Raise your hand if you think that the president of the United States should be elected by the popular vote. Ah, it looks like most of you do. Hands down and know that you’re not alone.
In fact, poll after poll, for quite some time, has shown that most Americans would like to replace the Electoral College delegate system with the popular vote – one person, one vote and the candidate with the most votes wins. Gallup has asked the question since 1944, and a majority has always supported an end to the Electoral College, ranging from 80 percent in 1968 to 63 percent in 2013. And not surprisingly, 70 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds are anxious to end the undemocratic practice of voting for electors who, in turn, vote for the president.
Why then do we still use this antiquated system? Where is the outcry for electoral reform? As a nation, we sure are vocal when it comes to corporate campaign donations and corrupt candidates, but when it comes to the one change that would have the greatest impact on the presidential campaign, the one change that a majority of Americans agree with, regardless of political affiliation, we say hardly a word.
Granted, electoral reform isn’t sexy. The need to rail against individual politicians or to uncover corruption and fraud is admittedly more compelling. There is always an urgency to the present moment, but to ignore the long view is a mistake. Our democracy has been ailing for a long time, and we are headed for a complete fail. Our electoral system wasn’t designed to serve a population such as ours. The Founders weren’t concerned with increasing participation in a diverse society. They were concerned with creating a successful system of self-governance. To that end, they made clear that we should update our system as times change, and the Electoral College delegate system would be a good place to start.
If you are still undecided, here are some facts for you to consider:
1. Pro-Slavery Origins: At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, many delegates agreed that the people at large would chuse wisely. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, asserted on the floor of the convention that the people at large are the fittest. He then went on to say that there was one problem with that. Madison pointed out that the popular vote would give the more heavily populated free North an edge, so the delegates agreed to grant the slave South the three-fifths population bonus. Now, not only could the slave states count their slave population for the purpose of congressional representation, but they could also reap the benefit of the slave population when it came to electing the president. The results are clear. Four of the first five presidents hailed from the slave state of Virginia.
2. Disproportionality: The Electoral College exacerbates the undemocratic nature of the US Senate. Okay, we have accepted that all states - no matter how teeny tiny - receive equal representation in the Senate. That’s right! Two Senators whether you want ‘em or not. Electoral College votes are allocated according to each state’s total number of congressional representatives plus two senators, which gives less populated states more bang for their Electoral College buck.
3. All About the Swing States: Each campaign is tailored to those select few, neither reliably red or reliably blue. That’s right. It’s all about the battleground states, while the forty or so safe states are ignored. And when a candidate does appear at a safe state fundraiser, the money raised quickly leaves the state to help fight the battle elsewhere. Some may suggest that the lack of fanfare and hoopla is to be preferred. Fair enough, but the effects reach far beyond the election season. Regardless of party, presidents conspicuously give more attention to the swing states throughout their term.
4. The Loser Wins: The Electoral College creates the conditions where the person with fewer popular votes can win the White House. It has happened five times and as the trend continues toward razor thin margins, this is more likely to happen again, not less. Giving the prize to the loser of the popular vote is as undemocratic as it gets.
5. Flip-A-State Made Easy: The Electoral College makes vote counts easier to manipulate. If forces are hell-bent on stealing an election, it is much easier to flip a few thousand or even a few hundred votes in one or two states than it is to flip hundreds of thousands or millions of votes nationwide.
6. Low Voter Turnout: Those who live in one of the 40 plus safe states have less incentive to go to the polls. Life is busy and some days are hard. It can be really tempting to forgo the opportunity to cast a vote for a pre-determined winner. In 2012, the battleground states had an average turnout of 64.2 percent while the rest of the country saw an average of 56.8 percent. While turnout in blue California was 55 percent, turnout in battleground Colorado was 71 percent. While red Texas had a 49 percent turnout, battleground Iowa had a 70 percent turnout. Common sense tells us that more are likely to participate when their vote will make a difference.
7. Dropping Out: There are ways to eliminate the Electoral College. An amendment to the Constitution can be achieved by passage of a joint resolution in Congress or by a Constitutional Convention called for by the state legislatures. Another, and perhaps more practical, solution is the National Popular Vote Plan. The Constitution requires each state to select a method of elector allocation. Currently, all states except Maine and Nebraska have chosen to allocate their electors using winner-take-all. Maine and Nebraska allocate their electors by congressional district. Signatories to the National Popular Vote Plan agree to allocate all of their electors to the winner of the popular vote. This would neutralize the Electoral College and guarantee that the winner of the popular vote wins the White House. Currently, 10 states and DC have signed the compact totaling 165 electoral votes. Once the combined total of 270 is reached, the compact goes into effect.
Clearly, the Electoral College is irrelevant, undemocratic and potentially dangerous. Never used anywhere else, before or since, this delegate system has no place in a 21st century representative democracy.
The American people have spoken again and again in poll after poll.
So what are we waiting for? The time has come to retire the Electoral College and elect our president by popular vote. The time has come to agree with James Madison that the people at large would be the fittest.