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The Electoral College and Splitting California

The Electoral College and Splitting California

    Plenty of people take issue with the Electoral College and justifiably so. This system, which distributes 538 votes to the 50 states with a minimum of 3 per state, was written into the Constitution to help ensure that the concerns of smaller, less populous states would not be drowned out by the larger ones when the it came time to elect the president. However, the Electoral College has given the presidency to a candidate without winning popular vote four times: in 1876 with Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1888 with Benjamin Harrison, in 2000 with George W. Bush, and in 2016 with Donald Trump. Concern with this system should hop party lines even though it has been a Republican each time who has benefited. Many people hope to find a solution to the misrepresentation problem while still protecting the rights of smaller states and cities.

Presently, a proposal has gained some traction that would give citizens more individualized electoral representation by splitting the state of California into three parts. Promoted by billionaire and Bitcoin investor Tim Draper, the state-split would end with a “Northern California” including Sacramento and San Francisco, a “Southern California” including Bakersfield and San Diego, and a coastal region including Monterey and Los Angeles just called “California.”  Supporters of this proposal are collecting signatures, in hopes that the 365,880 required will be collected by April 23, 2018, which would then put the proposal on the California ballot for a vote. While these demographics would be of approximate equal wealth, it would allow the Democrat south of California to vote differently in the Electoral College than its northern Republican counterparts. Currently, the Electoral College stacks the odds against larger states. Each state requires at least three electoral votes, which is representative of having two Senators and one Representative in Congress. Therefore, even though Wyoming only has 563,626 residents, it receives three votes. Meanwhile, 39.25 million people live in California, but the state receives only 55 votes. Thus, one electoral vote from Wyoming represents the will of 187,875 people whereas one electoral vote from California represents the will of 713,636 people—one electoral vote from Wyoming is worth four electoral votes from California. Having three smaller states would lessen this discrepancy. This isn’t the first time California has encountered state-changing geographic sentiments. Tim Draper promoted a six-state split in 2016 that didn’t receive enough signatures to make it to the ballots, and in 1945 local governments and militia promoted the infamous “State of Jefferson”, which included California’s more conservative north and the south of Oregon.

However, I do not believe that decreasing the size of voting districts, which would essentially be the result of the Californian split, is the solution to the problem of the Electoral College. Right now, it takes 270 out of 538 Electoral College votes to win the presidency, which is over half of the vote. However, since the electors need not follow the outcome of their constituencies, the percentage of the Electoral College and popular votes need not be the same. Population disparities in districting compound this issue. We have seen how in this past election this can lead to more than half of a population disappointed with their presidential selection. One possible solution is bumping the needed votes to 65% of the Electoral College. A victory here would almost ensure a majority in the popular vote. A supermajority might help depolarize the two-party system by fielding candidates appealing to both sides on the basis of character and moderate politics, something not very apparent in the 2016 election.

But should this fail, it reveals the need to fix the disparity intrinsic in the Electoral College. Whereas it makes sense for state representation to be equalized in Congress, since legislative proceedings involve more than the population of a state but also impact the infrastructure, environment, international relations, and economic welfare of those states (for example, South Dakota has certain incentives for credit card companies that cannot be found elsewhere). The Presidency, however, is a national concern and requires equal say across the nation.

The Electoral College comes from good intention—to give voice to the underrepresented. Maybe the California split will gain enough signatures to be voted upon, and maybe our grandchildren will grow up with 52 states, or the division could float into obscurity like the Jefferson proposal did. Either way, it’s important to strive for balance and fair representation for everyone, whether the powers in charge align with your views or not.

 

Two Levels of Democracy

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