One per­son, one vote

Our view: Trump’s right, the Elec­toral Col­lege is a ‘dis­as­ter for democ­racy,’ and we can change it with­out a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD -

Af­ter the sec­ond elec­tion in16 years in which the win­ner of the na­tional pop­u­lar vote will be de­nied the pres­i­dency, talk has resur­faced about the short­com­ings of the Elec­toral Col­lege, the con­vo­luted sys­tem by which our chief ex­ec­u­tive is ac­tu­ally cho­sen. It is the prod­uct of an 18th-cen­tury com­pro­mise forged over is­sues that no longer ap­ply and rest­ing on as­sump­tions about the wis­dom of the av­er­age per­son we no longer hold, and it has not worked the way it was in­tended al­most from the very be­gin­ning.

But abol­ish­ing it through a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a non­starter — it would re­quire ei­ther a two-thirds vote of both cham­bers of Congress or a con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion called by two-thirds of state leg­is­la­tures just to pro­pose such an amend­ment, and then it would need to be ap­proved by three-fourths of the states. The chances that three-fourths of the states would be up­set about the Elec­toral Col­lege at any given time are slim; it’s the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble for a can­di­date to win the pres­i­dency with just 11 big states, but it would re­quire an ex­tremely odd elec­toral coali­tion.

There is another way, though. Ten states plus Wash­ing­ton, D.C., have en­acted leg­is­la­tion that could lead to a sys­tem that leaves the Elec­toral Col­lege in­tact but en­sures that it de­liv­ers the pres­i­dency to the pop­u­lar vote win­ner. This na­tional com­pact stip­u­lates that as soon as states com­pris­ing a ma­jor­ity of the Elec­toral Col­lege — 270 votes — sign on, each will award its elec­toral votes to the win­ner of the na­tional pop­u­lar vote. The Con­sti­tu­tion al­lows states to al­lo­cate their elec­tors as they choose — the win­ner-take-all sys­tem is not in the Con­sti­tu­tion, and Maine and Ne­braska have al­ready aban­doned it, choos­ing to split their elec­toral votes based on who wins in each con­gres­sional district.

So far, only blue states have signed on to the plan — Mary­land was the first, and, yes, we en­dorsed the idea then, not just now that the can­di­date we sup­ported, Hil­lary Clin­ton, has won the pop­u­lar vote but lost the Elec­toral Col­lege. But the idea has got­ten some trac­tion in places like Ok­la­homa, a state so red that no pres­i­den­tial can­di­date pays it any at­ten­tion, and in some swing states, in­clud­ing Colorado and Ne­vada. The 11 ju­ris­dic­tions that have signed on to­tal 165 elec­toral votes, nearly two-thirds of the nec­es­sary to­tal.

There are good rea­sons be­yond sour grapes to ad­vo­cate for a change. Lead­ers of the Na­tional Pop­u­lar Vote move­ment point to the dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­ten­tion pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates pay to a hand­ful of states dur­ing the elec­tion — and af­ter. Ac­cord­ing to NPV’s re­search, bat­tle­ground states get more fed­eral grants, more fed­eral dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tions and more waivers from cer­tain fed­eral reg­u­la­tions. But the big­gest rea­son to ditch the Elec­toral Col­lege is that it vi­o­lates the prin­ci­ple that each Amer­i­can voter should have an equal say in de­cid­ing whois pres­i­dent. Here’s why:

Each state gets a num­ber of Elec­toral Col­lege votes equal to its to­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Congress — both its rep­re­sen­ta­tives and its se­na­tors. But be­cause each state gets two se­na­tors, no mat­ter its size, vot­ers in the small­est states have dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­flu­ence over the out­come. On av­er­age, each of the 538 elec­toral votes should rep­re­sent just un­der 600,000 peo­ple. But in some places, it takes less than half that to de­ter­mine an elec­toral vote. It’s not just Repub­li­can-lean­ing states that are so ad­van­taged; Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and Rhode Is­land all make the list, and Delaware isn’t far be­hind. Mean­while, it takes sub­stan­tially more peo­ple than it should to swing an elec­toral vote in some other states — as much as 20 per­cent more than it should. And be­cause con­gres­sional seats (and, thus, Elec­toral Col­lege votes) are only reap­por­tioned once a decade af­ter the cen­sus, the rel­a­tive power of vot­ers in a state can vary from elec­tion to elec­tion, de­pend­ing on whether it is los­ing or gain­ing pop­u­la­tion.

That’s why the state where each voter had the least say over who be­came pres­i­dent this year was deep-red Texas, not solid­blue Cal­i­for­nia.

(Mary­land, in­ci­den­tally, is pretty close to the ideal per­son-to­elec­toral-vote ra­tio.)

Not­with­stand­ing the fact that Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump called the Elec­toral Col­lege “a dis­as­ter for democ­racy” in a 2012 elec­tion night tweet (he ev­i­dently thought at the time that Mitt Rom­ney would win the pop­u­lar vote and lose the Elec­toral Col­lege, though he wound up los­ing both), we don’t ex­pect Repub­li­cans to take up the cause un­til one of their nom­i­nees suf­fers the fate of Ms. Clin­ton and Al Gore. It’s only a mat­ter of time. Had John Kerry per­suaded 59,301 Ge­orge W. Bush vot­ers in Ohio to sup­port him in­stead, he would have taken the pres­i­dency in 2004 de­spite los­ing the pop­u­lar vote by 3 mil­lion.

This is no way to pick a pres­i­dent, and we can fix it. A pe­ti­tion on call­ing for mem­bers of the Elec­toral Col­lege to vote for Ms. Clin­ton rather than Mr. Trump got more than 2 mil­lion sig­na­tures in un­der 36 hours, but if peo­ple re­ally want change, they should lobby their state leg­is­la­tors to sup­port the Elec­toral Col­lege com­pact.


On elec­tion night in 2012, Don­ald Trump tweeted that the Elec­toral Col­lege was a "dis­as­ter for democ­racy."

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