We Can Reform the Electoral College without Amending the Constitution

Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution provides for electors to the Electoral College:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress:”

The only change to this constitutional provision is the Twelfth Amendment changing the manner in which the vice president is selected and providing the District of Columbia three electors.

Additionally, in two decisions — McPherson V. Blacker 1892 and Bush V. Gore 2000 — the Supreme Court made it clear that, in reality, the electorate has no constitutionally protected right to elect the president and vice president of our nation. Rather, the states carry the sole responsibility and complete control of doing so through the Electoral College. Therefore, reforming the Electoral College to a popular vote will require either a monumental undertaking with an amendment to the Constitution or cooperative efforts to change the method by which electors are chosen.

While the Electoral College is intended to be a leveling force for states with a smaller populous, the Constitution provided no basis for how the electors are chosen and, unfortunately, serious issues exist as a result of partisans realizing this and manipulating the process to their gain.

The result of this manipulation? An epidemic of disenfranchised voters creating a clamor for change in our election process for decades; specifically, to abandon the Electoral College in favor of popular vote, with support for this change ranging from 81 percent in 1968 to 67 percent in 2012.

The source of grief doesn’t rest solely with the Electoral College itself; rather, in a cascade of evolutionary changes during the 19th Century wherein the electors found themselves tied to partisan causes — no longer true representatives of the electorate of their respective states:

  • Gerrymandering of political districts by the two main political parties;
  • Political parties gaining strength through those heavily gerrymandered districts;
  • Electors selected by political parties and elected through partisan primaries;
  • Electors, in return, pledging to the political parties, thereby becoming the tool by which partisans ensure their perpetuation;
  • Partisanship displacing the will of the majority; and
  • The nation’s electorate losing their voice to an extreme minority.

Due to partisan loyalties of the electors, there have been 4 presidents who have taken the office without winning a majority of the popular vote — the most recent and perhaps the most contentious being George W Bush in 2000 — leaving millions demanding more influence in presidential elections.

However, abandonment of the Electoral College is not the prudent thing to do.

Besides, amending the Constitution is not an easy task, and rightly so. It is not a process to be taken lightly or to use for every circumstance we find ourselves faced with. In this, the Founding Fathers were extraordinarily wise, adopting a Constitution that allows changes in behavior rather than a multitude of amendments in order to achieve the same goal. After all, two and a half centuries of amendments could easily render the Constitution extremely conflicting or even impotent.

Disenfranchisement is generating record levels of apathy and public dissonance as voters lose their voices to partisan polarization.

Using the wisdom of the Founders, several movements are currently underway to change the process within the constraints of the Constitution:

  • The “Nebraska Plan” in which votes are tallied in congressional districts rather than winner takes all.
  • Proportional vote awards electoral votes proportional to the popular vote in a state.
  • In the National Popular Vote compact, states form pacts in which electoral votes are tied to the results of popular vote. The electors are then bound to the state’s popular vote rather than partisan pledge. In a pact of states, the member states would combine their electors to remedy the “spectator” aspect for those member states, creating a more balanced and representative election.
  • The National Popular Vote movement, which is rapidly gaining traction, provides the clearest benefits and one must wonder if this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind all along while establishing the Electoral College: ideas thwarted by political parties manipulating the process.

While avoiding any attempt to amend the Constitution, the movement has acquired support in a total of 136 electoral votes with a very strong likelihood of acquiring the necessary 270 necessary to achieve their goal of preserving the Electoral College while simultaneously providing a stronger voice for the electorate. The result will be:

  • Every vote will carry equal influence;
  • All states become competitive states by ending the spectator aspect of the current process;
  • Eliminate the potential of a candidate winning the election through electoral vote while losing the popular vote;
  • Reduce the influence of partisanship on electoral votes; and will
  • Create an atmosphere more amenable to independent candidates and voters.

What reforms, if any, to the Electoral College system do you support? How should we elect the president?

Photo Source: Marquette Magazine