The Electoral College as a form of voter suppression

President* Trump,

This morning on my walk it occurred to me that among its many problems, the Electoral College functions to suppress the vote. I don’t know why we don’t talk about it this way (or if people do talk about it this way, why I’ve missed it all these years) since it’s really not any more subtle than voter ID laws, closing and under-resourcing polling stations in minority neighborhoods, purging voter registration rolls, barring people with felony indictments from voting, and outright intimidation.

Basically, in states that are solidly “blue” or “red” the motivation to cast one’s vote is undermined in presidential elections because the would-be voter often thinks their single vote means nothing if their state always goes one way or the other. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard this from eligible voters pretty much all my life living in solidly “blue” states – when people aren’t loving either candidate or just feeling like they’re insignificant cogs (or other voter suppression tactics have pushed the hassle quotient through the roof), it’s easy to resort to the “my vote doesn’t matter anyway, so why bother?”

I did a not-very-thorough Google search to see if anyone else is talking about this connection between the Electoral College and voter suppression and nothing specifically linking them popped out, but I did find an interesting article on the EC in the Harvard Magazine from July.  The author, Marina Bolotnikova, talks with Alexander Keyssar about his book Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? Here’s the link if you want to pretend that you’ve read it: https://harvardmagazine.com/2020/07/why-do-we-still-have-the-electoral-college.  It turns out that there’s really a lot to know about the EC and really, about our whole voting system, and it’s frankly very convoluted and confusing (at least to me). One thing from the interview particularly stood out:

The perversity of the design of the Electoral College is that a state gets the same number of electoral votes regardless of turnout in elections and regardless of how much voter suppression it engages in.”

I don’t think this is the only perversity of the EC set-up, but it’s certainly a doozy.

Next, I decided to see if I could test my hypothesis by looking at the proportion of voter turn out among swing states and among non-swing states to see if there’s an appreciable difference. I did this for 2016, 2012, and 2008 (I couldn’t get the 2004 chart to download into an excel file so didn’t go back any further than 2008). It was pretty easy to find voter turn out data (http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/voter-turnout-data) but it was quite a bit trickier to identify the swing states in each election year. I tried to get that info from the respective Octobers and looked at several sites for each year. If you want me to tell you how the states sorted out, let me know and I’ll give you those details, but for now I’ll just report out the overall findings:

2008 ~ Swing states 65.6%; Non-swing states 62.6% (-3%)
2012 ~ Swing states 65.6; Non-swing states 58.0% (-7.6%)
2016 ~ Swing states 64.5%; Non-swing states 59.0% (-5.5%)

The percent differences aren’t whopping, but they aren’t trivial either and it sure looks to me like I’m on to something (I’m not saying this is rocket science or anything, but still). What I think this means is that we really have no idea what the popular vote would look like if we didn’t have the damn EC skewing things and that we really don’t have a truly democratic system (for this and a whole bunch of other reasons).

Maybe I’ll get into super nerd-mode and see if I can figure out the extent to which people in “blue” vs. “red” non-swing states are under voting, but that’s an exercise for another day. For now, I’ll just end by stating I’m more convinced than ever that the EC needs to go and that we need to establish an election system that is truly representational.

May we be safe from crooked systems.
May we be willing to see that systems like the Electoral College prop up the White patriarchy.
May we be strong and courageous enough to scrap systems that are harmful to the common good.
May we accept that enough is enough.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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