats historically made that choice in Europe, it was them, those born to privilege, who ruled because they owned the most. Why did they own the most? Because they ruled.

    Many Republicans and illiberals want to return to that playbook.

  15. The professor hits on the problem with the Electoral College that led to the Trump 2020 coup attempt, but then pivots to a discussion of the problem that the EC can be anti-majoritarian in that a candidate winning the popular vote can lose the electoral vote. While there is some relation between the two, the two problems are distinctly different. And the former is a much more serious problem that could lead to the collapse of American democracy.

    With the Electoral College, you have a number of local and state officials charged with counting the popular votes and certifying the results. (You also have a constitution that says state legislatures get to choose how electors are awarded.) Then you have members of Congress accepting the state slates of electors and counting the electoral votes.

    The entire system is based on partisan politicos doing their jobs honestly, even though the results may not be what they want. It’s worked thus far because those political people respected democracy and accepted the result of free and fair elections. Trump is in the process of changing all that. Trump is getting rid of those honest Republicans who counted and certified the votes in 2020. He is getting installed at the local, state and national level people who will ignore the popular vote in the states to hand him the election.

    Then you have one overlooked scenario in which the electoral college vote is close and a candidate bribes a couple electors to switch their votes or to not vote at all. It is important to remember that when you vote for President, you’re actually voting for a slate of people who are pledged to vote for that Presidential candidate.

    If it were only that the Electoral College could hand a minority vote candidate a win, that would not be a constitutional crisis. The constitutional crisis is the possible exploitation of the antiquated machinery that accompanies the operation of the Electoral College. It presents ample opportunities for a coup.

  16. Paul, thank you for expressing our main dilemma. For the life of me, I don’t understand why people aren’t making more noise about this. It’s scary beyond words.

  17. The Electoral College was designed to be a deliberative body. The Founding Fathers didn’t believe the average American was equipped with the knowledge and intelligence to vote for President, so they set up a system in which those Americans would elect another group of people to make the decision for them. It was never meant to be a rubber stamp for the popular vote within the state. They expected those electors to actually debate and carefully reflect on their vote for President.

    The Constitution leaves it up to state legislatures to decide how electors will be chosen.
    Originally, state legislatures chose the electors. Over the years, states have delegated that decision to the voters, most landing on a winner-take-all format. Nebraska and Maine have decided to award the electoral votes according to who wins the congressional districts in those states as well as awarding two electors to the winner of the entire state. (JoAnn, I’m not aware of Nebraska and Maine being mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. If Morton Marcus actually said that, he’s wrong.) States are free to adopt the Nebraska/Maine format if they want (I think it would be an improvement) or any other format they choose. The state legislatures could even take back the power and decided for themselves the award of electors. There is a debate over whether after the people have voted and the state legislature doesn’t like the result, the state legislature can override that vote and pick the electors instead.

    Bottom line is, despite what my conservative friends say, the Electoral College has never operated as the Founders intended.

  18. if the people have been thawarted in voting,delibertly,without regard to the citizen,by one side of the isle, then we have a deliberate attempt to a coup. the outdated electorial vote,should have been eliminated in 1900. women in political,industry,scholars,military,they earned the vote.women are now part of the process unseen in 1804.
    i witness a batant disregard to,the citizen by one side of the isle,and two from another galaxy on our side. seems if the politicians in the first place demand suppression,then they are the target to shame,by name,each one individually,roll call,post it everyday.. everyone who will not allow a citizen free access to voting,is not of this countries democracy. if they were elected to serve, then they have seperated themselves to thawart voting, the vote that allowed them to serve,it obvious, they lied. its the big lie,themselves.

  19. What I remember from my high school history lesson on the electoral college was two points.

    It was designed to give small states a more equal voice. I suspect that was more or less a lie, in that I think it was put in place to appease slave holding states, where 3/5 of their non-voting population threw their weight into election of presidents.

    Secondly, I remember being told about the election of John Quincy Adams where there were three candidates and nobody won a majority and they all finally settled on the third place guy. I think that was a point to the fact that “the people” were not smart enough to pick a President, and we needed educated “electors” to make the choice.

    Just in the last year or two, I read where the winner take all approach started with the election of Thomas Jefferson, and as soon as one state adopted it, they all did. If one state was going to rig the game then everybody was going to do it. At that point a bad system was pretty much completely broken.

    I don’t know where I would stand with making changes to the electoral college, because once it was opened up, I don’t think I could trust anyone to change the rules to create a more level playing field and the result might actually be worse.

    But truth be told, I am sure we would get to 50 state’s legislators voting against any changes, because in two party system, no matter what side you are on, there is always hope that you can game the current system in your favor.

    I am mad as he!! now that you have pointed out my vote for President has not even counted for the last several election cycles.

  20. I have the agree with the many problems of the Electoral College.
    Yes, the Founding Fathers (A) wanted to entice agreement from small states, (B) wanted to entice agreement from slave states, and (C) didn’t trust the “masses”.

    This ain’t 1787. Non-land owners can vote, as can Black people, as can women, Native Americans, (and even Jews who were denied the vote in some places). The populace, as a whole, is way more connected and the literacy rate is 2-3 times higher.

    As for assigning Electoral votes by Congressional District, gerrymandering skews that towards Republicans. States controlled by the Democrats have turned towards commissions to minimize gerrymandering. States controlled by Republicans, such as Ohio, have had state legislatures overrule the citizens’ desire for commissions so that they could continue to gerrymander. We will see what the courts say, but as a general rule, since the 1990s, Republicans have proved much more skillful, and ruthless, in gerrymandering. So, summing up, it is like the Senate – a good idea with honorable people on both sides, but a terrible idea with one party being the Cult of Trump.

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