It's an Electoral Bus not a College
The vehicle we use to elect the president is more like an Electoral Bus than a College, because its purpose isn’t to educate, but to arrive at a destination: the selection of the president.
To get there, let’s say every state has its own Electoral Bus, District of Columbia too, so it’s a pretend fleet of 51. On election night, each state’s electors board their own bus and head out, but as long as they end up at the presidency, how they get tickets to ride is up to their legislature. That’s an exclusive state right granted by the Constitution.
D.C. and 48 states (including Utah) choose electors using a method called winner-take-all where the candidate with the most popular votes in each state gets all that state’s electoral votes. Winner-take-allhas been around since the 1800’s, so most people think it’s part of the Constitution. It’s not. It’s state legislation so doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to be replaced.
In our two-tiered Electoral College, technically, regular voters choose electors and electors (the ones riding the aforementioned buses) elect the president. People get to be electors simply by knowing the right person in their party’s political hierarchy and each party has its own set of electors hoping to get on the bus.
One reason the Electoral College was designed that way was an attempt to more evenly balance power between smaller and larger states. Back then, with less than 4 million people nationwide, a single vote in small Delaware equaled almost 3 votes in big Virginia. Today, with 326 million people nationwide, a single vote in small Wyoming equals almost four votes in big California. However, as the smallest state, Wyoming still has the fewest electoral votes possible: 3, while the biggest state, California, has 55 and candidates ignore both. Why? Because both states are predictable.
Any power smaller states gained under the original system has been lost to unpredictable battleground states, of any size. Why did Iowa with its 3 million people, strong rural component, and 6 electoral votes (all like Utah) get 21 get campaign events in 2016 and Utah only one? Because Iowa’s a battleground state.
Ten presidential contenders competed here in 2016. The Republican won the most statewide popular votes with only 46 percent of the total. The other nine candidates combined won 54 percent. The result? The six electors chosen by winner-take-all to ride our Electoral Bus to its destination represented less than half of Utah’s popular votes, making us a prime example of how winner-take-all can cause the popular vote and electoral vote to diverge.
In the real world, when candidates and their campaign managers plan routes to the presidency, they look at a map of the United States and simply take for granted every state that’s predictable, zeroing in on those that aren’t. Those 10-12 battleground states are where all the candidates, their surrogates, money and promises go. The election for the only national office we have is determined not by the entire nation, but by a handful of fickle states with overblown electoral power that we other states surrender to them by keeping winner-take-all to elect the president.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is new legislation for choosing electors to ride the nation’s fleet of Electoral Buses. With recent passage in Connecticut there are now 11 member states plus D.C. bringing the total in the Compact to 172 electoral votes. Down the road, when states equaling another 98 join, the Compact will hit 270 (the minimum required to win the presidency). In the following presidential election after results everywhere are in, participating states agree to put electors from the party of the nationwide (not statewide) winner on the bus.
When that happens, big states, small states, big cities, small cities, rural communities nationwide… where you vote won’t matter, that you vote will. For the first time in American history, every vote everywhere will matter and every candidate will go everywhere to win it. On election night, electors representing the collective vote of the nation will never again be left off the Electoral Bus, but will reach its intended destination: the selection of the president.