For the second time this century, the Electoral College was responsible for electing a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote.
Out of the 128 million votes cast in November, Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more than Donald Trump. Along with the outrage over another Democratic popular-vote-winning loser, there seems to be general confusion.
How can the voice of nearly three million more Americans not count for anything in a democracy?
This has led many to call for a re-evaluation of the Electoral College system; with some calling for the outright abandonment of it. But an important aspect of the current system is that people who don’t vote are still represented.
States earn Electoral College votes depending on population. As we learned in middle school civics, the more populous the state, the more Electoral College votes (literally: senators plus representatives equals votes.) The idea behind this system is that it helps level the playing field between big and little states and attempts to curb electoral dominance in the big states.
Of course, there are arguments to the contrary.
One is that little states actually have proportionally larger influence than their populations deserve. This argument was specifically used this election cycle, as relatively smaller rust-belt states became the all-important swing states that delivered Donald Trump the presidency.
The problem comes down to an interpretation of who the Electoral College votes represent. As explained, the Electoral College is based on population, and importantly doesn’t take into account how many people actually vote. Therefore, as happened in West Virginia, it took only 57 percent of eligible voters to give Trump West Virginia’s five electoral votes.
But the interesting thing, and the thing many Electoral College skeptics are unhappy with, is what is happening with the other 43 percent of the population who didn’t vote.
Technically, because Trump still received all five electoral votes, that other 43 percent, by not voting, voted for Trump. In the winner-takes-all system of electoral votes (it takes 50.1 percent of a state’s voters to win all the electors), all those who aren’t against the winner, are for him. Non-voters are lumped together with those who voted for the winner.
So do these non-voters deserve that type of representation by the Electoral College?
Practically speaking, there is probably not a large population on either side of America’s political divide who think that people who don’t vote should still be counted in an election. However, as argued with the West Virginia example, this is what the Electoral College has been doing each election since it was ratified in 1804.
But realistically, what the Electoral College does is reduce the voter base to more manageable numbers. In this way, the Electoral College acts as a census for states. To go back to West Virginia, there most likely weren’t a lot of Clinton or third party voters within the 43 percent who didn’t vote. At least, it’s reasonable to assume there wouldn’t have been enough to flip the state any other way even if everyone eligible voted.
So the question is whether the current system best represents voters.
Think about it. The estimated voter turnout was 58 percent nationwide. That hardly feels like it represents the preference of all Americans. So until that other 42 percent gets out and votes, what one must decide is whether a system that attempts to make up for non-voters is more fair than a system that only takes into account 58 percent of the population.