Fear and Loathing of the Electoral College (Forbes.com) October 20, 2016Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
Consider a couple of seasonal trivia questions: Where in the Constitution is the Electoral College established and where does it meet? The answers are the same: Nowhere. The Constitution speaks of “electors,” but not a college, and the electors meet only in their respective state capitals.
Now a more serious question: Why is there so much fear and loathing of the Electoral College? The origin of the modern backlash against it is pretty clearly the 2000 presidential election when Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by approximately 500,000 popular votes (half a percent difference with over 100 million total votes cast), but lost the electoral vote 271-266 and the election. A huge hue and cry erupted that the election was undemocratic since the people’s choice did not win. It didn’t help matters when another arguably undemocratic institution, the U.S. Supreme Court, weighed in to settle the election outcome.
This result, where the winner of the popular vote lost the presidency in the Electoral College, has occurred two other times, in the elections of 1876 and 1888. In one additional case, John Quincy Adams lost both the popular and electoral votes to Andrew Jackson but, since neither candidate mustered enough electoral votes to win, the election was decided by the House of Representatives in favor of Adams. So this hasn’t happened often but, if people don’t understand or appreciate the purposes of the Electoral College, even once is an undemocratic outrage to them.
Although Trump’s concern about a “rigged election” is apparently not the Electoral College, there is popular sentiment in that direction. Gallup has polled the matter over the decades finding in 1948, for example, that 31% thought it should continue and 56% said it should not. More recently, a 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that 63% of Americans would, if they could, vote for a law to do away with the Electoral College. There have been on the order of 700 amendments proposed over time to reform or do away with it. But since that would require a constitutional amendment, with its high bar of two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures in favor, there has been no change.
The most recent effort to do away with the elector system is the clever end-run proposed by the so-called National Popular Vote Bill. When passed in a sufficient number of states to total 270 electoral votes, this bill would require their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, not the winner of their state vote. Besides the unseemly circumvention of the Constitution, it seems undemocratic that a vote for candidate X in California turns out to count for candidate Y instead if Y wins the national popular vote, even though not the California vote. Talk about your vote not counting, a common complaint about the current system.
What all this fear and loathing misses is that there is both a strong historic case and also a modern one for the Electoral College. At the Constitutional Convention, at least four ways to elect the President were on the table: election by Congress, by the state governors, by the state legislatures and a direct vote of the people. The founders chose a hybrid system, giving both the states and the people a role in electing a president and, with their other checks and balances, helping protect the republic. The latter term is important since the founders were clear they were not establishing a democracy, which they considered dangerous. Many Republicans now wish they had a similar hybrid system at their convention, with more super-delegates to block Donald Trump.
Today, without the Electoral College and its state-based voting, we would be looking at national recounts—not just Florida in 2000—with results delayed for weeks, perhaps even beyond Inauguration Day. And instead of flying around the country in the campaign seeking electoral votes in a variety of battleground states, candidates would concentrate their efforts in the big population centers such as New York or Los Angeles. Neither outcome seems preferable to the present system.
If you want electoral reform, a better way to go about it would be for states to decide not to award their electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis. Two smaller states, Nebraska and Maine, have done this with, so far, little effect, but it could be a better way of allowing people’s votes to count.
Otherwise, don’t close the Electoral College. It was and is a valuable part of the republic.
To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/10/20/fear-and-loathing-of-the-electoral-college/#443d45a66d54