Texas should join com­pact to en­sure pres­i­dent is elected by pop­u­lar vote

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

The Elec­toral Col­lege is a blem­ish on our rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy. While other elec­tions are de­ter­mined by a sim­ple tally of ev­ery­one’s vote, pres­i­den­tial elec­tions seg­re­gate votes by state.

Pres­i­dents are elected not by the peo­ple but by Elec­toral Col­lege elec­tors. Each state ap­points elec­tors equal to its to­tal number of U.S. House mem­bers and sen­a­tors. In most states the win­ner of the pop­u­lar vote claims all of that state’s elec­tors. This win­ner­take-all rule makes some states “safe” and oth­ers “swing” — ren­der­ing most peo­ple’s votes less rel­e­vant than they oth­er­wise would be.

When a state is safely, ei­ther “red” like Texas, or “blue” like Cal­i­for­nia, nei­ther can­di­date has any in­cen­tive to cam­paign there. Ma­jor-party pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees largely ig­nore safe states, ex­cept as sources of money to spend else­where.

Elim­i­nat­ing the Elec­toral Col­lege would re­quire a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment ap­proved by three-fourths of the states — a high hur­dle. How­ever, the Na­tional Pop­u­lar Vote In­ter­state Com­pact of­fers a way to make the pop­u­lar vote de­ci­sive with­out re­quir­ing an amend­ment. It would en­sure that ev­ery Amer­i­can’s vote is val­ued, not just those in swing states. How does the com­pact work?

Each mem­ber state agrees to ap­point a slate of elec­tors pledged to vote for who­ever wins the most votes na­tion­wide — re­gard­less of who wins in their state. The agree­ment doesn’t take ef­fect un­til the mem­ber states com­mand the 270 elec­tors re­quired to win the pres­i­dency.

Why would the elec­tors all vote for some­one who didn’t win their state? States have the right to ap­point elec­tors how­ever they see fit. Texas now ap­points its elec­tors ac­cord­ing to the state pop­u­lar vote. Un­der the pop­u­lar vote com­pact, Texas would ap­point them ac­cord­ing to the na­tional pop­u­lar vote, thus en­sur­ing that the pres­i­den­tial out­come re­flects the na­tional will. “One per­son, one vote” is the most fun­da­men­tal demo­cratic prin­ci­ple, one that we will only at­tain when we value ev­ery pres­i­den­tial vote equally.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have al­ready joined the com­pact. Mem­bers of the com­pact boast 165 elec­tors — or 61 per­cent of the number needed to en­sure a pop­u­larly elected pres­i­dent. If Texas and enough other states join, our next pres­i­dent could be elected by a na­tional pop­u­lar vote.

Texas House mem­bers Ina Min­jarez and Celia Is­rael re­cently in­tro­duced a bill adopt­ing the pop­u­lar vote com­pact, House Bill 496. Tex­ans of any party who want their votes to mat­ter should urge their state rep­re­sen­ta­tives to sup­port this leg­is­la­tion.

This shouldn’t be a par­ti­san is­sue, since the Elec­toral Col­lege can rob ei­ther ma­jor party of the pres­i­dency. Apart from 2016, the Elec­toral Col­lege trumped the pop­u­lar vote in 1876, 1888, 2000 and, ar­guably, in 1960.

The Elec­toral Col­lege is a relic of the 18th cen­tury, when many peo­ple were de­nied the right to vote. The Found­ing Fa­thers ex­pected the elec­tors to de­lib­er­ate be­fore vot­ing; they thought that most elec­tions would be de­cided fi­nally in the House. Nei­ther pre­dic­tion proved ac­cu­rate. Isn’t it time to bring our democ­racy into the 21st cen­tury?

No per­son’s vote should have more — or less — im­por­tance than any other’s. Make them all count equally. Pass HB 496 for Texas to join the Na­tional Pop­u­lar Vote In­ter­state Com­pact.


Mar­i­lyn Har­ris holds a sign in front of the Capi­tol dur­ing a Dec. 19 rally urg­ing Texas elec­tors to vote for any­one other than Don­ald Trump.

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