Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The only reason the New York Times is calling for the end of the electoral college is that its candidate lost. Had Hillary Clinton won, there would be no cries, no sad tears, no editorial. But disingenuous motives don’t change the merit of the argument.
By overwhelming majorities, Americans would prefer to elect the president by direct popular vote, not filtered through the antiquated mechanism of the Electoral College. They understand, on a gut level, the basic fairness of awarding the nation’s highest office on the same basis as every other elected office — to the person who gets the most votes.
Cool links, but neither supports the proposition for which it’s included. Americans love platitudes, as they eliminate the need for deeper thought or greater understanding. Smart people, and make no mistake, the nice folks on the editorial board at the Times are smart, use that to their advantage, to manipulate the understanding of their lessers. An ironically popular platitude is “one man*, one vote.”
Seems pretty obvious, right? Except that the United States is comprised of, well, states. When it was formed from colonies, which were populated by people with differing backgrounds and perspectives, they were wary of what a powerful federal government might do to their local ways, their ability to control their own destinies by usurpation of local control. Sure, they understood the benefits of joining together in this enterprise to be called America, but they also understood that they didn’t want people in Massachusetts dictating how people in New Jersey got to live their lives.
The electoral college was a choice, a compromise, to equalize disparities in population and local norms. Some of which were, notably, bad, particularly in light of societal changes over the past couple centuries
The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.
So the electoral college is just a nod to slavery? Not quite. While it was one factor in the mix, it’s unduly simplistic to reduce complex motives to a single factor. Shame on the Times for doing so, even thought the smart folks are just trying to play the crowd.
Want to know what else is “a living symbol of America’s original sin”? The Senate. Every state gets two senators, which makes as much sense as, and no more sense than, the electoral college. It’s a means of equalizing control between the more and less populous states. Does it make any sense for Wyoming to get two senators, just like California? Not under a simple majority-rules notion. California has way more people, so it should have way more say. That its sensibilities happen to comport with those of the Times editorial board is just coincidence.
Today the college, which allocates electors based on each state’s representation in Congress, tips the scales in favor of smaller states; a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 3.6 times as much as a Californian’s. And because almost all states use a winner-take-all system, the election ends up being fought in just a dozen or so “battleground” states, leaving tens of millions of Americans on the sidelines.
Except then, the people in Wyoming won’t want to play with California, nor should they. The problem isn’t that it’s unfair, but that it’s unfair no matter which way it goes. Either it’s unfair to California or to West Virginia. Unless, of course, we’re ready to do away with states altogether, congeal as one nation and share a unified view of how to live our lives.
For whatever reason, people in some states harbor different beliefs than people in other states. Both are certain their beliefs are the better ones, and so it would behoove everyone to reach a consensus. But they couldn’t. So the choice was made way back when, a compromise to create a nation out of dissonant states. It’s how the founding fathers decided to play the game, and they wrote it into the Constitution to seal the deal.
To undo what happened way back when today, because the Times editorial board really, really hates the election outcome, would require amending the Constitution. That’s not only an onerous burden, but one that would likely fail, because there are a lot more states that maintain their ridiculous belief that the president shouldn’t be elected by California than not. Plus, once that door was opened, there’s a good chance that America would hit delete good and hard for nine of the first ten amendments, leaving only the third intact, because the others make them sad.
So, the Times has come up with a quick and easy solution, knowing that Mencken was dead and buried.
There is an elegant solution: The Constitution establishes the existence of electors, but leaves it up to states to tell them how to vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, representing 165 electoral votes, have already passed legislation to have their electors vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on. This would ensure that the national popular-vote winner would become president.
There is a certain elegance to the solution, in that it does no more than obligate faithless electors to ignore the votes in their state and vote in accordance with the will of the populous states. If you’re in Wyoming, you’re screwed unless you share Los Angeles sensibilities. If enough states signed on to control the electoral college’s outcome, it would obviate the impact of less populous states. The bulk of the states would become irrelevant.
But elegance aside, the plan merely shifts battleground states from the ones that are now in play, that have a decent number of electoral votes but remain in play for either candidate, to the states with the biggest populations. And those states, like New York, Texas, California, have proven fairly intransigent in their politics, such that they can be reliably trusted to vote one way or another.
The elegance of a facially neutral plan thus does nothing more than to let the coasts choose the president and end the tyranny of flyover country. The outcome, at least until some seismic shift in politics turns everything upside down, will be a foregone conclusion. Problem solved, right?
Or it’s just a means to subjugate the handful of states now in play to a handful of states that can be trusted to vote the “right way,” as far as the Times editorial board is concerned. Now, if we could only get rid of that horrifying bi-cameral legislature so that worthless states like Wyoming didn’t get to ruin everything, it wouldn’t be nearly as exhausting to make America great again.
*It’s now phrased as “one person” because women get to vote too.