Miss Bailey taught history during my senior year at St. Johnsbury Academy. Although it has been 75 years since that time, I can still hear her voice entreating us to abolish the Electoral College and change the way we elect a president. I am sorry that I let you down, Miss Bailey.
The Electoral College was established in 1786 by the U.S. Constitution. Our forefathers thought that using electors would ensure that states with larger populations would not have undue influence. Alexander Hamilton declared “that the Electoral College if not perfect is at least excellent.” This may have been true over 200 years ago, but now, right now, I would like to have every vote count, and to have every vote counted.
Instead, it still works like this:
Each political party in every state chooses a slate of Electors. In the Presidential election, each state will have as many Electors as the state has congressmen and senators. California has 55 electors, North Carolina has 15, Vermont has 3. When you cast your ballot, you are voting for electors in your state. These electors will go on to vote in favor of the leading candidate. The winner takes all and the rest of the votes don’t count. Over 90 million votes are cast in a presidential election, yet the outcome of the election is decided by the 538 votes cast by the Electors.
This system is fatally flawed. A president can be elected even if he loses the popular vote. This has happened five times. Our current president, Donald Trump, won 304 electoral votes in 2016 to Hillary Clinton’s 227, but he lost the popular vote by close to 3 million votes. There is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote according to the popular vote. It only requires an absolute majority of 270 electoral votes to declare a winner.
The Electoral College system may have been a good way to elect a president in 1786 but this was not true in 1944 and it certainly is not true in this age of technology. We can and should count every vote so every vote counts.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has put forth a plan to expand voting rights along with a constitutional amendment “that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and to make sure that every vote gets counted.” Basically, that was Miss Bailey’s goal 75 years ago.
Currently, the presidential candidates focus on swing states, which can change elections. The candidates spend most of their time and resources in such states as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, part of what is called the Rust Belt. These states can greatly affect the outcome of the election. Add to this mix the problems associated with redistricting and gerrymandering, which states are faced with after every census. This allows for reapportionment. Senator Warren is right. Every vote should count.
History has never been a favorite subject of mine, but it turned out to be my most memorable one. Miss Bailey had a gift for making the past come alive...or the present. I remember the excitement she passed on to us when the “Big Three:” Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill had a meeting at Bretton Woods, right in our backyard. I remember too how appalled she was when she talked about our inability to remember any other president than Roosevelt, who was then in his third term.
What I remember most clearly about Miss Bailey, though, was her conviction that we must change our way of electing a president. She repeated this so often that it was engraved in my mind. I felt like she was speaking to me. Every four years I think about it. I was quite sure that such an unfair system would be abolished long before this. I really let you down, Miss Bailey, and I’m sorry. I hope that Elizabeth Warren can do what I only dreamed about doing and make every vote count.
Rosalie Vear lives in St. Johnsbury.