How can the Democrats make the American political system a bit fairer?

Everybody knows that the 2016 presidential election was won by Republican candidate Donald Trump even though the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won almost three million more votes. The explanation is that the President is not elected directly but chosen by an Electoral College which is biased in favour of the smaller rural states which generally vote Republican.

The bias is caused by the fact that, in accordance with the US Constitution, representation of each state in the College is on the basis of a combination of the number of members in the Senate (two for each state regardless of size) and the number of members in the House of Representatives (roughly proportional to population). 

For all practical purposes, the Constitution is unamendable in any substantive sense because the threshold for change is too great in such divisive times. A proposed amendment has to secure a two-thirds vote of members present in both houses of Congress. Then three-quarters of the state legislatures have to ratify the proposed change.

So, is there any way that the Electoral College (and the Senate) could be made a bit more representative of the American electorate short of amending the Constitution? There are at least three possibilities.

  1. At present, Washington DC has no representation in Congress but it does have three seats in the Electoral College on the grounds that, if it was a state, it would be entitled to two seats in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. If Washington DC was made a state, it would not change the composition of the College, but it would give the Democrats – the capital is very Democratic – two more seats in the Senate which electorally has a serious conservative bias.
  2. At present, the territory of Puerto Rico has no representation in Congress or in the Electoral College. If it were granted statehood, it would have one seat in the House, two in the Senate and three in the College. The Democrats would probably win all of these seats.
  3. At present, California – with a population of 40 million, by far the largest in the union – has two seats in the Senate, 53 in the House and therefore 55 in the College. If you combine the 23 smallest states in the union, collectively they have a population the same as California but no less than 46 seats in the Senate. If California – the largest of the states – was divided into four states, each with the standard two senators, this would give present-day California 8 seats instead of 2 in the Senate and 61 members instead of 53 in the College. Californians generally vote Democrat.

If, as I expect, the Democrats win the White House, the House and the Senate next month, they should make these changes and, in doing so, make the US federal system just a bit more democratic.


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