Graduating From the Electoral College

In electing our 45th president, for just the fifth time in our history a candidate who lost the popular vote secured a victory in the Electoral College. By Thanksgiving Day, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump surpassed two million votes. The unseemliness of this tally has prompted a call–mainly from the left–for an abolishing of the Electoral College.

This approaches making sense only so long as we remain a strong two-party electorate. Imagine Ross Perot’s candidacy, and picture it, say, in coincidence with Ralph Nader’s porpoising back into relevance. That would give us four strong candidates. And we certainly can’t have a president elected by a popular vote down near 25%. Or can we?

California’s 38.8 million residents share 55 Electoral College votes; Wyoming’s 586,187 share three. Which means, in California–and in theory, as I’m counting all residents as opposed to registered voters–that 705,454 people comprise a single electoral college vote. In Wyoming, that number is 195,395.

Neither are swing states. California is solidly Democratic while Wyoming remains a Republican stronghold. And the Electoral College, in this day and age, is something of a zariba against our understanding of democracy. But there’s the tyranny of the minority for you.

Yes, the minority.

In creating the Electoral College, the Framers of our Constitution sought to prevent a tyranny of the majority by diffusing power across the population state by state. They also instituted the Second Amendment–at a time when the government, soldier by soldier, wasn’t much better armed than the average citizen. We can do better.

And that doesn’t mean abandoning the Electoral College. What we have to abandon is the idea of swing states. That a dozen or so states should determine an election while the rest, practically speaking, are insignificant–because they are perceived as solidly either red or blue–is ridiculous. This is what you get when you have a winner-take-all electoral apportionment.

Maine and Nebraska are pointing the way forward.

In those states, an electoral vote is awarded to the winner of each congressional district, with two additional votes accorded to the overall winner of the state.

We need to nationalize this process, making every congressional district–and state–count, thereby bringing the general election a little closer to home.

The fly in the ointment here is gerrymandering.

If we could–nationally and in a bipartisan fashion–agree on congressional districts, we would be able to agree on the results of a general election. It would be unifying. There would be no “not my president.”

And the Orange Horror might not have been “elected.”

Something must be done. Something apart from “not my president” or the threat of succession. E pluribus unum might be on our money, but it’s not in our hearts–and that’s rather ironic for a free market economy such as ours.

We’re in an untenable situation with money in politics, the deep division across the electorate, and the fact that the President-elect lost the popular vote by more than two million.

As it stands now, the candidates running in a presidential election really only compete in the swing states. What if they had to compete across the entire country?

Mending our Electoral College is a good first step in suturing some of the rents in our national fabric.

— Joseph Oldenbourg

One thought on “Graduating From the Electoral College

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  1. Member of the Electoral College, Bill Conley, of South Carolina stated that: “The electoral college was put in place to keep areas with large populations from controlling the election. . . . If not for [the] Electoral College, candidates would only visit large cities and the rest of the country would have no say.” This conclusion is obviously a bias against direct popular election and the principle of one person–one vote. Furthermore, it could be no worse than the present phenomenon of having our elections decided in eight “battleground states” having less than one quarter of the total number of electors?

    This population concentration issue was only a minor consideration of the framers at the Constitutional Convention. (See Federalist Paper no. 10.) While Madison was in favor of popular election of the President, he acknowledged that for small populations, delegations are more subject to limitations on good choices and to the higher probability of factionalism and corruption. The overriding concern against popular election of the President, however, was the effect of the massive slave population in the southern states on their popular representation and taxation.

    The convention delegates solved this with the three-fifths of a person compromise and the system of state-elector representation consisting of what is now referred to as the Electoral College. These two concerns are no longer with us, as the population size of the Federation is no longer small and the size of the population of disenfranchized persons has diminished considerably since passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (although, the numbers of prisoners and persons with felony convictions who are inelligible to vote in many states would be sufficient to decide a close contest).

    The travesty of the outcomes of the 2000 and 2016 general elections should be enough to galvanize a popular movement against the obsolete system of electing the most powerful polititian on earth.

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