Is the Electoral College the Best System to Elect Our President?

Dec 2nd, 2016 • Category: Nation & World

By MIA CHANG, age 12, and INDYKIDS STAFF

When people go to the polls to vote for president in the United States, their votes are tallied, but the candidate with the most votes isn’t always the one who wins. Instead, the United States used the Electoral College system. Photo by Enrique Balenzategui Arbizu
When people go to the polls to vote for president in the United States, their votes are tallied, but the candidate with the most votes isn’t always the one who wins. Instead, the United States used the Electoral College system. Photo by Enrique Balenzategui Arbizu

As votes were tallied in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was declared the winner, but he earned fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. How is that possible?

Established in 1787, the Electoral College is how we choose the president and the vice president of the United States. Under the system, a total of 538 electoral votes are spread between all the states, and each state gets a certain number of electoral votes based on its population. For example, California is worth 55 electoral votes; while Delaware is worth three. In most states, whichever candidate gets more popular votes receives all of that state’s electoral votes. A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes in order to win the election. Donald Trump won 290.

James Madison, one of the founding fathers who supported the Electoral College, thought that the system would give smaller slave-holding states more representation in elections. Historically, states were allowed to count each slave as 3/5ths of a person even though slaves could not vote. Madison and others also felt that citizens may not be informed enough to make a smart decision about candidates, and so electors would represent their vote.

Sometimes the Electoral College makes people feel like their votes do not count. “If we really subscribe to the notion that ‘majority rules,’ then why do we deny the majority their chosen candidate?” asked former Michigan governor Jennifer M. Granholm.

Vincy Fon, a professor at George Washington University, wrote that an alternative is to change the Electoral College to give votes to candidates based on the popular vote, instead of a winner-take-all system.

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