Electoral College misrepresents the population

Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote has surpassed 2.5 million votes, as the Trump transition team prepares for a new administration. The Democratic candidate for president has won the most votes in four of the last five elections, but won only two of those races. Since Ronald Reagan, the Democrats have won the most votes an unprecedented six out of seven times, but they stand today as the minority party at almost every level of government.

Although there are many factors, such as the relative organizational capabilities of the two parties and over-politicization of the redistricting process, a large part of the explanation rests in constitutional compromises that were made by the small, agrarian states in 1789, which do not comport with the facts of the 21st century. Although the mechanics of the original Electoral College gave the citizens in Delaware 1.6 times as much power as those in Virginia, then the most populous state, today the citizens of the least inhabited state, Wyoming, have 3.6 times the impact as those in the most, California.


The geographic maps developed after elections that often show a sea of red are very misleading. Today half of the U.S. population lives in just 146 of the nation's 3,056 counties. And that trend is accelerating. New York City, for example, has a population 15 times larger than Wyoming in a land mass that is that is 1/3,200ths in size. The states carried by Secretary Clinton had a population density more than double that of her opponent.

The problem stems from the Connecticut Compromise at the Constitutional Convention, which was necessary to gain consensus for the Constitution, The compromise gave all states — large and small — two senators. This made sense in the context of the times in moving away from the Articles of Confederation, which required unanimous consent by each of the states.


More than two centuries later it is becoming untenable. The 100 U.S. senators translate into almost one fifth of the allocation of the votes in the Electoral College. Because many of the states have small and sparse populations, it is theoretically possible for states with just 17 percent of the U.S. population to form a Senate majority. The Democratic Senate Caucus that will convene in the new Congress in January will hold just 48 percent of the seats in spite of having popular vote totals of almost 53 percent compared with their nearest Republican opponents.

Although seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated according to the U.S. Census conducted every 10 years, the effect of increasingly partisan and computer-assisted gerrymandering has created a disparity between popular vote and congressional seats in the House, the part of government that the framers intended to represent the popular will.

The highly effective Republican Party program called Redmap focused on gaining control of as many state legislatures as possible in order to redraw congressional districts to maximum advantage after the 2010 Census. Accordingly, the congressional delegation in the bellwether state of Ohio flipped from 10-8 in favor of the Democrats to 4-12 after redistricting. In Pennsylvania, Democrats received only 28 percent of the House seats in spite of receiving 51 percent of the vote statewide. Nationally, in the last three elections held under the prior 2000 Census, Republicans received 46.2 percent of the popular vote and won 47.6 percent of all House seats. Since Redmap following the 2010 Census, however, Republicans have received 49.6 percent of the popular vote nationally, but have been awarded and have locked in majorities of 55.3 percent.

Tensions between the compromises made at the Constitution Convention and the realities of a geographically and demographically transforming nation were perhaps the principal causes of the outbreak of the Civil War.

Although hopefully less dire, there is now a rising tension between a system developed when America was 95 percent agrarian and a nation that is now over 80 percent urban and in which metropolitan areas, not states, drive the economy and innovation.

In the recent election, Ms. Clinton carried only 472 counties, but those counties generated a staggering 64 percent of total U.S. GDP. The states that voted for Ms. Clinton make net fiscal transfers into the national accounts of a positive $110 billion, while the states in the recent GOP electoral map withdrew $208 billion more than they contributed.

In moving forward, the blue states might well question the bargain which results in them being impeded in positioning themselves for a rapidly transforming, diverse and technological world while being constrained and increasingly controlled by states that have less population and which are net recipients of these capital flows. A fiscal transfer map of the U.S. is almost a negative image of the geographic red state/blue state maps plastered in news pages the day after elections.

Still, the American experiment — and it is still an experiment — is worth preserving. Federalism has its advantages if the concept of "laboratories" of democracy is honestly applied. All colors, creeds and voices — rural and urban, conservative and liberal — must be heard. In spite of the sobering obstacles of the unwieldy amendment process, the time for an open, honest discussion and reform has arrived.


David W. Wise is member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. His email is