On November 8, you may have thought you were voting for President and Vice President of the United States. In fact, you were voting for electors who, under the United States Constitution, decide how to cast your ballot for you.
I was one of Illinois’ 20 Presidential Electors. The Constitution calls for each state’s electoral delegation to meet in its respective state capital, approximately five weeks after the election. This year the appointed date was December 19.
Every state is allotted the number of electors equal to its numbers in Congress, plus two extra, representing its United States Senators. Small states have a leg up in the Electoral College, as every state, no matter how small, is entitled to two Senators while populous states, no matter how populous, never get more than two. Each vote in Wyoming, therefore, has a lot more weight than each vote in California.
There are 538 electors, and it takes 270 to win. Donald Trump, with 306 votes, carried the day.
I was an elector in 2008. It was a thrill to cast my ballot for Barack Obama, the winner. It was a thrill to cast my ballot in 2016 for Hillary Clinton, too. As did Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary in 2016 handily carried Illinois. But it was bittersweet as, because of the Electoral College, she did not win the election.
In my view, she should have. I consider the Electoral College a relic, a compromise with the southern states when the Constitution was adopted. I think the winner of the national popular vote should win the presidency. Some say that would give too much weight to the generally blue states on the east and west coasts. But why should the generally red states in the middle carry more weight than their population merits? Why shouldn’t every individual vote count, even the vote cast by a Republican in a blue state and a Democrat in a red? Before the United States Supreme Court changed the rules in the 1960s, congressional districts and statehouse seats across the country were often allocated without respect for the principle of one person, one vote. Rural areas held disproportionate sway in state legislatures and in the federal Congress until the Court changed the rules.
The Court can’t change the Electoral College rules. It would take a Constitutional Amendment to accomplish that, and the small states are unlikely to vote for a change that gives them less power than they have today.
There may be another solution. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is premised on the idea that if enough states change their own rules, the winner of the popular vote could be the one selected in the College. Illinois joined the proposed compact a few years ago. Some 10 other states are already aboard. Should the states approving the Compact reach the magic number, 270, the Compact member states will instruct their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote.
But until that happens, the Electoral College rules the day. Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump. But Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, will be the 45th President of the United States.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)