By: Lexie Broemmer
Rock the vote. Get out the vote. Vote.
You hear it from professors, celebrities, politicians, the news and parents: Vote. Your vote counts. Is it actually true, though?
To answer this question, it’s necessary to take a look at the Electoral College.
The Founding Fathers instituted the Electoral College in 1787 as a compromise between Congress electing the president and citizens electing the president by popular vote.
Justin Coffey, associate professor of history at Quincy University, said the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College because they didn’t really want the United States to be a true democracy.
“The Electoral College, to a certain extent, was created so that the people the Founding Fathers thought were the better of us would do the electing — the electors — so, it was created so that the popular vote would not decide the election,” he said.
Simply put, the Electoral College consists of 538 state-selected electors who meet a month after the election and vote for president and vice president. Whoever gets the majority of votes wins the presidency.
The number of electors from each state — and Washington, D.C. — is dependent on the number of elected officials it has in Congress. For example, the state of Wyoming has one representative in the House of Representatives and two senators in the Senate, so it has three electors. The state of California has 53 representatives in the House and two senators, so it has 55 electors.
Seven states and Washington, D.C. have only three electors — the lowest number possible. California has the highest number. To become the president, a candidate must receive a majority of 270 votes.
Political parties select electors, and state law dictates how electors are chosen. Electors are pledged to their party’s candidate, but, in actuality, they can vote for whomever they want.
“For example, Illinois has 20 electors. Hillary Clinton is going to win Illinois. There will be 20 electors pledged, therefore, to Hillary Clinton,” Coffey said. “However, state law does not trump federal law. It’s the other way around. An elector can decide to write in the name of whatever candidate they actually want. That will never happen today because all 20 are usually very partisan democrats who are going to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they still don’t have to vote the way they’re pledged to when they send in their vote to Washington, D.C. It’s complicated, but they have the right to vote for whoever they want to.”
The problem with the Electoral College is that many Americans perceive that their votes in presidential elections do not count.
In a way, that perception is based in truth.
“Your vote really does not count for the actual winner,” Coffey said. “What you’re voting for is an elector, and you’re voting for an elector from just your state. A lot of people don’t vote because the state they’re in is predetermined. In fact, in the overwhelming majority of states, you know who’s going to win the state before the presidential election.”
Coffey believes this leads to low voter turnout — not just in presidential elections but also in congressional elections and even gubernatorial races.
“It does keep people away from the polls because if you live in California and you’re a Republican, there’s almost no point in you going to the polls because there’s absolutely no chance that Donald Trump is going to win California,” he said. “The same is true in a state like Mississippi. Donald Trump’s going to win it. Hillary has no chance. But it does depress voter turnout. If you changed to it to a winner-take-all literally popular vote, your one vote really makes a difference.”
Coffey said the United States’ average voter participation level every four years is about 53 percent. The rate was 57 percent in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president. The rate dropped to 54 percent in 2012. Coffey predicts that this year’s rate will be as low as 51 percent.
Voters should bear in mind that they really can make a difference. They could possibly sway their states to the opposite side of the political spectrum.
“Texas right now is as Republican as you can get, but if Latino voters keep voting Democratic, they might switch it from Republican to Democrat,” Coffey said.
The Electoral College has been around for more than 200 years, but it has never really evolved. This is primarily due to the belief, Coffey said, that the Constitution was written by the highly revered Founding Fathers.
“It’s almost a sacred document and should not be changed unless there is a real need for it,” Coffey said.
Four times in the nation’s history, the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral College and the presidency. This happened most recently in the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the Electoral College.
“There was an outcry at that point to change (the Electoral College), but it went nowhere because there are states that benefit from the electoral college and the representatives from those states in the House and the Senate are not going to vote to (abolish it),” Coffey said.
The only way to change the Electoral College would be through a Constitutional amendment. Amendments require a two-thirds majority vote from both the House and the Senate as well as ratification from three-fourths (or 38) of the states to become a part of the Constitution.
Coffey contends that the Electoral College will never be abolished or amended.
“The states that make a difference in the race like Ohio, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, they don’t want to abolish because it benefits them,” he said. “They get candidates coming to their states to campaign. They get hundreds of millions of dollars and television advertising, so there’s no push to abolish it.”
Yes, your vote does count.
Just not in the way you think it does.