The Electoral College… a view from 17 year old me.

My husband and I were talking about the electoral college and our shared frustrations about it.  I’ve felt this way for a very very long time.  The following is a letter I sent to Senator Grassley in the spring of 1999… and I still had a copy of it saved on my computer!  That summer I would gain the right to vote.  That fall, I would cast my vote for George W. Bush, who won the election not because he won the popular vote, but because he won the electoral college.  Even having had my candidate succeed, I still disagreed with how it came to happen.  And I felt that way as a resident of a “sparsely populated state.”  I’m in a different place today than I was then and support different political perspectives… and can’t help but call back to this letter when, yet again, a candidate has lost the popular vote, but won the electoral college. 

March 21, 1999


Dear Senator Grassley,

In the fall of 2000, millions of Americans across the nation will be going to the polls to cast their vote for the next President. I am lucky enough to be one of those individuals who will be voting for the first time. Nothing excites me more than the opportunity to participate in one of the most essential elements in a democracy… the right to vote. I have already begun looking at candidates and deciding which one I think best represents my opinions and moral views. Just when I was getting into it, I realized I was wrong. I will not be voting for a President on November 7, 2000. Rather, I will be voting for a list of citizens who have ‘dedicated’ themselves to a particular candidate or party.  I will be voting for electors in the Electoral College.

I had always believed that living in a democracy we should all have the right to vote, and that we should all be represented equally. I was extremely disappointed when I realized that this is not so. “The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address… can only mean one thing- one person, one vote” (Braun and Longley 15). This statement, made in the Gray vs. Sanders case, was what I had always envisioned democracy to be. One person, one vote. After all, we are a government of, by, and for the people. Why is it then that we must have this intermediate stage of the Electoral College? Not only is this process outdated but the small states actually have an advantage in many situations. Another aspect, called the unit system, is unrepresentative of the people’s vote. The current way that we elect our Presidents needs to be reformed or abolished.

The Electoral College was “merely a jerry-rigged improvisation…” says John P. Roche (qt. in Braun and Longley 22). It was the second choice to many from its creation. Some believed that Congress should elect the President and some thought that the direct vote of the people was the right way (Peirce 41). Nevertheless, at that time, the people of the United States were spread out and did not have means of communication. In fact, the candidates could not campaign because it would have taken years to inform the country about their stance, therefore, citizens were incompetent to elect a President. This was the reason that in that time, the elector system seemed to be the best plan. In today’s technological world, information travels around the world instantaneously and we are competent to make our own decisions. “What really moved the delegates to accept [it]… were certain practical considerations dictated not by political ideals but by the social realities of the time- realities that no longer exist” (Braun 25).

One of the biggest compromises in the Electoral College was over the populated states vs. sparse states controversy. The following are three ways in which the sparse states have gained not only equal footing, but also an advantage over populated states. In the original plan, formed by members of a special committee, the states would receive electors according to the number of representatives from both the House and the Senate. This benefited the sparse states because whereas Vermont would have had a 1:4 ratio vote with West Virginia based on population alone, the addition of the two votes made the ratio 3:6, or 1:2. Also, the national average for people per electoral vote is 333,314; however, some less populated states like Alaska and South Dakota have 75,389 and 170,129 respectively. Meanwhile, Kentucky and California are getting the short end of the stick because they have 337,573 and 392,930 respectively (Peirce 263).

Another aspect that the committee decided on was what to do if there was not a majority of votes for any given candidate. They concluded that the House of Representatives would decide the President. To protect the sparse states, each state only had one vote, regardless of population. Then they were on equal footing with the populated states and could not be outvoted.

One of the major concerns of sparse states is that if the Electoral College is changed, they will lose some of their edge and will not have any say in who gets to be President. The twelve largest states could indeed vote and take the election, but all of those states would have to agree unanimously with each other for that to happen. In the history of the United States, there has never been an instance where all of the sparse states were overruled by the populated states. No clear set of different interests has been shown in relation to size. Most of the disagreements are over ideas, economics, and regional issues. One politician has called it the “Great Irrelevancy” (Peirce 262). The truth of the matter is that if we did not have the Electoral College system, we would not even have to worry about what state a person was from. It would be one person, one vote.

