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EDITORIAL: The Electoral College doesn't add up

York Dispatch Editorial Board

By Thursday morning, it was obvious that Joe Biden had received more votes than President Donald Trump in Tuesday's presidential election.

In fact, Biden had received more votes than anyone running in the U.S. had ever gotten, with more than 72 million people casting their ballots for him to become the next president and more votes still being counted.

And yet, no one could say definitively that he had beaten Trump, even though Trump had less than 69 million votes in his column, because everything depended on where those 72 million voters live.

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As exhausted election workers in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and other states continue to tally the votes, it's becoming more and more obvious that the U.S. system for electing the president needs to change. The Electoral College, which was meant to ensure that highly populous areas didn't run roughshod over more rural regions, is now disenfranchising voters who happen to live in the wrong state.

Let's look at the numbers.

In Pennsylvania, with 20 electors and 12.8 million residents, each Electoral College vote represents 640,099 people. California, the most populous state, has 39.5 million residents and 55 electors, so each elector represents 718,404 people.

On the other hand, in Wyoming, with three electors and 578,759 residents, each elector represents 192,919 people.

So much for one person, one vote.

The Electoral College —  and the U.S. Senate, for that matter — hands a lot of power to sections of the country where few people live. That was a major point when it was set up, to ensure that the president couldn't be elected on the basis of a strictly regional popularity, along with boosting the two-party system.

And most of the time, the Electoral College doesn't really come into play. There have only been four times when the candidate who won the popular vote didn't also win the Electoral College vote.

But now, those rare instances seem to be becoming more common. The first time it happened was in 1876. The second was 1888. 

Skip forward more than a century to 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush became president.

We all know what happened in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Trump took the Electoral College and the White House. 

And while it seems unlikely at this point, there's a possibility that that scenario could play out again. 

Looking at the U.S. map, there are wide swaths of red across the South and the Midwest, while blue areas are confined to the Northeast and West. 

But land doesn't vote. People do. And the votes of people who live in the vast expanses of empty space in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas shouldn't count more than the votes of people who live in studio apartments in New York City or in a suburban home in York County.

Theoretically, if one candidate received every vote from the 10 most populous states, they could win the popular vote. But there are almost never elections where one candidate wins every vote, even on the level of a borough, so to win the popular vote for the whole country, a candidate has to have broad appeal.

A voter casts her ballot at the drop box at the York County Administrative Center Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. County employees checked voters ballot to make sure they were submitted correctly. Bill Kalina photo

But to win 270 votes in the Electoral College, a candidate only has to receive more votes than the other candidates in the 11 most populous states or the 39 less populous states. Not even a majority, just more than the others.

Republicans have played this electoral math twice in the past 20 years to put men in the White House who didn't have as many Americans backing them as the Democratic candidates. No matter what happens in the current election, there's no reason for this antiquated system to be a stumbling block. We need a better way to elect a person who represents the whole country.