Town Business: Abolish the Electoral College


American democracy: It's one person, one vote, right?

Wrong. At least when it comes to picking the president, the principle of one-vote for each person doesn't apply. That's because we use the electoral college to select our commander in chief.

A lot has been written about the numerous anti-democratic aspects of the electoral college, including: its origins in slavery; the way it allows candidates like Trump to overwhelmingly lose the popular vote but still win; the way it inflates the importance of swing states in campaigns and marginalizes the rest of the nation; etc.

Obama recently called the electoral college a "vestige." He didn't elaborate, but historians who have researched the institution's origins have pointed out time and again that the electoral college was set up to give slave owners inordinate power in national elections. The carryover to this day is that the nation's largest and most diverse population centers are disproportionately disadvantaged.

Last week, Oakland's city council voted to endorse several efforts aimed at getting rid of the electoral college.

One, a bill introduced in November by California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, would institute one-person, one vote by simply abolishing the electoral college.

Another route to ditching the electoral college doesn't require the Republican-controlled Congress to take action. If a group of states with 270 or more electoral college votes sign onto a compact agreeing to always award their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote, then the system would effectively change to one in which the majority truly rules.

"If we want a functioning democracy that's fair, then we need to move forward on these reforms," said Councilmember Dan Kalb, a sponsor of the Oakland resolution. "Twice in the past sixteen years the person without the most votes ended up becoming president," he complained, referring to Trump, and George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore in 2000.

Oakland and California are perfect example of why the electoral college is unfair. Oakland is a big diverse city, and California is the biggest and most diverse state. But people who live here count for far less in presidential elections than people who live in smaller, less divers states.

Take Wyoming, for example. There are 584,000 people living in Wyoming, which is approximately 90 percent white. They get three votes in the electoral college, or about one electoral voter per every 195,000 people. This past election, all three of their votes went to Donald Trump.

Californian's, however, only get one electoral college vote for every 705,000 people because we have to divide 55 total electoral votes among our population of 38 million. If California had the same ratio of population to electoral college votes as Wyoming, it would get 195 electoral college votes.

Clearly the system isn't proportionate.

Here's another way to look at it: with a population of 406,000, the entire city of Oakland doesn't add up to a single electoral vote in our presidential elections scheme because its people live in California where individual votes count less. But the tiny state of Wyoming, which is just a little larger than the City of Oakland, in terms of population, gets three electoral college votes.

How's that for fair and democratic?