At the Campus Conversation Thursday, University of Idaho political science professor Juliet Carlisle said the Electoral College is like a platypus.
“It”s sort of an anomaly,” she said. “Every time you look at it you see something different.”
Carlisle was invited to the Campus Conversation to discuss common misconceptions within the U.S. political system with the UI and Moscow community.
Carlisle said the Electoral College allocates a certain number of votes to each state, which are then represented by a corresponding number of electors and the votes of that state”s population are meant to influence the choice of their representatives.
Carlisle said only in rare cases will “faithless electors” make a choice that doesn”t correlate with their state”s votes. The candidate who receives 270 of the 535 total electoral votes wins the presidency.
She said this system was devised to buffer the masses and ensure that the loudest voices were not the only ones heard.
Carlisle said the idea behind this system was that campaigns would travel to areas where voters may have been lacking in education and inform the population to build a more stable election process. Yet, she said modern campaigns focus on the states that have more electoral votes and treat campaigning season as more of a popularity contest.
The group discussed where problems can arise in the current system, including cases where the electoral vote doesn”t equal the popular vote. The general consensus of the discussion suggested that many felt their electoral representation was no longer effective.
Latah County Sub-Caucus Chair David Morse said he thought the Electoral College system is unstable, but asked the group what they thought.
Carlisle said in some ways this system can help limit the influence of misinformed voters.
“Having this buffering system in some sense gives a little peace of mind,” she said.
Carlisle also addressed some concerns she and many others in the group shared. She said the electoral system works against third party candidates, registration in Idaho specifically is tedious and in some ways the populations of rural communities are over-represented.
Though some states have far more electoral votes than Idaho, the population to vote ratio is far more favorable in rural areas.
“Your vote in California might be worth much less than in Idaho,” Carlisle said.
ASUI Vice President Stetson Holman said he is frustrated that his vote doesn”t always matter.
“I can see why it might be even more frustrating for someone who lives in California that my vote actually matters way more,” Holman said.
ASUI Sen. Anne Zabala also voiced her concerns with the electoral system.
“For me it”s always interesting to revisit the history and the tradition behind the Electoral College, because I disagree with it,” Zabala said. “I would like to see a popular vote.”
Despite her frustrations, Zabala said she thinks involvement in local politics is very important.
“There”s a large barrier to voting because people think it doesn”t matter, and that”s because they”re uninformed about local politics,” Zabala said. “We have races in Idaho that are won by seven votes. On a state level a lot of those decisions are made that affect us, like tuition, et cetera.”
Zabala said she encourages students to caucus this election season.
“It seems complex, but you can break it down to understand it and find a place to participate,” she said.
Morse said the caucus is a great way to get involved because it doesn”t require any money for participation – anyone who is a registered Democrat can attend the Latah County Democratic Caucus.
Holman said this will be his first year caucusing and he hopes many students will also attend.
“I”m excited to caucus this season,” Holman said. “We should all go caucus together.”