One of the most undemocratic aspects of the entire Electoral College is the unit voting system. All of the states except for Maine are currently running under a system that gives all of the state’s electoral votes to the candidate with the state’s majority and none to any of the other candidates. In the 1960 election, Kennedy and Nixon won the two states of New York (45 votes) and California (32 votes) respectively. Although both of these individuals had nearly the same percentage in each state, Kennedy had a larger lead with seven votes, simply because he won the larger state (Peirce 138).

Candidates can easily gain votes by trying to look appealing to a certain group of people: a minority, special interest, or lobbyist group. These organized groups have immense bargaining power, especially in those large states with so many electoral votes at risk. They can dominate presidential campaigns, and invite fraud, corruption, illegal fundraising and such tactics to come into our governmental system (Peirce 152).

Another thing that the Electoral College unit system does is discourage voters from going to the polls. In “safe states” or states where there is an overwhelming majority of a party, either democratic or republican, why would someone want to vote? All of the votes of his state are going to the candidate anyway, so why vote? Furthermore, the party that is in the minority may not feel the need to vote because their votes will not count in the Electoral College. They will end up adding votes to the candidate they were voting against (Politics 94). In fact, from 1908-1945, 372 million votes were cast for presidential candidates. Forty-four percent of those votes, or 163 million, were minority votes that did not count (Peirce 138).

The unit system was added to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, but 13 states asked the Supreme Court to look over this system again and require the states to split their electoral votes to reflect the population (Peirce 190). According to this plan, the votes would be divided in each state according to the popular vote (Braun 49). It is an easily comprehendible solution, and at least two parties are encouraged in each state because the votes for minor parties are reflected. In addition, there would be less fraud because you would limit the power of organized minorities or interest groups (Braun 54). However, if we are going to change it this much, why not change it all the way?

The current way that we elect our Presidents needs to be reformed or abolished. Some will say, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” What they do not see is the imminent danger that occurs when there is a close election, like in 1992 where there were three major candidates (Carey). In the elections where a candidate had a 3% or less advantage on the opponent, 30% of the time, he was not elected. According to some experts, there is no better than a 50/50 chance that the President will be the candidate who won the popular vote (Goldstein 34). This is all due to the Electoral College. It was created as a compromise, but is now outdated. The sparse states are given too much power, when we should all be equal. The way that the electoral votes are given to the candidate is unrepresentative of the people in each state. Is this a system that you are willing to allow continue? Am I supposed to just sit back and let others decide for me, or will I actually be able to choose who the next President is? I urge you to bring this to the attention of others. It’s time for a change. It’s time to let the people vote.



Katie Ziskovsky

Claiming Our Inheritance

When I came home from our United Methodist General Conference in May, I shared with you these words:

Over these last two weeks, we very nearly split our denomination into pieces.  Our differences are stark. Our life together is marred by conflict as much as collaboration.  And I’m going to be honest… I’m not quite sure yet what comes after General Conference.

I went on talk about why that was:  how the source of dilemma lies in being a global church, in the way we make decisions, and the reality that we can’t agree on some fundamental basics of what it means to be church together, like what we mean by covenant or how we interpret scriptures.


This month, our bishops have not only announced the members of a special commission who will help us find a way forward, but they have also announced their intent to call a special session of General Conference in 2019… one year earlier than we would typically meet.  The purpose will be to allow this commission to do their work and then the delegates of our last general conference will gather back together solely for the purpose of discussing and voting on their recommendations.  Many imagine that if we cannot agree to a way to hold our differences in creative tension that our church will split at that time. 


For the last few months, there has been a tension in my shoulders that I can’t quite shake. 

I’m worried.

I’m worried for my country.

I’m worried for the United Methodist Church.

I’m worried for this church.


