For the second time in five presidential elections, the Electoral College winner was not the winner of the popular vote. As Democrats have twice been on the losing side of these two elections, many on the left are calling for the termination of the Electoral College. Indeed, when your side loses the call to change goes out. President-Elect Trump after the 2012 election
Of course when you win, you feel differently:
Partisanship aside, is the Electoral College the right method for electing a president?
Alexander Hamilton said in Federalist Paper #68:
The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of the President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. A. Ham, Federalist 68
Well, then. Many, including those who voted for Donald Trump, do not believe Trump has the qualifications for the presidency. For many who voted for him, this is why they cast their ballot as they did. But Hamilton’s dissertation aside, what will the electors of the several states do in the next few weeks when they cast the final vote?
It is impossible to imagine that the electors will fail to seat President-Elect Trump, although one elector in Washington state said that as a Democratic elector he would not cast his vote for Hillary Clinton should she win. Such a “faithless elector” is a rare occasion. But as each state has separate sets of electors for each candidate, this faithless Democrat will not be casting a vote for or against Trump. Many states bind their electors to vote for the popular vote winner in their state. Despite the change.org petition drive to compel the Electoral College to refuse Trump, expect the 45th President to be who we thought it would be the day after the election ended.
But the argument remains: Should the Electoral College be tossed in favor of a different system? It can be argued that based upon the landscape in 1787, the Constitutional architects did not really want the people to elect their president. As political parties had not been born, it was a reasonable belief that there would be many quality choices on the ballot. Hamilton, in Federalist 68, said, “A small number of persons… will be most likely to possess the information and discernment…” to be qualified for the presidency.
With so many believed choices, it was a safe bet that none would reach the requisite majority of Electoral votes. Think of this as a TV reality show where fans whittle down the choices and the show picks the final winner. America chooses the finalists, Congress picks the winner.
But thanks, in part to Hamilton himself, factions arose and by the time John Adams ran for President, the two-party system was here to (by in-large) stay entrenched. Only John Quincy Adams failed to win the majority of the Electoral vote and was selected by Congress over Andrew Johnson who won the popular vote. And only four times has the popular vote winner failed to win the Electoral College.
For those who which to toss the Electoral College and rely solely on the popular vote, imagine on the map shown you live in the gray part of America. The colored parts represent 50% of the popular vote while existing in so little national real estate. In such a system campaigns would flip from focusing visits on the “swing states” and duke it out in the urban areas. That’s hardly representative of a nation.
But the Electoral College weighs the vote of a Wyoming citizen at a higher value than that of a Californian (see infographic). Indeed, with Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and both of the Dakotas, none has a population that tops 2 million people. Combining all five of these states still doesn’t top the population of Ohio and has a combined pull of 16 electoral votes (Ohio has 18).
Did the Founders envision states being so wildly disproportionate in population? At the time of the Constitutional Convention, mighty Virginia had 420,000 people (think Cleveland, Ohio today), New York 225,000 (Akron, Ohio today) and tiny little Delaware 37,000. But the next smallest was Georgia at 90,000. So the difference in population? Georgia was 21% of the size of Virginia.
Contrast that with today, where Wyoming is 1.5% of California, 3% of New York and 5% of Ohio. The Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are all 5% or less of California. Are the small states truly represented in the Electoral College? Or are they over-represented?
The National Center for Policy Analysis advanced these proposals to change the Electoral College in 2000 after the last Popular Vote / Electoral Vote winner split:
- A direct popular vote, with a runoff between the top two finishers if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote.
- A district plan awarding two electoral votes to state’s popular vote leader and the others to the winner in each congressional district.
- A proportional method dividing each state’s electoral vote to mirror its popular vote, which would do away with the winner-take-all nature of counting electoral votes.
- Majority preference voting, in which voters rank their preferences; if no candidate received more than 50 percent, the bottom vote-getter would be eliminated and the second choices of those voters would be redistributed, repeating the process until someone had more than 50 percent.
The District Plan has the highest merit, in my opinion, to put the national electoral train back on track. The idea of awarding electoral votes per Congressional district, then the two senatorial votes based on winning the popular vote of the state, has a major roadblock: redistricting.
Currently at the end of each decade, the 435 House seats are re-configured per state based upon shifting populations. Redrawn districts are controlled by the party in power at the time. The rise of Gerrymandered districts are a separate issue, but present a large hurdle to overcome in the process. Under such a District plan, Mitt Romney would have won more Congressional Districts than Obama (by about 25). But in the same election, more Ohioans voted for Democratic House candidates inside the state but Republicans overwhelmingly were re-elected. This is how Gerrymandering skews such a plan.
But assuming that all district are a fair geographic representation of the population, which then crosses party lines, it reduces the over-reliance of “swing states” and in turn gives all Congressional districts equal footing. It removes the Urban vs Rural argument bubbling forth in 2016. It removes the stigma that flyover states don’t matter when tabulating just the popular vote.
There is a very real subtext that can only improve governing too. Only 13% of people have faith in Congress, but yet 97% of them were re-elected in 2016.
Imagine, then, a presidential election that focuses on Congressional districts that also puts your local Representative at the forefront with the presidential candidate. That’s valuable exposure for the voter for both the Chief Executive and the local Congressman.
Chances of the District Plan being even discussed? Practically none. The party in power doesn’t want to lose it and the party that’s not will also want to keep it when they ascend to it.
So the Electoral College lives on to be bashed another election. see you in four years…