What does HHS think of the Electoral College?
The Electoral College, established as a compromise between an indirect and direct system of electing the president, has been a hotly contested matter ever since it was first implemented. In recent years, however, with opponents pointing to its racist origins, inaccurate portrayal of American demographics, and failure to elect presidents who won the popular vote, the debate against the Electoral College has picked up steam.
Curious as to what HHS students and staff think of the current system, I created a survey on the Electoral College, asking if we should keep it, whom it benefits, and what could be done to change it.
78.3 percent of respondents recommended that the Electoral College be abolished, 12 percent voted “no”, and 9.6 percent said they weren’t sure. Additionally, 52 percent argued that their vote definitely matters; 33.3 percent established that it somewhat matters; and 4.9 percent claimed that their vote has no real bearing on election results. Most of those who proposed changing the system advocated for a direct, popular vote (in which the majority rules), and several also suggested a ranked-choice system as an alternative. The vast majority of respondents contended that the Electoral College benefits rural populations, swing states, and/or Republicans.
Rebecca Berger, for example, wrote, “the electoral college benefits more rural states with a smaller population, and because of the demographic of the two parties (Democrats tend to live in cities, Republicans tend to live in more rural areas), the system ends up benefitting the Republican party.”
In addition to describing the political parties that find the Electoral College advantageous, many respondents also spoke to the states that benefit from it. “Take for instance, California,” Matias Lee wrote, “[which has a population of] nearly 40 million people, so therefore it receives 55 electoral votes. On the other hand, a state like Rhode Island has 4 electoral votes and about 1 million people. So that’s 1.375 electoral votes per million people in California, and 4 electoral votes per million people in Rhode Island. This gives the voices of people in Rhode Island more power over the voices in California.”
Further, Seiji Peterson argued, “we should act according to what most Americans want, instead of putting less value to citizen’s wants, hopes, and needs just because they come from a more populated state.” Likewise, Julia Horan wrote, “I think that every vote should carry equal weight… With the electoral college, less voting power is given to states with huge populations.” She also spoke to her status as a citizen of a state that is consistently democratic: “coming from Vermont, voting can sometimes seem almost pointless because Vermont will most likely always be a blue state.”
Moreover, Dylan Kotlowitz and Charlotte Sturm spoke of the system’s origins: Charlotte wrote, “its roots go back to the slave era,” and Dylan agreed, writing, “the electoral college is based on a flawed and fundamentally racist system. By proportionally affording more electoral votes to rural states, it disenfranchises urban voters, who are typically more diverse and more likely to vote Democratic… It is important to understand that it is not an inherently partisan vehicle; rather, it is an inherently racist vehicle, and the two parties choose to utilize it in different ways.” He also brought up the fact that the system disproportionately benefits swing states: “[it] allows for electoral strategies wherein certain states (Pennsylvania, Florida, etc) are prioritized over others who are thought to be safely Democratic or Republican…. By affording the rural and Rust Belt states more votes, the Electoral College prioritizes the swing states, which are more often composed of white voters.”
However, not all Hanover students and staff believe that the system is biased, meritless, or unjust. Take Joseph Rudd, for example, who said, “the electoral college is a good way to ‘spread the wealth’ among all states,” or Joseph Richter, who wrote, “the Electoral College gives the minority party a larger say in presidential elections. It causes candidates to try to represent the ideologies of the whole public instead of playing to the population’s majority ideology. The electoral college not only promotes more balanced candidates… but it also causes candidates to open up more about their beliefs.”
Regardless of what you think about the system, it is clear that the debate over it is far from over: even within the Hanover High School community, there are large discrepancies between students in terms of what they believe about the fairness, efficacy, and legitimacy of the Electoral College.
Thank you to everyone who responded to my survey: I appreciate your in-depth and thoughtful answers. Even to those whose responses were not featured in the article, I thank you for your contributions and for taking the time to partake in the various polls throughout the questionnaire. (See, your vote does matter!)