The Electoral College Does Nothing for Small States

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It is a common claim that we need to keep the electoral college because it ensures representation for the lightly populated middle of the country.


As the map here shows, two thirds of 2016 presidential campaign events occurred in just six states. Ninety four percent occurred in twelve states, less than one quarter of the country counting by states.

Eliminating the electoral college would actually render the states mostly irrelevant to the general election. They only matter now, to the extent that they do, because the electoral college allots votes by state, with each state getting a number of votes equal to its number of members in the House of Representatives plus two Senators, so the edge small states get from having the same number of votes in the Senate as large states is somewhat replicated in the electoral college, although diluted because of the combination with the number of House seats.

Still, in the presidential elections, voters in Wyoming count for far more than voters in California. There is no rational reason why this should be the case. We romanticize rural areas in the United States, but they are losing population because no one wants to live there and they should not play a disproportionate role in choosing the only official in the nation who is supposed to represent the entire nation.

In 2016, Wyoming had zero presidential campaign events. California had one. The electoral college has no effect in terms of balancing the two states’ impact on the outcome. The president is supposed to represent the entire country on principle. The best idea is to elect a president who understands what it means to act on principle and does so, rather than someone who acts on childish whims.

The population in rural areas usually does not reflect the population of the country as a whole, which is why Republicans like the electoral college. They spend much of their time these days trying to minimize the ability of African American voters to influence national affairs, and the electoral college contributes to that noxious project.

States will retain relevance in the two Parties’ nomination processes insofar as they remain politically important and get to decide when to hold their primaries, so Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina will still play larger roles than their relatively small populations would otherwise dictate.

But, under the electoral college, what determines the number of visits a state gets is whether it reliably votes for one Party or the other. States with small populations that reliably vote for one Party, like Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Connecticut, get no presidential campaign events at all. California, the most populous state in the Union, which votes reliably Democratic, got one event, as in 1, as in the loneliest number, as in between zero and two. One.

The map at the top of the page suggests that the megalopolises of Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to New York to Boston will get all of the attention, but the lack of attention California and New York (zero evens in 2016) got show that the issue is not number of people, but uncertainty of vote — contested places get more visits — that determines the amount of attention a place gets. So, in 2016, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio got by far the majority of the candidates’ attention. Eliminating the electoral college will not change that.

There is no good reason to keep the electoral college.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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