Electoral College? Huh?

The writers of the American Constitution had an eye for the telling phrase, but they also had one specific objective in mind; keeping the plebs out of politics.  Sure, most people got the vote, as long as they weren’t black of course.  But their opportunities to vote were severely limited.

They got to vote for the House of Representatives every two years, thus creating a pretty convincing illusion of participation.  But until 1917 and the seventeenth amendment to the Constitution, the Senate was chosen by the State legislatures, not the electorate.  The president is still technically selected by a slate of local State luminaries who cast their votes in the Electoral College.  The convention has taken hold, although nowhere is it written, that Electoral College votes will be cast in accordance with result of a statewide poll.  But if you remember back to the fracas in Florida in 2000, the Republican dominated state legislature actively flirted with the idea of disregarding the popular vote and casting its slate of Electoral College votes for George W. Bush.

The Electoral College system, odd as it may look today, is inevitably here to stay.  Why?  Because it contains an inbuilt bias towards smaller less populous states.  And they are not going to vote to change it.  That bias arises because Electoral College votes are allocated according to the number of members each state sends to Congress; House members according to population, plus two Senators.  So a populous state like California has 55 Electoral College votes because it sends 53 members to the House of Representatives and two senators to the Senate.  A tiny state, in terms of population, like South Dakota, has just three Electoral College votes because it sends only one representative to the House but still has two senators in the Senate.  While California has roughly one Electoral College vote per 681,000 of the population, South Dakota enjoys one Electoral College vote for every 274,000 residents.

Is a South Dakotan worth 2.5 Californians?  The Founders evidently thought so.



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