Post-Election Views - Abolish the Electoral College

Electoral College:

Holy Anachronism, Batman!

When Article 2 was written into the US Constitution, eligible American voters lived far apart and news travelled slowly. The Founding Fathers, fearing voters might not know the men running for top national office, arranged for more knowledgeable insiders to help make the decision. As means of communication improved, the initial reason for the Electoral College lost justification, but other perks remained, and the institution lived on.

The 21st Century is a different animal. Communications are broad and almost instantaneous. Newspapers, television and ubiquitous social media sites spread information at the speed of electrons. Almost every voter is privy to the full biography and current merits (or deficiencies) of any given candidate. In recent decades, we have seen two races in which the candidate won a plurality in the popular vote, but failed to get enough Electoral College votes. Accordingly, the demand for ‘direct democracy’ in the national race has also grown.

There are at least three ways the Electoral College can be defanged or dismantled and the Presidential ticket elected by popular vote alone:

Constitutional Convention

There has only been one, THE Constitutional Convention at which the current US Constitution was passed. To call another requires two-thirds (34 of 50) to send a request to Congress to call one. That possibility looms larger with additional Republican wins in statehouses in this year. Indeed, they’ve been studying the possibility formally since 2013. The problem with this way of striking down the Electoral College is that a Convention is not limited to the one issue that triggers it. Once convened, the lawmakers can literally re-write the Constitution, removing things they don’t like and adding a few we may not like. CNN lays out the details of what it all might mean, ending with a quote from Karla Jones, director for international affairs for ALEC: "The chances of a convention running away, so to speak, are minimal." You believe anything from ALEC, and we’ve got a bridge you might like to buy!

Constitutional Amendment

A less drastic approach might be another Amendment to the Constitution, that is, a modification to the Constitution, on one matter only. Apart from a Convention, an amendment has to be passed by two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate. It is then sent to the states for ratification. It must be ratified by three-quarters (now 38) of the states, either by their legislatures or by special ‘ratifying conventions.’

Retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, introduced legislation after the election which would scrap the Electoral College. Her bill calls for an amendment to the Constitution that would end the Electoral College system.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC)

The National Popular Vote interstate compact would not take effect until enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). Under the compact, the winner would be the candidate who received the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) on Election Day. When the Electoral College meets in mid-December, the national popular vote winner would receive all of the electoral votes of the enacting states. And that would be sufficient to allow the popular winner to also be the Electoral College victor. Until enough states sign on, those who support it would still operate under their current laws.

Of the three methods here, the most likely to succeed in the near term is the third, the NPVIC. Democrats at the state level will almost all support it. And backers point out that it may also attract Republicans who care about fairness. A constitutional amendment is the next best bet, but it takes longer in the best of times and will be harder to pass through a GOP-dominated Congress. A Convention is to be avoided, given the current conservative dominance in Congress and sentiment in some parts of the electorate. It would open a huge can of worms and could even give authoritarians the opportunity to limit freedom of speech, assembly and press, among other rights held in high regard.