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A Look Inside the Electoral College: Equal Representation is No Longer Equal

By BILL DELEHUNT

How many votes does it take to win the presidential election? A good answer would be, “More than the other guy gets,” but it would be incorrect. Just ask Al Gore. The correct number, of course, is 270. But that number is flexible and it should be changed.

One of the vestiges of our Constitutional process in the late 1700s is the Electoral College, laid out in Article II, Section 1. You can look up the details, both in the original text and the revisions made through the amendment process, but our presidential election is not a popular plebiscite, but rather 51 separate elections (all 50 states plus the District of Columbia). We vote as a nation, and polls tell us how far ahead or behind our presidential candidate is running nationally, winning each state and thereby garnering the electoral votes each has, determines the winner.

Of course, we all remember learning about the Electoral College in high school. This process only applies to the election of the president and vice president, and the number of votes each state can cast is equal to the number of members of Congress each state has. We need to take a closer look at those numbers.

There are 538 Electoral College (EC) votes, apportioned to the states and D.C.  Each state has two senators, as mandated by the Constitution, so doing the simple math, 100 Electoral College votes are apportioned equally, two to each state.  This was a compromise, written into the Constitution so that states with small populations would be on equal footing with those larger states.  

The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution gives the District of Columbia representation, stating D.C. will have the same number of electors it would have if it were a state, but no more votes than the least populous state has.  Wyoming has the honor of being the least populous state, and since it has three Electoral College votes, D.C. also has three.

It is the remaining 435 votes in the Electoral College that are contentious and should be changed.  But wait, you may say, the House of Representatives is the one closest to the will of the populace, since we elect them every two years. Well,that is a valid point.  And, as we were taught, the number of representatives for each state, and thus the number of electoral votes, is apportioned by population … states with a lot of people, like California and Texas, have more congressmen than Alaska and Delaware, and so they have more Electoral College votes. The apportionment is done each decade, after the Census, and states that lose population lose seats in the House of Representatives, and those states that are growing, gain. After the 2010 census, Texas gained four new congressional seats, while New York and Ohio each losT two. Florida gained two additional seats, while 14 other states saw their numbers change by one, up or down. This is the way it should be, perhaps, with larger states having more influence on the selection of the president.

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, but they are not, as we believe, apportioned strictly by population. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution says each state will have at least one representative. At the moment, 50 of the 435 seats in the House, or roughly 12 percent, are determined by geography, not population.  This is reflected in the Electoral College and gives a significant advantage to small population states.

But where in the Constitution does it say there should be 435 members of the House?  You can look all day, and not find any specific figure.  That number was first implemented 105 years ago, after the 1910 Census, when the population of our country was 92 million. It was codified in the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. Despite the fact that our country has more than tripled in population and added three states since 1910, the overall size of the House of Representatives has not changed.

The Constitution is not mute on the number of Representatives that should be in the House, and thus votes in the Electoral College. Article I, Section 2 says the minimum number must be 1 per state, but the maximum would be 1 per 30,000 people. Based on the U.S. Census taken in 2010, when the population of the country was 308,745,000 people, there could be as many as 10,291 congressmen in the House of Representatives.  The implications are just as enormous.

If the House had 10,291 congressmen and women, there would be that same number of Electoral College votes. Wyoming would jump from 1 congressman to 19, and thus so would D.C.  Each state would still earn 2 votes, as each still has two senators. The number of votes in the Electoral College would now be 100 (Senators) + 21 (D.C. electors) + 10,291 (new Congressional total) = 10,412. Instead of 27 congressmen, Florida would have 643, and California would have a whopping 1,268. The geographical requirement to have at least one congressman from each state would drop from 12 percent of the total to a miniscule .5 percent.  Large population centers would have a more proportional impact in both Congress and the Electoral College, and the small states would be an afterthought in both the legislative process and presidential campaigns.  While not being totally representative of the population, as each state would still have a mandatory minimum of three members of Congress, the outsized impact small states have on our nation’s governance would be vastly diminished. Another benefit would be the practice of gerrymandering, the redrawing of congressional boundaries by legislative fiat, would vanish. If you are fighting over 11 seats in the House, you will draw the voting districts block by block, as the North Carolina legislature did in 2011. If there are 209 congressional seats in your state, gerrymandering would be more difficult to accomplish while giving far less benefit.  

Readily acknowledging that a House of Representatives of 10,000 congressmen and women would be inefficient and unwieldy to the extreme, it would be silly to propose that large an increase in the size of the House. But, the disproportional impact small population states has on presidential politics, as well as the legislative process, requires some more modest increase in the number of seats.  It would not take an amendment to the Constitution to accomplish, merely a simple bill passed by both houses and signed into law by the president. Yes, the smaller states will lose some of their clout, but the populations represented by Congress and the Electoral College will be more accurately reflected. Let’s move towards a more perfect union, add 100 new seats to the House of Representatives, and actually make it representative of the country. The new number to become president would then be 319, not 270, and we could all live with that.

 

Bill Delehunt can be reached at wdelehunt@aol.com

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