Presidential Elections Inequality: The Electoral College in the 21st Century

T he Electoral College is more than just an antiquated anachronism that can misfire and elect the candidate who loses the national vote; it has come to establish and entrench political inequality. When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney were slow to go to the scene. The 2004 campaign certainly hadn't helped them know the way; in the last five weeks of the campaign, the major party presidential and vice-presidential candidates traveled a whopping 61 times to Florida, but not once to Louisiana and 25 other states.

As proven definitively in FairVote's new reports The Shrinking Battleground and Who Picks the President?, the Electoral College system will, if not reformed, relegate two-thirds of Americans to the sidelines during presidential elections for years to come. Today, record-setting campaign resources are targeted at just a handful of states. Voter mobilization money, advertising dollars, campaign energy, candidate visits and almost certainly policy decisions are all spent to sway voters in roughly a dozen states. That number of competitive states is far smaller -and more consistent election to election- than it was just two decades ago. The result is rapidly growing inequality in voter turnout, especially among young people. Racial fairness is undermined because these states are disproportionately white.

The American people have reliably supported a national popular vote for president, but public support has not led to change. Reform efforts have started and ended in Congress as Constitutional Amendments. Even in 1969, when more than 80% of House Members voted for direct election and backers included the NAACP, AFLI-CIO, Chamber of Commerce, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Senate opponents were able to kill direct elections with a filibuster.

The problems the Electoral College created in the 1960s were real, but nothing like what it does to democracy today. Still, reformers' despair about the potential to abolish the Electoral College has severely limited debate about what the Electoral College does to our modern democracy. To correct this failure, in 2005 FairVote established our Presidential Elections Reform program. We have helped show that our talk of a national vote for president is not just an intellectual exercise. The program has helped develop a coalition of groups and individuals to support the National Popular Vote campaign designed to achieve a national popular vote for president through action in the states. The program's major reports The Shrinking Battleground and Who Picks the President? have established with clarity and power that electing the president state by state rather than nationally hurts our democracy.

This publication collects these reports and other fact sheets and writings from the Presidential Elections Reform program. We believe it will be an essential resource for those seeking to base American democracy on every American having an equal and meaningful vote.

Download the report (.pdf 716kB)