And the root of that worry is less about who wins on Tuesday or what kind of church we will be on the other side of 2019 or how many people stayed home from worship last weekend…

I worry about how we treat one another and whether or not we see the person sitting across from us as a person of inherent worth and dignity… and that we seem unable to set aside our thoughts and opinions for long enough to actually listen to the truth of another person.

I think the antidote to the worry we collectively are bearing might be found in our scripture this morning.  


One of the radical messages of Ephesians that is lost to modern readers of the scriptures is the fact that Paul reaches out and give thanks for people who are outside of his faith.

Historically, the early church experienced great tensions between Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ.  They had different backgrounds, different traditions and practices, and yet all claimed to have accepted the good news of God.  There was infighting and arguments about who had to give up what part of their heritage in order to be part of the community.

And so when Paul, a Jewish scholar and leader of the church, writes to this Gentile community at Ephesus, it is remarkable that one of the first things he does is emphasize unity.

We have obtained an inheritance”, Paul writes.

And then he goes a step farther… “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”

Paul specifically reaches out to people who are very different from him… people he has never even met before… and tells them that he is grateful for them.

This letter to the Ephesians is fundamentally about unity. 

That is our glorious inheritance.

Unity with God in Jesus Christ.

Unity with the saints who have gone before us.

And unity with one another in this present moment. 

And as Paul teaches us in these first few verses that you can’t have unity without gratitude. 


As we light candles to remember the saints, we are reminded that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we remain connected and unified with all of those saints who have gone before us… and with all who will come after us. 

As we break bread, we sing and feast with the saints.  This meal is an act of unity. This meal and the hope it instills in our souls is our inheritance. 

And as we remember, we give thanks for eight people from our congregation who died this past year:  for Lois.  Becky.  Viola.  Ruth.  Gary.  Mildred.  Sharon.  Marcia.   Thank you, God.   

But we also give thanks for the many people, friends and family, who have gone before us. 

We give thanks for all of the saints who shaped our lives. 

And we give thanks for the multitudes of saints and the historic church that is our foundation.  When it feels like the weight of the world is upon our shoulders and that the church will live or die based upon our decisions, it is good to remember that God’s church has been around for two thousand years.  It is built upon the prophets and the apostles.  The church is far bigger than this congregation or even this denomination.  And for that I give thanks…

And I also pray that we might claim this inheritance and that somehow we might be part of passing along this faith to generations yet to come. 


Sarah Birmingham Drummond reminds us that the unity we experience is not only across time and generations, but also for this present moment. “Paul’s message of unity was radical in its day, as it suggest unity across divisions that were woven into the fabric of daily life.  This suggests that the early church understood overcoming divisions to be part of its mandate.”

Let me repeat that. 

The early church understood overcoming divisions to be part of its mandate.

After all, Paul was reaching out to people he didn’t have a whole lot in common with to give thanks.   His letter reminded not only them, but also himself, of the unity of Christ that brings all of us together. 

That is our inheritance, too.


Today, we will break bread not only with the saints, but also with people who will vote differently than us on Tuesday. 

We worship every Sunday morning with people of different ages. 

We worship with people who prefer different types of music. 

We worship with early risers and people who long to sleep in on Sundays.

Yet overcoming division is part of our mandate as people of faith.

Being a people who overcome difference in order to be in community… that is our inheritance. 

That is the faith that has been passed down from generation to generation.


No matter what happens on Tuesday. 

No matter what happens in 2019 with our denomination.

No matter what tension we feel as a result of our worship times or classes or studies.

Our responsibility is to look around this room and to give thanks for each soul and get busy making a difference in this world.

That is the inheritance we can claim, right here and right now. 


And we do so… we claim the inheritance of Jesus Christ across generations and across divisions because we believe that God’s mission is built upon a church united to transform this world. 

Because we believe that God needs all of us… past, present, and future, to bring healing and hope to a broken people. 

Because our differences are small when compared to the call God has upon our lives to claim our inheritance. 

Because we believe in the immeasurable greatness of God’s power to truly make a difference… right here and right now.