But the 17th Amendment established direct election of senators in 1913, and the difference in population between the largest and smallest states has vastly increased since the Constitution was written. The current Democratic minority in the Senate was elected with more votes than the Republican majority, and by 2040, based on population projections, about 70 percent of Americans will be represented by 30 percent of senators.
Nearly a century ago, Carroll H. Wooddy published an academic paper that examined the likelihood of “unrepresentative votes” in the Senate, by which he meant votes in which senators on the winning side represented fewer Americans than senators on the losing side. He concluded that these votes happened infrequently, largely because “there has been no continuous alliance of thinly populated states against the more densely peopled areas.”
Today, of course, population density is very much correlated with partisanship, and the makeup of the Senate is unrepresentative of the population not only in party but in race, gender, age and other characteristics.
Supporters of the Electoral College argue that it protects less-populous states, ensuring that their interests aren’t overridden by those of, say, New York and California. At the same time, opponents note that the system means candidates pay attention only to a small number of states, and that it devalues the votes of people in either party who live in a state dominated by the other. Republicans in Illinois don’t affect presidential elections, and neither do Democrats in Tennessee.
It remains to be seen whether the 2020 election will give new fuel to efforts to eliminate or circumvent the Electoral College, which have always been long shots even though a majority of Americans — 61 percent in a Gallup poll released in September; 58 percent in a Pew Research Center poll in March — believe it should be abolished.
John Koza, the chairman of National Popular Vote Inc., said his group — which has been pushing state legislatures for years to sign on to a compact in which states would pledge to award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote — planned to lobby intensively next year in states including Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The compact has already been signed by states, mainly blue, totaling 196 electoral votes, but it will not take effect unless that number reaches 270.
Dr. Koza, a computer scientist who taught at Stanford University, argues that the Electoral College should be abolished not because it systematically benefits one party over the other, but because it increases the odds that election results will be challenged even when Americans’ overall preference is clear — precisely what is happening now.