What should be done about the Electoral College, now that, for the fifth time in US history, one candidate has won the popular vote, but lost to the candidate who won the electoral vote? How about giving Electoral College votes to the national popular vote winner?
Over the years, three strategies for Electoral College reform have emerged:
Abolish the Electoral College
The most prominent of these strategies is simply to eliminate the Electoral College and award the presidency to the winner of the national popular vote. Unfortunately, that is not a “simple” solution, both for Constitutional and political reasons. To do it, you’d have to pass an amendment to the US Constitution—and that is not likely to happen any time soon. It’s also a big stretch to think that Republicans, who will have control of all three branches of the federal government after Inauguration Day 2017, would even put Electoral College reform on their agenda: The Electoral College system worked perfectly for their candidate this time around. In these circumstances, abolishing the Electoral College—as fair as that strategy seems—is probably dead on arrival.
Proportional electoral votes
A second strategy would be to award electoral votes proportionately. In the current system, as was made painfully clear on November 8, 2016, electoral votes are a winner-take-all deal. In a proportionate system, states would split their allocated electoral votes according to the percentage of popular votes that went to each candidate. That change would be up to state legislatures. Unfortunately, with the majority of state legislatures controlled by Republicans—who have just seen the winner-take-all structure work to their candidate’s advantage—that’s not going to happen, either.
National Popular Vote
A third idea—which has not been as widely discussed recently—is to award Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This is not a brand new idea: The National Popular Vote bill has been circulating in state legislatures for more than 10 years. Under this plan, states would award all of their electoral votes to the candidate with the most popular votes in the national tally. This process is different from the current system, in which states award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote within their state.
According to the organization called National Popular Vote, the bill would:
…guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide (i.e., all 50 states and the District of Columbia).
And it has momentum.
It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes, and will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more electoral votes [for a total of 270, the amount needed to be elected President.].
The bill has passed one chamber in 12 additional states with 96 electoral votes. Most recently, in early 2016, the bill was passed by a bipartisan 40–16 vote in the Republican-controlled Arizona House, 28–18 in Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate, 57–4 in Republican-controlled New York Senate, and 37–21 in Democratic-controlled Oregon House. One of the first states to pass it was Maryland, in 2007.
If you add it all up, the National Popular Vote agreement is already more than 60 percent on its way to activation.
Is this constitutional?
Yes, says Fair Vote:
The Constitution gives states full control over how they allocate their electoral votes. The current winner-take-all method, in which the winner of the statewide popular vote wins all of that state’s electoral votes, is a choice—and states can choose differently.
The drawback, of course, is that the National Popular Vote bill is contingent on enough states passing it.
According to Fair Vote:
This [agreement among states[ takes effect only when enough states sign on to guarantee that the national popular vote winner wins the presidency. That means states with a combined total of 270 electoral votes—a majority of the Electoral College—must join the compact for it to take effect.
And that’s the catch, unfortunately. If you’re a Republican legislator in a Republican-dominated state, and you want make yourself appear to be in favor of more fairness in the electoral process, you might just vote for it, because you’re pretty sure that it won’t reach its critical mass.
[Yes, that is a cynical view. But three days post-election, cynicism seems justified.] I admit that, before Election Day, I was glad that the Electoral College was in place, because I thought it would act as a circuit-breaker preventing a dangerous candidate from being elected by a duped population. But of course, it was my own ox that was gored this time, and as the night wore on, I switched sides. You can call me a hypocrite, and I can’t fight back on this one.
But we should all realize that the electoral-popular vote disconnect can happen—and has happened—to candidates of both major US parties. National Popular Vote seems like a doable, fair solution—which would best be enacted long before the next presidential election.
We just need to find enough state legislators who give a damn about fairness and democracy to make it happen—before the next time our screwed-up electoral system gets us into this mess again.