155. Should we abolish the Electoral College?

Americans are almost evenly divided on whether we SHOULD. That means DOING it is extremely unlikely.

Background image is by Gage, licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 48.2% to 46.1%, but lost the Electoral College by 304 to 227 votes. How can this be, that the candidate most voters preferred, lost the election? It has happened before — now five out of 57 presidential elections (that’s ELECTIONS, not the 44 different people elected president) have gone to a candidate who lost the popular vote.

What polls show

In this Gallup Poll the percentage who want to abolish the Electoral college has declined from 62% in late 2011,to 49% in late 2016. Those who want to keep it have increased from 35% to 47% in the same time period.

Predictably, it is 81% of Republicans who want to keep the E.C., while only 19% of Democrats do.

So, unless a more recent poll shows a big shift in attitudes, there is no strong preference for getting rid of it, like there was in 2011.

But if we DO decide we want to scrap the Electoral College, how could we do it?

Constitutional Amendment

The US Constitution establishes the Electoral College, in Article II, Section 1. The 14th Amendment, Section 2 modified the rules for the E.C.

So getting rid of the E.C. would mean amending the Constitution. That would require 2/3 of the House, 2/3 of the Senate to approve the Amendment, and THREE QUARTERS of the states to ratify it.

Even if we still had 62% of voters WANTING to scrap the E.C., it would be hard to get to 2/3, much less 3/4. And it’s actually much harder than that. The fact that mostly-rural red states have an advantage in selecting a president, means they would not approve or ratify such an amendment. But more important, purple or swing states now basically decide who the next president will be. We would be asking both red and purple states to give up their relative advantage.

National Popular Vote

In 2006, some people began an ingenious plan to side-step the issue of the Electoral College. They started the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) which, if successful, would effectively end the E.C. from differing from the popular vote. Briefly, if states representing at least 270 Electoral Votes would agree to the compact, those states’ electors would be pledged to cast their E.C. votes for whoever won the popular vote. Thus the popular vote would determine the next president.

This sounds a lot easier than the Constitutional amendment, and it probably is. The NPVIC people are rightly proud that they are now (as of Feb 2018) already 61.1% of the way to that goal.

The problem, as you can see in this article is that all those 10 states and the District of Columbia are considered blue states. The last one to join was New York, on April 15, 2014. Which purple or red states are likely to sign up anytime soon?

Winner take all

A simple solution would be to simply stop assigning Electors by “winner take all.” That would help a LOT. But, like the NPVIC, it would do no good for blue states, even with some purple ones, to stop doing winner take all unless the red ones did also, and that just won’t happen.

Summary

Even if the voters REALLY wanted to scrap the E.C. it would be very difficult if not impossible. We would do much better to work on electing as many candidates as we can at local, state, and federal level, reducing redistricting wherever we can, registering people to vote and curtailing voter suppression as much as possible.

 

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