One of the big debates in Washington and around the nation is whether it is time to get rid of the electoral college. It’s funny in retrospect, but after President Barack Obama won his second term of office, Donald Trump tweeted this …
But, when the electoral college put him, against the majority vote, into the Oval Office, suddenly he didn’t mind it so much anymore. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
One of Elizabeth Warren’s talking points as she campaigns for next year’s presidential election is the abolishment of the electoral college, and it seems a majority in this country are in agreement. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that a 55% majority support picking presidents by popular vote, compared to 41% who prefer keeping the electoral college. The usual 4% were asleep … again.
Most of the candidates from both political parties, a number of members of Congress, and others have opined on this issue in recent weeks, but I don’t really care about any of that right now. I prefer to talk facts … you know, those pesky statements that are supported by hard data? Let’s first take a look at the rationale behind the electoral college as it was first written into the U.S. Constitution.
There were two primary reasons for the electoral college. The first was to ensure that only a qualified person becomes president (are you laughing yet?). The framers of the Constitution believed that with the Electoral College no one would be able to manipulate the citizenry. It would act as check on an electorate that might be duped. The founders did not trust the population to make the right choice. The founders also believed that the Electoral College had the advantage of being a group that met only once and thus could not be manipulated over time by foreign governments or others.
The second reason for the electoral college system was to mitigate the disadvantage of states with smaller populations. That, however, is rather a myth, as I will show in a bit.
Now, the majority in this country believe the electoral college has outlived its usefulness. I have to agree … it is obvious that in the 2016 election it did the exact opposite of what it was intended to do and put the candidate who actually lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, or 2.1%, in office. This was the least qualified candidate imaginable, yet he now sits in the Oval Office. It is time for a change.
However, the only means to repeal or abolish the electoral college would require a constitutional amendment, which is not even remotely likely to happen at this point. But … there is another option.
Contrary to popular belief, the Constitution does not mandate that the winner take all in each state … that was the decision of the individual states over the course of the 19th century. A state can decide, as 12 states plus the District of Columbia have recently done, to essentially bypass the electoral college. The states that have signed onto this plan, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, are …
- District of Columbia – 3 electoral votes
- Colorado – 9 electoral votes
- Connecticut – 7 electoral votes
- Hawaii – 4 electoral votes
- Illinois – 20 electoral votes
- Maryland – 10 electoral votes
- Massachusetts – 11 electoral votes
- New Jersey – 14 electoral votes
- Washington – 12 electoral votes
- Vermont – 3 electoral votes
- California – 55 electoral votes
- Rhode Island – 4 electoral votes
- New York – 29 electoral votes
If enough states pass the bill to account for 270 electoral votes, the bill will become law of the land and as a result, would ensure that every vote will be equal throughout the U.S. and that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election. Not only would this bypass the electoral college, but would also make gerrymandering* pointless. There are 8 additional states, totaling 72 more electoral votes, where the bill has passed one chamber of the state legislature. If all 8 pass the bill and the governors sign it into law, added to the 181 electoral votes above, that accounts for a total of 253, a mere 17 short of the magic number.
Under the compact, states pledge to allocate all their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote in presidential elections. While this would not abolish the electoral college, it would guarantee that the candidate with the most popular votes would win the election. Seems to me there can be no logical argument about that … it is as it should be. We the People are supposed to elect a president, not the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party … We The People!
The argument against this compact mainly comes from the Republican Party, and their argument is that a popular vote system would encourage candidates to only campaign in the larger (population) states, and the smaller states would suffer. The reality is that in 2016, two-thirds of the visits by both Clinton and Trump took place in just six states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan), and 94 percent of the visits went to just 12 states. Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia got zero campaign visits. Kind of puts that argument to rest, don’t you think?
I’ve put together a chart showing each state’s population and electoral votes (electoral votes, by the way, are equal to a state’s representation in Congress).
|State||Electoral||Population||# of people represented by each elector|
|Number of Electoral Votes||% of Total||Population||% of Total|
|District of Columbia||3||0.56%||702455||0.22%||234,152|
As you can see, the smaller states are better represented in the electoral college than the more populous ones. Take a look, for example, at California, the most populous state, that gets only 1 electoral vote for every 718,848 people, versus the least populous state, Wyoming, with 1 electoral vote for every 193,105 people. Something doesn’t seem quite fair here, don’t you think?
It is my belief that the electoral college has been proven not only unnecessary, but a direct impediment to a fair and honest democratic election. Since at this juncture it is virtually impossible to pass an amendment to repeal it, the next best thing is to pass legislation to make certain that every vote counts equally. I also think this might go a long way in overcoming voter apathy, one of the biggest stumbling blocks we have. Let us hope that enough state legislatures and governors will see this as the best way and choose to do the right thing.
* This small graphic explains the effects of gerrymandered districts as well as any I have seen.