There’s been 5 times in U.S. history where the guy who became president lost the popular vote, but won the electoral vote. And two of those times were just in the last 20 years. And with a new presidential election coming up, there’s lots of chatter about the value of the electoral college with critics asking is it time to get rid of the electoral college?

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What is the electoral college?
The electoral college is the process for how we vote for our president here in America. When you go and cast your vote, you’re not really voting for the president, you’re actually voting for electors, who then go and vote for the president. There are a total of 538 electors. Each state (and DC) gets at least 3, and then the rest are based on the states population size — determined every 10 years by the US census. In most states, it’s winner takes all. This means that the party that wins the state’s popular vote sends all of their electors to cast votes to elect the president. But there are two states– Nebraska and Maine– who divide up their electoral votes based on who won the popular vote in each congressional district.

Why does America have an electoral college?
Back in 1787, the founding fathers met in Philadelphia at the constitutional convention to figure out the major laws for how the U.S. government was going to run. And out of that came the constitution. One of the most hotly contested topics was how we elect our president. On the one hand you had the Federalists who thought congress should elect the president, and on the other you had those who thought the president should be elected by popular vote. But both were a little problematic. If Congress elected the president then congress would have way too much power and things could get corrupt real fast. But if it was left up to purely popular vote, there was a fear about what would happen– considering there was a lot of people that couldn’t read or write and were uneducated. So the electoral college was their big compromise.

Arguments for getting rid of the electoral college
Many critics argue that the electoral college is outdated and doesn’t accurately represent the voice of the people. It’s the reason why people say votes in more populated states count less. People also argue that the electoral college gives way too much power to people who live in swing states, and that the electoral college makes it harder for third party candidates to win a presidential election.

SELECTED SOURCES:
What is the electoral college? (National Archives and Records Administration)
https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

Why was the electoral college created? (History.com)
https://www.history.com/news/electoral-college-founding-fathers-constitutional-convention

The Electoral College Top 3 Pro and Cons (ProCon.org)
https://www.procon.org/headline.php?headlineID=005330

Opinion: Getting Rid of the Electoral College Isn’t Just About Trump (New York Times) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/21/opinion/electoral-college-warren-trump.html?module=inline

Opinion: A Case for the Electoral College (New York Times)
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/23/opinion/electoral-college.html?module=inline

America Isn’t Really Set Up For Third-Party Presidential Bids (FiveThirtyEight) https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/america-isnt-really-set-up-for-third-party-presidential-bids/

If Electoral Votes Were Weighted by State Population Alone: Trump 303, Clinton 235 (270towin)
https://www.270towin.com/news/2017/01/24/if-electoral-votes-were-weighted-by-state-population-alone-trump-303-clinton-235_442.html#.XZudTudKgUF

Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote (National Popular Vote)
https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/written-explanation

Fuzzy Math: Wrong Way Reforms for Allocating Electoral Votes (FairVote) https://www.fairvote.org/fuzzy-math

Is the Electoral College Good or Bad for Democracy? 7 November,2019Lauren Farrar

Author

Lauren Farrar

Lauren has a background in biology, education, and filmmaking. She has had the privilege to work on a diverse array of educational endeavors and is currently a producer for KQED Learning's YouTube series Above the Noise. Lauren's career has taken her to the deepest parts of the ocean to film deep sea hydrothermal vents for classroom webcasts, into the pool to film synchronized swimmers to teach about the pH scale, and on roller coasters to create a video about activation energy. And, she’s done it all for the sake of education. Lauren loves communicating science! Follow her on twitter @LFarrarAtWork

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