It is somewhat ironic that after millions of Americans have voted for president, the vote that really counts is one taken by 538 electors. This system was written into the Constitution with the expectation that each state would choose its “wise and good” to meet together to decide on a president. The founders opposed the idea of political parties, but rapidly found themselves developing parties; the Federalists, more oriented toward England, and the Democratic Republicans, more oriented toward France. At the time the constitution was ratified, communication and travel were rudimentary. People’s main identification was with their state. It took decades after the Constitution was ratified for our language to shift from “The United States are” to “The United States is.” All of that has changed. Now we are Americans who happen to live in a particular state.
The system doesn’t work so well for us now. One problem is that voting by state makes many people feel that their votes don’t matter. A Republican in New York State, like a Democrat in Oklahoma, knows that their party is very unlikely to win the state, and hence their vote is irrelevant. That’s not good in a system of one person, one vote. Each American’s vote should count equally, and each American should feel equally important, no matter what state they vote in, or what party they favor.
Secondly, very occasionally an elector may not vote for the candidate who won their state’s election. This thwarts the whole democratic process.
Third, sometimes the winner of the popular vote loses in the Electoral College. This means that the President-elect starts with a diminished mandate, because more Americans voted for the opponent.
It would require a constitutional amendment to shift to a popular vote system. We should start thinking hard about the desirability of this reform.