It's already election season, and you know what that means — controversy! Although the presidential debate is still over 12 months away, we're already starting to see talk about big moments and controversies, including everything from the potential candidates to the election itself. Over recent months, there's been a lot of discussion surrounding the Electoral College, and whether we might see some changes come the 2020 presidential election. Sometimes, political processes can really go over people's heads, so if you're wondering what does the Electoral College do, don't worry. Here's a helpful rundown.
Despite its name, it's important to know that the Electoral College isn't a prestigious university, but a process by which the President of the United States is elected. Instead of a nationwide majority vote, each state in the country is assigned a certain number of "electoral" votes based on population. In most states, whoever wins the state's popular vote also wins its electoral college votes. The number of votes per state range from three in less populous states to up to 55, with a total of 538 electors who then cast their vote for the president and vice-president in accordance with who won the state. In order to win the presidency, a 270 majority vote is required.
Seems straightforward enough, right? Well, there's been a lot of debate recently surrounding whether the Electoral College should continue as a method of electing the president. The process has faced severe criticism over the potential to elect a president who lost the popular vote — if a candidate wins a bare majority in some states, but loses overwhelmingly in others, they can still win the presidency with less than half the popular vote. That's what happened in 2016 — despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by 306 to 230 to become president. There's also debate over whether the system — which was created in the early years of America's existence, when most Americans did not have voting rights and the spread of information was more limited — is outdated in today's hyperconnected, media-savvy America.
The controversy around the weighing the popular vote versus the Electoral College vote has led the public, and notable politicians, to speak out against the process.
In March, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is running for president in 2020, addressed a crowd during a town hall event at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi and brought up the Electoral College. She condemned the system, calling it a process that doesn't factor in every person's vote. She said,
We need to make sure that every vote counts. The way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College, and everybody... I think everybody ought to have to come and ask for your vote.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is also running in the 2020 election, has echoed Warren's opinion of the Electoral College. The progressive candidate has also endorsed abolishing the Electoral College in July, calling out President Trump losing the popular vote to former Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. "It is hard to defend a system in which we have a president who lost the popular vote by 3 million votes," Sanders said.
The disapproval of the Electoral College hasn't gone unnoticed. Currently, 15 states have introduced proposals that would change the voting process drastically. These proposals would replace the Electoral College with a national popularity vote system, by awarding the state's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, theoretically eliminating the possibility of someone winning the presidency without popular support. In most states, the proposals or bills would go into effect once enough states had signed on that together they could award the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.
According to a July survey from nonpartisan research group Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 65% of Americans believe the presidential election should be decided based on a national popular vote, while 32% are in favor of the Electoral College.
Even though the Electoral College has been heavily criticized, there's still no moves to eliminate it come the 2020 presidential election. However, in this political climate, there's no telling what could happen.