Fox News is Very, Very Confused About the Electoral College

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Fiona Schaeffer, Opinion Editor

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said recently that the Electoral College was a “scam” and also called for it to be abolished. Like most things she says, these comments immediately came under fire by the right-wing pundits on Fox News like Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, and Dana Perino, who were quick to defend the institution of the Electoral College However, instead of making a strong case for why the Electoral College is not a scam, they fell back on false talking points and ad hominem attacks on Ocasio-Cortez. Except they forgot to mention one thing: whether they like the Electoral College or not, Ocasio-Cortez was correct– it is a scam.

Let’s look at the arguments of Fox News has used to defend the Electoral College, and why those arguments are false. Fundamentally, the Electoral College detracts from the principle of “one person, one vote”, meaning that some citizens’ votes count more than other citizens due to the ratio between the number of electoral votes a state has and the size of its population. Take for example Mississippi: the state has six electoral votes, and approximately 2.98 million residents. When you divide the total population by the amount of electoral votes, the math shows that each individual electoral vote covers about 496,667 citizens. New York on the other hand has twenty nine electoral votes, and approximately 19.5 million residents. Each electoral vote in New York represents 672,414 citizens. Because one electoral vote represents a lower number of people in Mississippi than New York, this means that the electoral votes in Mississippi are more representative than how the population actually votes. This means that states with smaller populations actually have more power than states with larger populations. Often you will hear that if the Electoral College is abolished, then small states– particularly in the heartland– would be forgotten. However, with the way the Electoral College is set up, small states are actually valued more than larger states, and therefore the votes of small states count more than states with larger populations. So, proponents of this argument believe that some votes matter more than other votes, particularly that the votes of smaller, middle-American states should count more than the votes of states with larger populations.

By calling to abolish the Electoral College, apparently Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is saying that Americans who live in rural parts of this country don’t matter, as without the college, elections would be decided by big cities. However, this framework of thought is flawed. First, every state with a big city also has rural areas which vote red, and every state made up predominantly of rural areas also has cities and counties which vote blue. You see, it is not so clear cut as Fox News wants its viewers to believe. Not everyone who lives in a city is a liberal, and not everyone who lives in the countryside is a conservative. Let’s go back to our example of Mississippi and New York. Mississippi is considered a Republican stronghold in the heartland of America. In the 2016 Presidential Election, of the eighty-two counties in the state, twenty-seven of them went blue, voting predominantly for Hillary Clinton, while the other fifty-five voted for President Trump– who ultimately won the state’s electoral votes. Then look at New York State– often believed to be one of the most progressive states in the Union is actually much more mixed in terms of political makeup. In 2016 of the sixty-two counties in the state, only seventeen went blue, and the other forty-five went red, meaning Trump got the majority of votes in those counties. Despite this, Hillary Clinton still won all of the state’s electoral votes. Fundamentally, basing presidential elections on the popular vote doesn’t give more power to cities, for the votes of cities will not count more; rather every single person’s vote would count equally– a conservative in a city and a liberal in a rural part of the country in separate states would wield the same respective power.

Even Fox News commentator Dana Perino admitted the flaws within the Electoral College when she attempted to defend it, saying: “majority rule is not what we were set up to have, we are a republic.” Let’s examine this statement, and why it actually makes the case for abolishing the Electoral College . First, Perino acknowledged that the Electoral College does not reflect the idea of majority rule, which according to Oxford University Press’ Lexico is defined as “the principle that the greater number should exercise greater power”. The opposite of majority rule is minority rule– meaning that the few get to determine the outcome for everyone else. This is certainly true in presidential elections in the United States. You see, the Electoral College is already biased, and it’s not biased towards big cities like New York City, Los Angeles, or Huston. As a result of the winner-take-all system, the Electoral College disregards the outcome of the popular vote; this shows that some votes really do count more than others. According to the national nonpartisan nonprofit Fair Vote, of the 130 million votes cast in the 2008 election, only about 40 million of those determined the actual outcome of the election. Let me explain what that means: in 2008, Barack Obama won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Nationwide, he received over 131 million votes. Within the Electoral College, he won twenty-nine states. Within the twenty-nine states he won, just over 39 million votes were cast for him. This means, that more than ninety million people voted for President Obama in either states he did not win, or increased the margin in states he had already securely won. The only votes which actually helped Obama win the election were the 40 million which were cast in the twenty-nine states he won. Fair Vote reports that if 70.39% of voters stayed home, Obama still would have won the election. Now, to Perino’s point that we are a republic: minority rule is actually not conducive to the idea of a democratic republic. If we define democracy as every person has a fundamental right to vote and that every vote should be equal, then the Electoral College is undemocratic. So, in essence, by advocating for minority rule within the Electoral College Perino is espousing undemocratic ideas, which is fundamentally anti-American.

You see, it’s not that the pundits on Fox News actually believe the Electoral College is good; they didn’t make a single true, rational case to keep it in effect. But rather, they support it because they understand that the Republican Party– which has in the past six years come to endorse white supremacy, normalize racism, undermine the rights of countless Americans, all while perpetuating all forms of bigotry possible– is deeply unpopular with the majority of people in this country. But so long as there is an Electoral College, the party will not have to undergo any serious self-reflection. As Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, “if the GOP were the ‘silent majority’ they claim, they wouldn’t be so scared of a popular vote.”