Voters cast their ballots at the Natrona County Fairgrounds during the Aug. 18 primary election. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

I have friends in Wyoming who will not vote for a president this November. They know their vote will not count toward the election, so, as an act of protest, they’re not voting at all. I utterly disagree with this repudiation of the most basic American right — in my opinion, it is the duty and privilege of every eligible American citizen to vote — but I do understand the sentiment.

The president and vice president of the United States are not elected by a plurality of the popular vote: They are elected by the Electoral College, a  group of 538 people selected from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to represent those places in the election. 

The number of electors from each state is equal to the combined number of senators and representatives. In Wyoming, we have three electors because we have two senators and one representative. Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Delaware and Washington, D.C. all also have just three electoral votes. Colorado has nine, Pennsylvania has 20, Texas has 38.

For 48 states, including Wyoming, it is winner-take-all in the Electoral College. Whoever wins the popular vote in each of these states receives all the electoral votes. For example, in the 2016 presidential election, 174,419 Wyoming residents voted for Donald Trump, 55,973 residents voted for Hillary Clinton, 13,287 voted for Gary Johnson and 12,170 people voted for other candidates. Because Donald Trump won a plurality of votes, he got all three electoral votes, which made moot the votes of 81,430 Wyoming residents.

This was the case for some 52 million Americans in 2016 — more than one-third of the total number of voters. Some 63 million American citizens voted for Donald Trump and 73 million voted for Hillary Clinton or some other candidate.

Despite that, due to the winner-take-all approach by 48 states, Mr. Trump became president because he was the first to receive 270 electoral votes, the magic number (majority of 538 total votes). Note that nearly 250 million people were eligible to vote in 2016 and only 136 million actually cast ballots; 114 million Americans, 45% of the country, failed to perform their most basic civic duty.     

The Electoral College is written into the Constitution (Article II, Section 1), but the winner-take-all approach is not. States are allowed to choose how they award their electoral votes. 

Many scholars, including myself, believe the winner-take-all approach is not merely undemocratic, but unconstitutional and self-evidently unfair. 

Presidential campaigns essentially ignore all states where the electoral outcome is obvious (Wyoming will go Republican, Maryland will go Democratic), and focus instead on six key swing states: Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. Combined, those states represent 101 of the 270 electoral votes needed to take the White House. 

In the 2016 election, both Trump and Clinton spent 99% of their ad dollars and 95% of their campaign visits on these six states and eight others considered potential swing states. In 2020, you haven’t seen Biden spend much time or treasure on Texas, and Trump has ignored California, but both have invested heavily in Florida. Since both candidates know they must win the electoral votes in swing states, and because of winner-take-all, they essentially ignore the other 44 states in the union.

Three of the swing states are located in the Great Lakes region, the other three in the Sun Belt. These six states do not accurately represent the needs and wants, hopes or dreams of voters in other parts of the country — the Northeast, Northwest, Midwest and some of the Mountain West. Wyoming and many other states are essentially ignored as a result. 

There is a way out of this electoral mess: States should abandon winner-take-all and apportion electoral votes according to actual votes. If a candidate wins 60% of the popular vote in a given state, then he or she receives 60% of the electoral votes. This change has not happened because of partisan biases.

There is one way out of this electoral maze short of a constitutional amendment: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — an agreement in which states award their electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote. Fifteen states and Washington DC have ratified this agreement, accounting for 196 electoral votes. In five more states, another 64 electoral votes, a decision on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is pending. If these five states ratify NPVIC, we will only need a couple more states to do so, and winner-take-all will be history. 

I hope to see that occur. We need a system in which our rights and responsibilities match the value of our vote.

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  1. The states are sovereign and the US is not a nation-state, so unless you abolish the states, there is no way to avoid the current electoral college system. The electoral college ensures that all states are represented fairly and that a few large states with different value systems and political parties do not impose their will on smaller states. The states should remain sovereign, and no, there should not be a national popular vote, because there is not a nation, but united, and INDEPENDENT states voting separately. The founders believed that the average voter was not smart enough to vote directly, and based on what I am seeing, many voters have no idea how the selection for President occurs or that each state is individual. That’s frightening. The founders wanted a weaker center, checks, and balances, and shared power to avoid the tyranny of another Great Britain. Nothing has changed.

  2. There’s a reason for the EC and its exact implementation. That is so Hillary’s New York or Nancy’s California cannot crush (what is to them) “lowly” Wyoming and Montana and such. I am fairly certain that well over 85% of the “abolish EC” crowd are straight ticket Democratic voters (which means, resentful or vengeful losing HIllary voters). Personally, I’m not a fan of Tyranny of the Majority and the “abolish” crowd shows nary a whisper of evidence that their motive is just that – Tyranny of the Majority..

  3. To me the EC shows the brilliance of the Founders. Back then population centers were Philadelphia and New York and the popular vote would have negated the rest of the country. Now the population centers are somewhat different. I would not like Wyoming to be controlled by Seattle, L.A., Chicago, and New York with their far different value systems.

