Did you focus on Pennsylvania or Nevada during the presidential vote count last week? If you say both, as well as Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona, then you were witnessing the genius of the Electoral College.
To be elected president, one must not only have popular support, but widespread popular support. And it’s a good example of why we should not rely on the popular vote to elect our president.
Here’s the scoop.
Pennsylvania has about 9 million voters, while Nevada has about 1.8 million (West Virginia has 1.2 million). Yet, Nevada was as important to this election as Pennsylvania, because of the Electoral College. If we were choosing on the popular vote only, the focus would have been on large population centers, like New York City or San Francisco.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2,868,868. But she won California by 4,269,978. While she had popular support, she did not have widespread popular support, which is exactly the condition the Electoral College was meant to counteract.
With the Electoral College, a candidate cannot campaign in the populous states only, like California, and ignore smaller states, like West Virginia. A popular New England candidate cannot win with only New England electoral votes. Same for other regions.
Now, to dispel a notion. For those thinking, “Well, what about one person, one vote?” That was invoked in a series of cases by the Warren Court in the 1960s.
In Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the court ruled that both houses of the state legislatures needed to represent roughly equal populations. At that time, West Virginia and most other states allocated state senate seats by county, regardless of population, giving undue power to rural counties.
However, it doesn’t mean votes are equal between states.
My vote for governor in West Virginia, with 1.2 million voters, is far more influential than a vote for governor in California, with over 22 million voters.
Similarly, any one of the 5,559 Clay County voters has more influence voting for sheriff there than I do with my one of 123,236 Kanawha County votes for sheriff.
The U.S. Constitution never guaranteed one person, one vote. In fact, our original Constitution guaranteed that only white men owning property could vote. Later, we fixed that, but the concept “one person, one vote” never meant everyone’s vote will be equal in voting for president.
That is because we are the United States of America, not the United People of America. Our 13 colonies formed a federal government under the Articles of Confederation and established the Continental Congress.
Problem with the Continental Congress was that each state (colony) had only one vote, regardless of population. And, in fact, there was only one house of Congress.
So, in 1787, the Constitutional Convention created two houses of Congress: the Senate, with two members from each state, and the House of Representatives, whose membership from each state is based on population. Each state is then granted one elector per member of Congress, resulting in West Virginia having five electors for our two senators and three members of the House of Representatives.
And yes, the Electoral College was a compromise between population and individual states comprising this nation. However, as it was established in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution (created in 1787 and effective in 1789), so it will prevail until the Constitution is changed.
But don’t hold your breath.
In the meantime, we will continue to choose our president as we choose our World Series champs, Super Bowl champs, Big 12 champs, and every other thing I can think of. It will be based on winning a series of games (states), not by the cumulative scores of all games.