Americans believe they democratically elect the President, one vote per citizen. In fact only 538 people really vote for the President, the electors of the electoral college (EC). The EC is in the Constitution; its sole purpose is to meet a few weeks after the election to pick the president and the vice-president by majority vote. If the EC vote is tied the House of Representatives selects the president, 1 vote for each state (so small states constituting 18.8% of the people could chose the president). And because of gerrymandering America’s politicians get to select their voters more than those voters to get choose their representatives. So in the Pennsylvania House elections of 2012 the Democrats beat the GOP 50.28% to 48.77% but only won 5 out of 18 races (27.77%).
Each state legislature determines how the electors are selected, so the legislature could decide that they alone get to choose the electors if they wanted. States are assigned electors on the basis of their congressional delegation. Since each state has 2 senators and at least 1 House representative, this gives smaller states disproportionate influence in the EC. Wyoming has 1 electoral vote (EV) for every 192k (192,000) people, while California only gets an EV for each 719k people; Wyomingites’ votes count 3.75 times more than ours.
Moreover, in 48 states all electors are awarded to the winner of the plurality of the popular vote. So if the Democrats got 45% of the vote and the Greens got 9% while the GOP got 46% all that state’s electors would be awarded to the Republican candidate, even though a clear majority of the voters would have preferred a more progressive candidate. And winning a state big does not increase the number of electors a candidate is awarded. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won California 62% to 32%, crushing Trump by 4.3 million votes. She got 1 California elector for each 160k voters vs. Trump’s national average of 1 elector per 20.7k (and a national average of 1 EV per 24k).
These disproportions mean that in 5 elections out of 58 the winner of the popular vote lost the EC, which is 9% of the elections, including 2 of the last 5 elections in the 21st Century, which is 40%! Last time, Clinton beat Trump by over 2%, almost 3 million votes, and still lost the EC 227 to 304. Plus, electors do not even have to vote for the candidate that won their state, so-called faithless electors.
Advocates of the EC argue that the institution ensures that candidates campaign in small, rural states instead of just concentrating on the big cities, but this isn’t true because most small states are reliably conservative, not competitive, but the candidates also don’t spend much time in big, diverse urban states (except to raise money) because those states are also generally not competitive. In fact candidates spend about 56% of their time and money in only 4 “battleground” states. Only about 100 counties out of 3,141 actually matter in picking “the world’s most powerful person”.
Because small, rural states tend to be whiter and less educated than average, and these demographics skew Republican, Democrats could win the popular vote by 5-7 million+ and still lose the EC. In fact the GOP will win 2/3rds of close elections where they lose the popular vote. And the 3.6 million largely minority people in US territories have no voice at all in selecting the president. As more people move to the larger states this problem will grow worse.
Unfortunately, it might take a constitutional convention to fix this and several other glaring problems with American “democracy” because the small, conservative states will likely never vote to amend the constitution that advantages them and it is unlikely that enough of them will ever sign on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to put it into effect.