Why is the Electoral College a Concern for Earth-Keepers?

What we Americans think about the Electoral College is – now as always – almost certainly driven by what it does to our party’s electoral prospects. This year, Trump won the Electoral College, but millions more people voted for Clinton. So it’s almost certainly predictable: If we went for Trump, then we’re for the Electoral College; if we preferred Clinton, we hate it.

But for earth keepers, the arguments for and against Electoral College are pretty serious concerns. That’s because a strong majority of Americans are concerned about God’s creation and threats to its health and survival. About two-thirds of us now say we’re worried about climate change. Lopsided majorities of Democrats feel strongly about climate action. About half of Republicans agree. And yet, our electoral system has given us a president elect who calls climate change a hoax and “bullsh**.” He’s sworn to reverse his predecessor’s environmental policies, and to disrupt the global climate agreement sealed in Paris last year among 195 nations. He’s stacked his cabinet with fossil-fuel advocates, even picking the chairman of the world’s biggest oil company for its most powerful position – Secretary of State.

So no matter which party we might like best – or dislike least – it’s worth asking honestly if this is really what democracy looks like. Does the Electoral College really make sense? Much has been written about the Electoral College’s roots in slave-holding states, and these accounts can be useful for historians. But let’s not even go there. Today, does a system like the Electoral College make sense for any of the world’s democracies? Here are some factors to consider.

The Electoral College makes Presidential voting almost meaningless for most Americans

“Sure I’d vote, but I’m from California.”

You’ve heard something like this from your friends in solid-Red or solid-Blue states before, haven’t you? What difference did it make if I pulled the lever for Hillary or Trump in New York, Texas, Indiana or Illinois? Let alone California? All those states are going solidly one way or the other. In fact, 30 states representing 320 Electoral College votes are all considered solid for one party or the other (see complete list below). Presidential candidates don’t campaign in those states; they don’t listen to voters there; they don’t bother getting out the vote there. And once elected, they don’t lose much sleep over the interests of those citizens either.

Real Clear Politics highlights president-deciding states in gray.

If you’re among the huge majority of Americans living in one of these non-swing states, presidential democracy is a spectator event for you. You’re not part of the conversation. Instead, you’re just watching voters in 14 “swing states” to see what they’ll do to choose the next president. Thanks for your interest, but voters in Florida will handle this one for you. And in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia (plus seven other small states).

So we lament low voter turnout in our country, but ignore the obvious: Our system removes most of the incentives for going to the polls. It’s the Electoral College, folks.

The Electoral College makes my vote count more than your vote

In the U.S. we have about one elector for every 600,000 people. Californians have a somewhat worse deal. Their 38 million people have only one elector for every 692,000 people. Those extra 92,000 Californians for each elector simply don’t count. With 55 electoral votes, that’s about five million Californians who really don’t matter. Too bad for California.

But North Dakota has a much sweeter deal. Of course, their tiny population – smaller than the cities of Charlotte or Columbus – gets to send two Senators to Washington. Good for them. But their presidential votes also have an outsized impact. They get one elector for every 250,000 people. That’s huge. One vote in North Dakota is worth about three votes in California. (Actually, about 2.7 votes.) But would anyone ever design a system like that in a modern democracy?

The Electoral College hands unelected officials the keys to the presidency

On Monday, the Electoral College convened to cast their votes, sealing the win for Donald Trump, as expected. But Trump and Clinton weren’t the only ones who tallied votes. John Kasich got a vote. So did the aging libertarian, Ron Paul. Retired Secretary of State Colin Powell got three votes, even though he was never a candidate. Finally, Bernie Sanders and tribal leader Faith Spotted Eagle each notched a vote.

The electors who cast votes like these have traditionally been called “faithless electors.” They may be faithless, but there’s nothing illegal or even reprehensible about what they’ve done. In fact, many Americans were hoping for a revolt this year, banking upon the Electoral College to nullify the election results. It didn’t happen, of course, nor has it overturned an election during our country’s history. But this year’s election warns us that precedent means very little in our day. We could easily see the day when large numbers of electors decide to thwart the will of voters. This would be perfectly legal.

It will take a transformation of heart among Americans for us to take our place among the nations in caring for God’s creation. But for starters, why don’t we take another look at how we choose our most important officials? Maybe we should consider something a little more like, well, democracy?

Solid Blue:

  • California (55)
  • New York (29)
  • Illinois (20)
  • New Jersey (14)
  • Washington (12)
  • Massachusetts (11)
  • Maryland (10)
  • Hawaii (4)
  • Rhode Island (4)
  • Vermont (3)
  • District Of Columbia (3)
  • Delaware (3)

Solid Red:

  • Texas (38)
  • Indiana (11)
  • Tennessee (11)
  • Missouri (10)
  • Alabama (9)
  • Louisiana (8)
  • Kentucky (8)
  • Oklahoma (7)
  • Mississippi (6)
  • Arkansas (6)
  • Utah (6)
  • Kansas (6)
  • West Virginia (5)
  • Nebraska (4)
  • Idaho (4)
  • North Dakota (3)
  • Montana (3)
  • South Dakota (3)
  • Alaska (3)
  • Nebraska CD2 (1)

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