  4. First I’d like to commend the large number of people
    who have contributed thoughtful and well written responses!
    I’d prefer to eliminate the electoral College,
    but forbidding winner-take-all rules is almost as good,
    and is the solution which is the best compromise.
    It has many benefits.
    1) It doesn’t require changing the Constitution,
    because it preserves the electoral college,
    which will keep the support of low population states.
    2) It encourages participation in states with lopsided
    support for political parties, which strengthens all parties.
    3) It reduces the motivation to focus campaigns on swing states,
    since many, non-swing states could each contribute a few electoral
    votes, instead of a few swing states each contributing many votes.
    4) It may reduce partisanship, since there will be more
    efforts to win voters in the middle instead of the extremes.
    5) It would reinforce the idea that WTA is almost never
    the best solution. Yes, there are situations where we need
    a single person to make decisions quickly and unambiguously,
    so we elect a single president, but in most situations
    the work and rewards should be broadly distributed.
    6) There is a strong argument, based on the values and language
    in the Constitution, for giving fair representation to
    all citizens whenever possible.
    The Electoral College itself does not give fair representation,
    but it is perverse to amplify that by using a winner-take-all
    system.

    If you agree and would like to support a legal challenge
    to winner-take-all, visit https://equalcitizens.us/equal-votes/.

  5. We live by the principle of “one person, one vote,” and by that alone we should ditch the Electoral College.
    Also, as others have replied, when the Constitution was written, the EC was a pragmatic accommodation of slave states and based on the ability of a voter (white, male, land-owning) to be able to judge the candidates. So, please don’t invoke “founding fathers” to defend the EC.
    One of the silliest arguments I have heard in favor the EC was in the House Corporations Committee last February, who said a popular vote would sideline Wyoming in presidential campaigns. No one would pay attention to us, they said. Oh, like they do now?, I asked.
    This is a national election for our national chief executive. Our votes should be counted on a national level, not a state level.
    Until we can have presidential election by popular vote, the compact is the solution.

    1. Agree.

      The electoral college, like senate apportionment at the federal level, is a non-democratic “institution” which should have been abolished long ago. It is no more than a mockery of our supposed democracy, about which politicians constantly bawl–with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

  6. The EC doesn’t do a disservice to Wyoming. It does a disservice to states with a higher population. In WY, each 192,579 votes counts towards an Electoral College vote (elector). In CA, it’s 719,292. So, a vote in WY counts 3.7 times more than the same vote in CA.
    The EC does a disservice to large states like CA, NY and TX.

  7. I was taught in school that the electoral college was there to be a check against the uneducated hordes from reverting to a monarchy by electing an unscrupulous president. Maybe we do need to tweak the system.

  8. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would make ” moot” the vote of all Wyoming citizens. We are United States, not the United Nation of America. Giving away your states electoral votes to the popular vote gives away your states right to the will of those who have no vested interest in your state. And your comment “which made moot the votes of 81,430 Wyoming residents.”, is inaccurate. Because you vote and your candidate doesn’t win does not make your vote “moot”.

  9. First, we should all remember that one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers settled for the Electoral College compromise is they feared the people were to uneducated to make a good choice themselves. Second, the drafters of the Constitution assumed that electors would vote according to their individual discretion, not the dictates of a state or national party. That certainly is not the case and those who insist we should stick to the “way it was originally intended” ought to be fighting to remove restrictions on electors so they can follow the original intent and vote however they want.

    The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is one solution, but it is certainly not the only solution. The proportional distribution of delegates (rather than the current winner takes all), like the original Electoral College, is a compromise. As such it is not a perfect solution and there are things that would still need to be addressed (like minor party candidates). It is however, a step forward in re-enfranchising and empowering voters whose votes are ignored in an all or nothing system. If candidates thought they might get even one of our three electoral votes it might encourage them to pay a little more attention to smaller states.

    1. Hunh? What makes this BS? And what wisdom do you have that allows you to declare that this is against the founders’ wishes and wisdom? Our founding fathers well understood that this country would not be a static, European state, unable to move past sclerotic habits–they built into our Constitution the mechanics to change to reflect a changing electorate. Read, think and then post, instead of following the kneejerk reactions of the terrified right wing!

    2. @ Paul Butler:
      Sure … “wisdom”
      And the majority belief that money and belongings/property (e.g. SLAVES) has/have more value than “actual” people … as long as those “people” don’t have the sufficient “property value” according to the state they live in … you know, “states rights” … the ability of individual states to enfranchise or disenfranchise their citizens by that state’s own unique methods and voter “eligibility requirements”. Jim Crow laws mean anything to you?
      I read recently that a slave owner owned 5,000 slaves in Mississippi. That number corresponded to the equivalent of 3,000 “citizens” (the 3/5 rule). So those 5,000 enslaved humans were OWNED by an individual who had the voting equivalency of 3,000 poor Yankees living and working in New England.
      THAT’s what the Electoral College represents to me.
      But I’m just a “leftist” spouting BS.

