Is America Finally Ready to Abandon the Electoral College and Embrace the Popular Vote
US presidential elections are frequently the butt of jokes worldwide, and deservedly so. Between the eye-popping fundraising totals, the awkward pandering to billionaires, and the shameless jockeying for the support of key interest groups in weird places like Iowa and New Hampshire, there’s a lot to hate.
Much of this can be blamed on the electoral college. Instead of simply counting votes nationwide and giving the Oval Office to the guy or gal with the most ballots, America holds 50 statewide elections, then awards points called “electors” to the winner of each election. It’s a confusing system that makes winning 51 percent of the votes in California more than ten times as valuable as winning 100 percent of the votes in Nebraska, and gives special status to the few swing states that could go either way. Standard practice nowadays is for candidates to camp out in the dozen or so of these key states, which enjoy special status because their cities are surrounded by dense, conservative suburbs that balance out the votes of liberal urbanites. This means millions of voters are effectively stuck on the margins of political life, and thanks to our system we risk disaster every four years.
George W. Bush’s incredible non-victory in 2000—which came, of course, thanks to an assist from his dad’s pals on the Supreme Court—may be the the most recent example, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the twisted intrigue that the electoral college has encouraged over the years. After the 1876 election saw the electors go one way and the popular vote the other, the “compromise” that was reached set the stage for a flood of Jim Crow laws and racial terrorism into the American South, as a key concession from the Republicans was to remove occupying federal troops that had been in the former Confederate states since the Civil War.