Video: #AskOBI: Why the Electoral College poses a threat to democracy

Video

November 19, 2020

The Othering & Belonging Institute's political participation analyst Josh Clark explains the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College. Despite Joe Biden getting over five million votes more than Donald Trump, the election in theory could have been decided by just 50,000 or so votes in key swing states. 

Transcript:

Josh ClarkWow, some close election, right? Well no, not really, and also yes. Today, I want to explain to you why both of those things can be true and what it tells us about the outdates way that we elect presidents in the United States. So first, let's put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' victory into some historical perspective.

Already the Biden-Harris ticket has set the record for the most ever earned by any presidential ticket in US history. The votes are not done being counted though. And by the time they are all counted, it looks as though Biden and Harris will have won well over eighty million votes, which is more than ten million votes more than the previous record held by Barack Obama. 

Some of you are saying, "Okay fine... but didn't Donald Trump also win more votes than Barack Obama ever won? Isn't this really just a story about population growth and that there are more voters out there?" There is something to that. 

But political scientist Jason McDaniel has helpfully pointed out that Biden and Harris actually also won a higher percentage of all eligible voters in the US than any presidential ticket has in almost fifty years. So that is not just about there being more voters. That's about sky-high turnout plus a very large margin of victory of give to probably more like six million votes going to Biden and Harris. 

But as everyone knows, you don't win the presidency in the United States by votes. You win it by states in the Electoral College. And here is where the election actually does feel really close. 

Doing the math, for Trump to actually win the Electoral College would require gaining about forty-seven thousand additional votes in three states - Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin. 

Think about that. Forty-seven thousand votes. In an election where the popular vote margin was five to more likely six million votes when all the votes are counted. The fact that those forty-seven thousand votes would be enough to overturn the six million votes is a very very big problem and tells you a little bit about how undemocratic the Electoral College system is.