How Much Is Your Vote Actually Worth? An Examination of the Electoral College

General Health

This article is a slight deviation from our normal content, though it certainly relates to your overall well-being.

We won't get into politics — release sighs of relief now — but will journey into the often confusing concept of the electoral college, and then eventually dip briefly into the issue of inequality.

But first — the electoral college. Every election, many people wonder: What is the electoral college and who goes there?

electoral college classroom

What is the Electoral College?

First, you can't apply to the electoral college — it's not a school, or even a place. Rather, it's the process through which our presidents are elected. So when you cast your vote on election day, you are actually casting your vote for the electoral college.

According to the Office of National Archives and Records, the founding fathers created the electoral college to be a "compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens."

In the electoral college "process", electors are selected, the electors meet to cast their votes, and then the votes are counted by Congress. Each state gets one "elector" for each member of Congress and each member of the House of Representatives.

It's interesting to note that these electors don't have to vote with their state's popular vote, though it's rare for them to go against it (historically, over 99% have gone with the popular vote).

What Is Your Vote Worth?

Now that we've established what the electoral college is (not a school) and that you're actually voting for these "electors" since the popular vote is filtered through this electoral college process, what's the trickle-down effect?

That is, not every vote has equal weight, so what is your vote worth? Let's take a closer look.

To form our data we used state population data (from World Population Review) alongside the number of electoral votes in each state. Using these data we've come up with proprietary "power" rankings — that is, relying totally on mathematics, we've come up with the relative "power" of each citizen's vote to the overall process of electing a president.

The Power of Each Person's Vote By State

We can see that, because of the electoral college, the importance of each individual's vote varies widely by state, and the gaps in relative power are quite extreme.

This is an important idea — and super relevant in today's agenda of moving toward equality — because if we are placing less importance on the votes of particular groups (states with large populations) compared to other groups (states with smaller populations), it means we are saying some opinions matter less than others. By proxy this means they ultimately will have less say in who's elected (short-term effects) as well as the direction of our nation's policies (long-term effects).

Conclusions We Can Draw

The electoral college is an old-fashioned process that was established back when each state was nearly its own sovereign — frightened of being "overpowered" by a federal government — when the concept of banding together as a unified nation was relatively new. The electoral college was created, essentially, because the founders did not trust the people to decide — a notion which undercuts the very idea of democracy in the first place.

It's safe to say that many backwards ideas still exist in our world (and our country) today. People are not infallible; the world, bureaucracies, and individuals are often resistant to change of any kind.

But let's be clear: Things are happening today that in fifty years we will look back on and shake our heads. This is the human condition; we are imperfect creatures — we make mistakes (many) and try to correct as we go along, (hopefully) learning from them and doing better next time.

Perhaps we need to stop relying completely on a document that was created 229 years ago by men who were incredibly smart, yes, but who also were imperfect and subject to the same slew of miscalculations and errors as us modern folk. The truth is that times have changed, and the Constitution — as the foundation lain beneath our society — needs to be examined for cracks.