Attacks on the Electoral College are nothing new, but there’s no question that it’s been under heavier fire than usual lately. Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have all said they want to scrap it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly tweeted against it as well.

“Every vote should be equals in America, no matter who you are and where you come from,” she wrote. Ocasio-Cortez went on to argue that the Electoral College allows smaller, rural states outsized influence over the presidential election process, claiming it is akin to “electoral affirmative action.”

But how much does the Electoral College really advantage smaller states?

It does overrepresent some states and underrepresent others, relative to their share of the population. Yet the skew is slight and did nothing to tip the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump.

Each state is given Electoral College delegates equal to the combined number of its U.S. senators and representatives. Thus, every state — no matter its share of the overall population — is guaranteed at least three Electoral College delegates. This means a few states with very sparse populations do get overrepresented.

For instance, Wyoming’s three Electoral College delegates account for about one-half of 1 percent of the 538 Electoral College votes. However, the state’s 564,000 residents (as of the last census) are only 0.1 percent of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, the most populous states are somewhat underrepresented. For instance, the nearly 40 million Californians account for approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population while their state controls a little over 10 percent of the Electoral College votes.

Even in the aggregate, these representation gaps would not have been a determining factor in the last presidential election. Indeed, if we eliminated these gaps, giving smaller states no additional representation — and if each state awarded all of its Electoral College votes in winner-take-all fashion — Trump would have won in 2016 by 12 percentage points, my analysis showed.

The reason Trump was able to win the presidency while losing the popular vote has nothing to do with “affirmative action” for rural states. It has everything to do with the way states choose to apportion their delegates.

More sensible liberal critics of the Electoral College focus on this system’s tendency to exaggerate the importance of swing states.

As Warren and others have pointed out, presidential candidates rarely visit deep-red or deep-blue states. They focus the majority of their time and money on states such as Ohio and Florida, which have a close partisan balance and a fair number of electoral votes.

The importance of each individual voter in these states is greatly magnified because a voter’s odds of determining the statewide winner (and, in turn, the winner of all the state’s Electoral College votes) is comparatively high.

But every state — whether largely rural or densely populated, coastal or interior, ethnically diverse or homogeneous — has a chance to become a swing state. As populations and attitudes shift, so does the presidential battleground map. Over the last five presidential elections, 34 of the 50 states have been swing states (i.e. won by single digits) at least once.

If the U.S. were to abandon the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote, the same few cities would be the focus of the battle for the White House every cycle. Given that they have limited time and money, presidential candidates of both parties would be foolish to waste their energy anywhere but the most densely populated urban centers. This is where the largest concentration of voters are, so racking up the votes in these areas would be the overwhelming focus of any election.

Under a national popular vote, cities like Los Angeles and New York, which already dominate our country’s economic and cultural life, would thoroughly and perpetually dominate electoral politics as well. Avoiding such an outcome does not translate to affirmative action for rural areas.

 John W. York is a policy analyst in the Heritage Foundation. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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