Equality and Equity, the Progressive Cases For and Against the Electoral College
Equality and Equity, the Progressive Cases For and Against the Electoral College
Despite collecting three-million more votes than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. Since then, arguments against the Electoral College have gained momentum on social media and in left leaning media outlets. This isn’t the first time it’s happened either (see Bush v Gore). As a progressive, I’ve found myself torn on the issue. And at the center of my internal conflict is the contrasting benefits of equality vs. equity.
Equality is the idea that everyone deserves the same slab from which to launch. Public schools, voting rights and civil rights are all attempts at equality.
Equity is the idea that context matters and that people should be supported until they reach a certain threshold, regardless of their situation or needs. Wheelchair accessibility ramps are an example of equity in action.
This popular comic sums up the differences with a simple to understand analogy:
What is the Electoral College?
America is not a pure democracy. We are a representative democracy. That means we elect representatives who vote on behalf of us, instead of voting on every issue ourselves. The electoral college is no different.
The electoral college is made up of elected party representatives. Every state has a unique number of electors. Each is granted one elector per congressional district and one elector for each of their two senators.
A faithless elector occurs when an elector refuses to vote for the candidate who won their party’s nomination. Two faithless electors caused Donald Trump’s total electorate count to drop from 306 to 304 in the 2016 election.
Equality: The Case Against the Electoral College
We talk a lot about equality on the left. Equal opportunity, equal justice, equal rights. But the electoral college is fundamentally not equal. Because each state automatically gets two electors, citizens in states with lower populations (and fewer congressional districts) suddenly have a more influential vote than a person in a state with a higher population.
Bush v. Gore
A New York Times article from December of 2000 paints a clear picture of how the electoral college favored George Bush when he defeated Al Gore that year.
This senatorial ”add-on” gives the smaller states extra weight. With the add-on, New York, for example, has one electoral vote for every 550,000 people, while South Dakota has one for every 232,000. Looked at another way, Mr. Bush captured 73 electoral votes in 12 small states with a combined population equal to California’s, whereas Mr. Gore received only 54 for winning California itself.
That means Bush received 19 more Electoral votes than Gore received for the same number of actual votes. Most notably, those 19 electoral votes accounted for over 7% of the total votes needed to reach the magic number of 270 and become president. An advantage like that provides a significant edge in any race. In baseball, that’s like adding 70 points to your batting average. That would be like the average household income in the US growing by $5,130. That’s huge.
Even more drastic, in 2016, a Wyoming voter was worth nearly four times what a Texas voter was worth. Check out this interactive map that shows exactly how the electoral college effects the value of your vote.
The electoral college is racist
Another failing of the electoral college is that it favors a specific type of person. White people retain a slight power advantage in the system. The electoral college demonstrably takes power away from minorities in cities and gives it to whites in middle America. So long as white Americans dominate the demographics of low population states, they will have an advantage in tipping the electoral scale.
The popular vote would be a better system because it is the most equal system that can exist, and is fundamentally tied to our core concept of democracy: whoever gets the most votes wins.
Equity: The Case For the Electoral College
My first thought was to immediately dismiss the electoral college. It’s an archaic system with no modern utility. Right? It skews results and has screwed Democrats in two-of-five Presidential elections this century. Right? That’s 40% of the time. Sad!
After a few conversations with myself though, I rationalized a few reasons as to why the electoral college aligns with the progressive ideals of equity. In fact, it may be more fair than a popular vote system would be and might actually be grounded in progressive logic. At least, it may serve the progressive cause.
So how does the electoral college create equity?
The electoral college system requires candidates to reach out to more than just urban areas and talk about more than just urban problems. Hillary landslided Trump in cities, but was in turn landslided by Trump in rural and Rustbelt states. If the popular vote decided the winner, Clinton would have won despite losing across vast swaths of the country. That’s unfair to middle America and leaves a huge part of the country disenfranchised and disengaged. By making less-populated states’ voters more valuable, it forces campaigns to pay attention to them.
The electoral college turns Wyoming into low hanging fruit. A candidate has to reach far fewer people and knock far fewer doors to get a greater electoral return than they would receive from the same use of resources in a high population state like California.
Access to democracy
The electoral college also creates equity for citizens because campaigns are pushed to put field offices in rural states. This allows rural citizens an opportunity to voice their opinions to the campaigns. Additionally, when campaigns collect data and stump for votes, they need volunteers. Party outreach for these volunteers offers a gateway for any person to get involved in politics. This means that the electoral college in its current form is a tool for creating a more equitable and robust democracy. This benefits both major parties by increasing engagement, volunteerism, donations, and nurturing future party candidates and employees.
Rebuilding the Democratic Party
Lastly, the electoral college forces Democrats to look outside of their coastal bubbles. I know it’s cliche, but Clinton’s unpopularity in the heartland destroyed her chances of winning. Whether it was based on logic and reasoning or #Fakenews and Russian propaganda, the reality is that the corporate Democrats have lost ground in middle America. The corporate Republicans aren’t doing great either for that matter. And that’s bad news for them.
It also spells bad news if Progressives don’t find a strong platform soon. When corporate Democrats want to change the system, it is because it will benefit corporate Democrats. That is something progressives should always be weary of.
If the Democratic party successfully enacts the popular vote, they will be allowed to sink deeper into their coastal bubbles. Remember, Hillary did win the popular vote. That would not be beneficial to the long term success of a progressive agenda. Whether you think progressives should ditch the party or not, a switch to the popular vote means corporate Democrats will be able to win elections without making any fundamental changes. And we can all agree that is bad for progressives (but still probably better than Trump), especially when the DNC is still up for grabs and progressives don’t have an agreed upon path forward.
One of the important things about being progressive is the dedication to its principles: solving systemic inequalities. That goes beyond money in politics and arguments that benefit progressives. Though I think progressives will be slightly disadvantaged by a switch to the popular vote, I believe it is the right path forward for the country. The candidate with the most votes should win, no matter who the voters are. Increasing the value of someone’s vote based on where they live is akin to segregation or a caste system. It is reminiscent of the three-fifths compromise in its effects, and is optically at odds with the tenants of democracy.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!