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Washington Watch: The Electoral College and why your vote STILL matters

Every four years when a presidential election comes around, so does discussion about the Electoral College: what it is, how does it work, why do we even have it in the first place?

The Electoral College balances power between very populous states and states with fewer residents.

MVNU political science Professor Dr. Terilyn Johnston Huntington explained why that is important.

“The electoral college is trying to even out population density,” she said. “So, it’s trying to give more power to small states. If [the election] was just based on popular vote, the cities, not states, but the cities of New York City, Chicago, and L.A. would determine the president of the United States just by their voter turn-out, because the population density is so great there.”

So states like Nebraska, North Dakota and other minimally populated states would have little to no voice.

“And, without the Electoral College, no political candidate would care about the issues affecting those states,” said Huntington. “It protects the interests of those small states.”

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors, who are distributed based on state population. Every 10 years the shares are reevaluated, based on the most recent census.

Ohio currently has 18 electoral votes.

“There are 538 electors in the United States that end up casting their vote for president,” Huntington said. “Those are the votes that are certified by each state’s Secretary of State, and given to the U.S. Congress to officially determine who won the election.”

In order to win the election, a candidate must secure 270 of those electoral votes.

Though this may sound like the popular vote does not matter, as the electors are the ones casting the vote, this is wrong.

“Electors vote in lockstep with the popular vote of the state they represent,” Huntington said. “So, your vote does matter, because that’s how this is determined.”

This means the electors vote based on the votes of their state residents.

But, no matter how small the margin of the popular vote, the winner takes all the electoral votes for that state.

This is how, in extremely rare instances, a candidate could take the popular vote and lose the electoral vote.

“It happens when it’s a really close race. It happened with Bush vs. Gore in 2000, because there was only a difference of 150,000 to 200,000 votes. That’s a crazy small margin,” Huntington said.

Ohio, being a swing state, and holding a rather large number of electors, is always a prize to be won by candidates.

Electors cannot change their votes after they have been chosen by the party to vote for their candidate.

“They are bound by rule, either by the party or the state, that they can’t be squirrely and cast their electoral vote for someone else,” explained Huntington. “They are cast as a block.”

There are two states that do not follow the winner take all rule: Maine and Nebraska. They each have 3 electors.

However, neither state has ever been close enough to split the votes.

In the end, Dr. Huntington urged voters to do their part by casting their vote.

“Just go vote,” she said. “Understand that your vote is your voice. It is your opportunity to be politically involved and have an impact on elections.”

She also reminds all citizens to be gracious, regardless of the outcome tomorrow morning.

“Be nice. Don’t be a jerk,” she said. “Don’t call your friend who’s candidate just lost and rub it in their face. Be Christ-like in victory and defeat.”

And above all else, Huntington reminds students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to remember that as people of faith, hope is found in a greater power than who will sit in the White House the next four years.

“The sun still shines tomorrow,” she said. “We’ve had great, mediocre and downright crappy presidents, and we have survived. We will be fine.”

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