It seems like almost every four years, there is an uproar from people wanting to eliminate, or at least modify, the Electoral College. While the complaints come mostly from the elections’ losers, that doesn’t change the fact that there are major problems with the EC.
Why Is There An Electoral College In The First Place?
There are a number of answers to that question. The one that’s usually given is that the “Founding Fathers” wanted to insure that the then current “big dog” states (MA, NY, PA & VA) didn’t dominate the electoral process of choosing a president.
This was NOT one of their more brilliant ideas! Six out of the first six presidents were all from the “big dogs.”
- George Washington (1789-97) Virginia.
- John Adams (1797-1801) Massachusetts.
- Thomas Jefferson (1801-09) Virginia.
- James Madison (1809-17) Virginia.
- James Monroe (1817-25) Virginia.
- John Quincy Adams (1825-29) Massachusetts.
A lot has changed since the latter part of the 18th century, but the EC still doesn’t benefit small states. It’s very possible to win the election without even campaigning in the smaller states.
Plus, there’s an argument that the Electoral College seems to violate the of “One Person-One Vote” in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. I’ll touch on that later in the post.
The other primary reason for the Electoral College is a bit more brutal: The writers of the Constitution did not believe mere voters were smart enough to elect the right person for the position.
As Alex Hamilton put it in the Federalist Papers,
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.
As a further example of this attitude, senators were originally elected, not by the voters, but by the various state legislatures. This continued right into the 20th century (1913) when the 17th Amendment was ratified.
As for those who were permitted to vote for lessor federal lawmakers, that was limited to white, property-owning males. As you might notice, early America wasn’t nearly as democratic as we like to believe.
Election Losers Become Electoral College Winners
Since its inception, the EC has turned five election losers into presidents:
- John Quincy Adams in 1824;
- Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876;
- Benjamin Harrison in 1888;
- George W. Bush in 2000;
- Donald J. Trump in 2016.
So, did the Electoral College pick the better president in those elections?
Not so you’d notice!
According to presidential historians, only one out of the five, (J.Q. Adams) made the top 50%. (#21 of 45) The next three (Hayes – #32, Harrison – #30 & Bush – #33) didn’t do so well. As for Trump, he comes in at #45!
Then there’s that pesky “One person-one vote” part Equal Protection Clause. The Supremes decided that it only only holds true within the boundaries of individual states. So that say, a vote by someone in Los Angeles, CA (pop: 3,792,621) has the same weight as a person living in Placerville, CA (pop: 10,389).
However, it causes a radical difference when it comes to national voters. Since each state’s Electoral College votes are equal to the number of senators and representatives a state has, small state voters are far more equal than large state voters. For instance, in Wyoming each electoral college vote equals 170,000 people, but in California, each EC vote equals 650,000 people. (So much for “One person – one vote!”)
The Times, They Are A Changin’
One of the other major problems is that 48 out of the 50 states have been awarding their Electoral College votes as a “winner takes all” situation. So, in theory, as well as in practice, if you win enough states by a small percentage you can win the election, even if you lose the rest of them by large majorities. (See 2016!)
A number of states are starting to address the Electoral College problem with a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). To quote the compact’s website,
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would make every person’s vote equal throughout the U.S. It would ensure that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.
If the compact passes in enough states to total 270 Electoral College votes, it becomes law!
So far, 14 states (CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT & WA) with a total of 184 votes have passed it. It has also passed one legislative chamber in 8 states possessing 72 electoral votes (AR, AZ, ME, MI, NC, NV, OK, OR). It has been unanimously approved at the committee level in 2 states possessing 27 more electoral votes (GA, MO).
86 more electoral votes and it becomes the law of the land.
You might notice that all the jurisdictions that have passed it are “Blue States.” Red States seem to like the present situation that produced our current “gearless leader.”
Will we finally be able to dump this piece of political garbage? It’s taken 13 years to get this far with the compact but with enough pressure from voters feeling disenfranchised, the end is in sight.
In the meantime, check out the NPVIC site for a hell of a lot more info on the whole situation.
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