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The Electoral College: What is it and why is it controversial?

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Posted at 4:22 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 16:23:03-04

INDIANAPOLIS – You’ve probably heard of the Electoral College, and perhaps even recent pushes to eliminate it. But what is it, and how does Indiana factor into the decision to pick the country’s next president?

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is the system the United States uses to elect a new president. In this instance, a college isn’t a university, it’s a group of people called electors.

When a state has determined that a candidate has more votes, the electors cast all their votes to that candidate.

Whichever presidential candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes wins the election.

How does Indiana play into it?

In Indiana, when you vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden, you’re actually voting in favor of the Republican or Democratic electors.

Indiana has 11 electors, one for each of the states nine Congressional districts, and one for each of the state’s two senators. The Indiana Republican and Democratic parties have already chosen who their 11 electors would be if that party gets more votes for the 2020 election. The electors are the people who actually cast the votes for the candidate who wins Indiana’s 11 electoral votes.

Why is it controversial?

There has always been a degree of controversy surrounding the electoral college, but it really ramped up after the 2016 election, when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. In 2016, nearly 3 million more people voted for Clinton than Trump, but Trump ended with 77 more electoral votes than Clinton.

Proponents of the electoral college say it allows smaller states to play a role in the election. If the winner of a presidential election was chosen by a popular vote, candidates could focus on the most populous areas of the country, like California and Texas. Instead, the electoral college forces candidates to focus on more competitive smaller states, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Fans of the electoral college say it allows people from all over the country to have a say in the election.

Opponents of the electoral college point to the inequality in population to electoral votes. For example, Wyoming has three electoral votes and California has 55. But California has one electoral vote for every 718,000 people, while Wyoming has one electoral vote per 193,000 people, meaning a citizen’s vote in Wyoming is worth more electoral votes than a citizen’s vote in California.

Here’s another way to look at it: California has the same population as Idaho, West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, North Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Delaware, Mississippi, Vermont, Connecticut, Nebraska, Montana, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., and Nevada combined. But those states combine for nearly double of California’s electoral college votes, 96-55.