  10. I kind of like the idea of apportioning a state’s electoral votes according to whichever candidate won them. For example, as I understand it, if Wyoming has three electoral votes, and 3/4 of the citizens vote Republican, the Repub would get two electoral and the Democrat would get one. Is that correct? But what if the vote was split 50/ 50? Would that mean the electoral votes went one and a half to one candidate and one and a half to another? So the national popular vote idea seems more practical if not exactly any more fair than the current system. The commenters above should remember that population changes also affect election outcomes. Colorado was every bit as red as Wyoming until hordes of people from other states began moving here about 7 or 8 years ago. .There are still small pockets of very right wing Republicans ( see district 3) but most of us are blue–why as a former Wyoming Democrat who always voted, I no longer feel, as one Laramie friend put it, as if I’m ” spitting in the wind.” And why Arizona will go blue this election– demographic changes..

  11. The Electoral College prevents the tyranny of the majority, just like the U.S. Senate does. That’s why the Founding Fathers created it. CA is a one-party control totalitarian state, like the Soviet Union. You are lucky to be in WY. If you don’t like it, move to CA.

    1. There was no intent on the part of the Founding Fathers to “prevent the tyranny of the majority”–the Electoral College was a way to appease the Southern States (see 5/8ths of a citizen clause) and bring our Southern “aristocracy” on board–no more, no less–pure politics.

    2. Respectfully, the point of reforming the electoral college is specifically to give voice to voters in states such as CA. A Republican in CA has no voice in national elections, neither does a Democrat in WY. That is not right. If the electoral vote of a state is split to reflect the popular vote within that state, then everyone starts to have a say again. Nebraska and Maine already take an approach along these lines. Note that the electoral college would not disappear under such a reform, there would still be extra weighting of less populous states.

      It is also worth remembering that the electoral college has changed drastically in the way it works since the founders created it; so reform is not unprecedented. Indeed, a reform, such as the quite modest option I just mentioned would improve the functionality of our republic considerably and thus is congruent with traditional American ideals. As you say, a Republican in CA has no voice; reform would fix that.

    3. you really didn’t read and understand the article did you?

      i would suggest getting a grasp on the idea that was written about. this is nothing new. as others have stated, other states have this process implemented already. this is not a “communist”, “socialist”, or “left wing conspiracy”. please educate yourself more before you start spouting the same tired rhetoric about a process you may not fully comprehend..

      cheers

    4. During my 52 years in CA, there was a mix of governors from both parties. Richard Nixon carried the state in both his successful runs for the presidency. Ronald Reagan was elected governor twice and carried the state in both his successful runs for the presidency. From ’82 to ’94 CA elected Republican governors. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced the recalled Democrat, Gray Davis, for the remainder of Davis’s term and served another full term of his own.

      The rural areas of CA are just as insular and conservative as any found in Wyoming. The state is hardly totalitarian, though it comes close to it in those same rural areas, which often are dominated by livestock farmers or corporate crop farms. It provides a degree of citizen control through the processes of recall, referendum, and initiative, providing its citizens far more direct oversight of governmental actions than is found in Wyoming.

      Finally, over the years I met a number of people who had moved into CA from WY, because of the state’s better employment opportunities. They liked the scenery, too, even though much of it had been destroyed over the years with subdivisions, malls, and strip malls. Humans tend to behave that way.

    5. Is Coto de Caza the exclusive gated community in SoCal? Or are there other Coto de Cazas in the state?

  12. Without the electoral collage the coast states would controll all the voting and our vote would not make any difference. We would lose this country to the people who like open borders and don’t love this great country. Totally amazing that education has failed the people that claim to be educated!!! It’s amazing to me how much the people want society to fail ….

    1. “The Electoral College is written into the Constitution (Article II, Section 1), but the winner-take-all approach is not. States are allowed to choose how they award their electoral votes.

      Many scholars, including myself, believe the winner-take-all approach is not merely undemocratic, but unconstitutional and self-evidently unfair. ”

      The author is not saying to remove the electoral college, yet remove winner take all. For one thing its the electoral college not “collage”. Half the comments on this article fail to grasp the difference.

    2. I would like to point out the EC was corrupted from the beginning as Madison’s intent was for the House and the Senate to pick the President and I for one am willing to go back to that intent as I hear Originalist bandied about quite a bit.

      After the first corruption of the EC, the next one was the 17th Amendment which stripped the Governor and State Legislators power by forcing the popular election of Senators. The popular election of Senators allowed for the Wall Street boys to buy one easier (see John Barrasso for example) and thereby reduced turn over in the Senate. Prior to the passage of that amendment the Governor would be picking a Senator right now and that process binds that Senator more to the State than the current process and dollars to donuts ole Cynthia Lummis would not be in the mix and neither would Merav Ben-David.

      When the 17th was passed to popularly elect the Senate, then to counterbalance that effect, the President should have been popularly elected.

      PS Apportionment of electors based on the percentage of the vote is a good way to make sure all of the will of the people is considered as winner take all is a corruption as well. It would be easy and interesting to run the apportionment scenario and see whom would have won.

      1. Greg, well said. I am going to research and see if somebody has already done reapportionment scenario.