The Electoral College is the number of votes, simplified, that determines the outcome of a US presidential race. Essentially it equals the number of senators in the state and the number of house representatives. The more districts and house representatives a state has, the more “votes” it represents in the Electoral College. Large states have huge numbers of votes to cast. California has 55 for instance, and Texas 34. Once the popular vote has been cast, the candidate who receives the majority of votes in a state receives all electoral votes for that state. States with Electoral College votes numbering over 20 are usually called swing states.
There are a number of criticisms of this election process. The main one is that disbursement of votes may not always accurately represent the popular vote. Several presidential elections, notably the 2000 Bush versus Gore, have resulted in a candidate not winning the election but winning the popular vote. Gore was voted president by the people, but because of the Electoral College, Bush won in key states and received a greater number of electoral votes.
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Some also feel that states with more electoral votes have greater power, reducing the influence of the individual voter. If you live in Montana, the president you vote for only gets three votes from the College. It is argued that voters in states with a larger number of Electoral College representatives get paid more attention by candidates and have a disproportionate influence on the presidential election.
Conversely some argue that candidates only pay attention to a state if they don’t feel secure in carrying the state. California, for instance, often thought of as a blue or Democratic state, may be ignored except in urban areas by Democratic candidates since they’re pretty sure they’ll win the state. This gives voters fewer opportunities to hear the thoughts of the various politicians on how they might run for office.
There are basically 11 states that can secure a victory for a president, which means that candidates may essentially ignore the other 39. If a candidate is able to win the electoral votes of these 11 states, he or she doesn’t need to win the popular vote elsewhere. It is argued these states have much greater power, and that voting is thus unequal.
A few theories exist as to how these problems can be addressed. The first one is to completely abolish the Electoral College in favor of electing presidents by direct voting. Let people vote, count the totals and see who won. Some believe this would unfairly represent urban areas since they have more residents, than rural areas. This argument seems specious. Each person would have the full weight of his/her vote counted in such an election.
Another possibility would be to give Electoral College votes in a state proportionately and based on percentage. If a candidate won 45% of the votes in a state, he’d receive 45% of the Electoral College votes. There might be some difficulties about splitting electoral votes in a state with an uneven number if candidates both won 50% of the vote. It’s hard to know if a candidate could win half an electoral vote.