A (Not So) Brief History of the Electoral College: Part 3

Cartoon Courtesy:  OCRegister.com
Editor's Note: Our own Nat Paul takes a deep dive into the Electoral College and why it exists - this is the third of a three-part series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
   
As America’s political culture has grown more and more democratic over time, the Electoral College has diverged farther and farther from popular sensibilities. The ideal of “one person, one vote” has been enshrined in Constitutional law for over half a century, yet the Electoral College makes individual votes woefully unequal. 

For example, one Electoral Vote in Wyoming or Washington, DC represents less than 200,000 voters, but one Electoral Vote in Texas or California or Florida represents approximately 700,000 voters. Each state’s winner-take-all system for awarding Electoral Votes also completely discounts millions of votes every year. 

While the Electoral College clearly needs sweeping reforms in order to remain relevant, its Constitutional origins ensure that no change will come easily.

The most commonly advocated alternative to the Electoral College is a national popular vote. Unfortunately, this is also the least likely solution to be adopted because it would require a Constitutional amendment. Such an amendment was passed by the House of Representatives in 1968 before ultimately fizzling on the Senate floor. If adopted, it would have awarded the Presidency to the candidate with the most votes nationwide, and required a runoff if no candidate received at least 40% of the vote. No similar amendment proposal has ever received a similar level of support.

Another (slightly more plausible) solution is the adoption of Ranked-Choice Voting. This voting format, recently adopted in Maine for state elections, allows voters to select more than one candidate. Voters rank their options so that if their preferred candidate loses, their vote will be awarded to their next choice. Under this system, a majority is required for victory. This prevents minority rule and ensures consensus among the voting public.

In the 2016 Presidential Election, several key states were decided by a plurality: Maine, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (totaling 113 Electoral Votes!). If those states had required majority consensus, then either the results would have changed or the results would have stayed the same but gained additional legitimacy. The chances of this system being adopted nationwide are not very high, but adoption by individual states is more likely. Successful implementation in a few states could also lead more states to follow suit.

The most likely change to actually affect the Electoral College is an interstate compact currently endorsed by eleven states and the District of Columbia. This legislation, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, commits the Electoral Votes of each member state to the winner of the national popular vote. The compact is non-binding until the combined votes of the signatories is equal to 270, at which point the winner of the national popular vote will also automatically win the Electoral College as well. The compact currently incorporates 172 Electoral Votes. This solution would preserve the form of the Electoral College, but would dramatically change its function in future elections.

The Electoral College represents a blend of ideals and pragmatism that was absolutely crucial at the time of the American founding. The series of compromises engrained within it helped ensure the creation of the United States. Yet the system’s carefully-balanced construction was tailored neither to the ensuing two centuries of changing demographics nor to a bipartisan system. The changes that followed over the following decades did little to make elections fair, and were instead designed to fragment and disperse the minority vote. The need for reform is both clear and pressing as the system’s cracks widen under the pressure of the 21st Century. But just as the electoral system has expanded before to include new states and more voters, it can change again to better represent the American people in the future.
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About Nat Paul

To learn more about the author, check out the "About Us" page. Behind Enemy Lines Radio is a national Award-Winning radio show / podcast broadcasting live out of the belly of the Democratic beast - "The People's Republic of" New York City that airs on multiple radio stations as part of the Talk America Radio Network. It is also an "Insider" column on Newsmax featuring show hosts Gene Berardelli and Russell Gallo. The show is also available on multiple networks across the internet, with more being added regularly.

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