Let us try to understand the complete details of the electoral college system in the US and know why 270 electoral votes are required to get a majority of the Electoral College. It is important to understand that regular citizens do not vote directly for the President. In simple terms, they cannot choose the President on their own. All they can do is to vote for the 538 electors who later select the President and Vice President.
In this way, the common voters indirectly choose the President, and they cannot directly vote for say, Trump or Biden in the US 2020 election. The system is laid by the Constitution, and the 538 electors meet in their states and then vote for the President and Vice President. The President of the Senate, along with the Congress count the votes of these electors and then the President is chosen in this manner.
If we dig a little deeper into why this system was chosen in the first place, we get to know that the lawmakers were worried that voters might not make informed decisions and states having high populations would end up choosing the President. Some people were in favor of the Congress choosing the President and proposals were sent for a national popular vote. At this juncture, lawmakers felt that the Electoral College was the right path in between all these ideas.
California, which is the most populous state, has two senators and 53 congressmen. In this way, they get about 55 electoral votes. In the same way, Texas has two senators and 36 congressmen, so they get about 38 electoral votes. Smallest states like Alaska, Montana, Delaware, North Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont have very less population, and they have only one congressman each and get three electoral votes.
There are a total 538 electors, and the party that gets 270 electoral votes will win the Electoral College. The number of electors allocated to each state can be changed after every 10 years once it gets a constitutional mandate. As per the change in the population, the number of congressmen is changed, and some states may gain a seat while others may lose a seat. However, every state will have at least one congressmen, and it can never be zero.
When there is no clear majority for any side or when there is a tie among the electors, the election goes to the House of Representatives. In this case, each state’s delegation of lawmakers gets one vote. They will then choose among the top three majority electors. As per the 12th Amendment, the Vice President becomes the President when a majority is not gained within a certain duration.
As this sounds a little complicated for the average person, many people suggest that having a popular vote would be the best option. However, lawmakers explain the advantages of having the Electoral College system in this manner. When you have a small margin that is separated by less than 0.1%, most states may go for recounting of votes. If the popular vote system is adopted and the margin comes this close, then the votes for the entire country has to be recounted, and this can lead to a lot of chaos.
In 1960, for example, even though the difference in total votes was just 0.2%, John F Kennedy got a solid electoral college victory and became the President.
If the popular vote concept is implemented, it can lead to a lot of instability in terms of power-sharing between all the states. Also, White people will not have any power left with this formula, and only the minorities will get to decide the winner in every election. Bigger states like California, Texas and Florida will have an uneven advantage over smaller states like Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island. Such smaller states will not get any political importance, and nobody from those states can become national-level leaders.
The Electoral College system is already written into the Constitution, and it is very difficult to change this system. If people want to change the Constitution, it will take several years, and the Congress and state legislatures have to agree on a lot of things which looks impossible in any case.
Apart from that, there are many states that benefit a lot by having the Electoral College system, and they will have to give up some part of their power by choosing the popular vote system. It is obvious that they would not want to do that in any situation. If any shift has to happen from the Electoral College system to the popular vote system, it has to cross several lawsuits that will be filed across the country.
However, small changes have been made to the Electoral College itself since the last few decades. The 12th Amendment was passed after the elections resulted in a tie and electors were able to vote for the President and the Vice President instead of two candidates for the President.
Similarly, the 20th Amendment added a time limit to get the majority, and if the majority was not achieved in this time, the electors had other options as per the Amendment. During the 23th Amendment, electors were given to the District of Columbia.
Considering the present day scenario, it is next to impossible to change the Electoral College system as the states will not have a consensus on such a large issue. When a survey was conducted about choosing the popular vote system, many Americans said that it would make it easy to choose a President without any hassles. However, the numbers were not big enough to secure a constitutional change.
As the change in Constitution requires a lot of agreement and compromises between states, it would obviously lead to a lot of lawsuits and take many years of a legal battle to change the system. Considering all these hurdles, experts say that the electoral college system is the best option as this can help every state to have their electors, and they will be on par with the rest of the country in several aspects.