Electoral College serves valid purposes
11/14/16 Filed in: Political System
Reader feedback at end.
The 2016 elections are over, and Donald Trump won a majority of the electoral votes (306 including Michigan). However, Hillary Clinton received a plurality of the national popular vote (47.8% to 47.3% for Trump, balance to 3rd party candidates, according to https://www.yahoo.com/news/elections.
There have been calls for Trump electors to ignore the instructions of voters and vote for Clinton. Electoral College: Make Hillary Clinton president on December 19, change.org, accessed 11/13/16. This petition (reportedly signed by nearly 4 million people) seems like an invitation to lawlessness, about on a par with the disruptive and seemingly pointless demonstrations that have been taking place around the country.
Here’s one account of these demonstrations, including photos, reports of police activity to maintain control of the situation, and quotes from demonstrators who apparently blame Trump for everything that has been happening. Anti-Trump protests carry on for fourth straight day after elections, cbsnews.com, 11/12/16.
“It’s not that we’re sore losers,” said Nagel, a Bernie Sanders supporter who voted for Clinton. “It’s that we are genuinely upset, angry, terrified that a platform based off of racism, xenophobia and homophobia has become so powerful and now has complete control of our representation.”
Maybe, but are these demonstrations truly spontaneous? According to some reports, well-heeled leftwing groups have been providing financial support, e.g., busing in demonstrators and perhaps even paying them. Anti-Trump protestors funded by left-wing charity, Peter Hasson, dailycaller.com, 11/11/16. It looks like George Soros is funding the Trump protests, Daisy Luther, freedomoutpost.com, 11/12/16.
We’ve also been disappointed by the willingness of some observers to keep up a drumbeat of Trump criticism in the aftermath of the election, as though to foster the impression that his election was loathsome and should not be accepted. See, e.g., [Sen. Harry] Reid statement on the election of Donald Trump, 11/11/16.
To their credit, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and other Senate Democrats disavowed Reid’s statement in no uncertain terms. Manchin slams Reid on Trump comments: “An absolute embarrassment,” Burgess Everett, Politico.com, 11/11/16.
It doesn’t do to change the rules in the middle of a game, just because one is losing, and the same principle goes for elections. Suggestions for prospectively changing the rules are a different matter, however, so has the time come to adjust the matter in which our presidents are elected?
Background: Outright abolition of the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment, which would likely be difficult to arrange, but a workaround proposal has been kicking around for years in the legislatures of numerous states (including Delaware).
States enacting the National Popular Vote (NPV) bill would join a multi-state compact instructing their respective electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The compact would become effective on being joined by states representing a majority of electoral votes (at least 270). The result: all votes would be given the same weight, whereas “swing state” votes currently decide elections while “blue” state (e.g., Delaware) or “red” state (e.g., Wyoming) votes arguably don’t matter. Delaware should OK popular vote system for electing president, Paul Baumbach, News Journal, 1/24/12 (scroll down).
“NPV doesn’t help parties, it helps voters, like you and me.” MD and NJ have approved the NPV proposal; DE should sign up too. “Please consider reaching out to your state senator, and urge them to work for House Bill 55’s passage. Your voice matters, and your vote can, too.”
The NPV proposal has been passed by the lower chamber of the Delaware General Assembly several times, but so far has stalled in the Senate. Look for it to be brought up again next year, citing the 2016 election results as evidence that the traditional system isn’t working. Indeed, the opening salvo has already been fired. Two letters slam Electoral College as obsolete, News Journal, 11/10/16B.
•First writer has voted in five presidential elections, and this is the second one in which he supported a candidate who won the popular vote but not the presidency. Such outcomes “bolster charges that votes are not all created equal,” which “is a major problem for me as a voter and for anyone who supports the idea of a democratic America.”
•Second writer calls the Electoral College process “antiquated” and “unacceptable.” In his view, “the majority of our electorate has spoken and elected Hillary Clinton as president.” The solution: “get rid of the Electoral College process before we misinterpret another presidential election.”
At the national level, the NPV project has gained the support of ten states and the District of Columbia with a total of 165 Electoral votes, i.e., the most populous states (which stand to benefit from NPV) have signed up. Fairvote.org, accessed 11/12/16.
Hmm, the principle that all votes should be weighed equally has some appeal. Should the General Assembly adopt the NPV proposal, or are there compelling objections against it? We’re inclined to the latter view, for three reasons:
A. This was one of the compromises required to get the original states on board with the Constitution, and it shouldn’t be discarded lightly. – Back in 1787, small states like Delaware had no desire in joining in a union that would dominated by the larger states, e.g., Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Accordingly, the Senate was set up with equal representation for all states, whether big or small, every state was assured at least one seat in the House, and Electoral College votes were awarded based on the sum of each state’s senators and representatives.
In the early days, electors for the Electoral College were selected by the state legislatures in most states. This practice was revisited over time, however, and all electors are now chosen by the voters (with a couple of exceptions on a “winner take all” basis). Why we use Electoral College, not popular vote, Jarrett Stepman, dailysignal.com, 11/7/16.
See also SAFE’s report of several years ago. National Popular Vote initiative, Jerry Martin, SAFE newsletter, summer 2011.
The framers of the Constitution considered direct presidential election, but decided against it. “Direct election was rejected not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted the public intelligence but rather because they feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their state, people would naturally vote for a ‘favorite son’ from their own state or region. At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous states [currently CA, TX, NY, FL, IL, and PA] with little regard for the smaller states.” The Electoral College, William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director, FEC Office of Election Administration.
It was felt that the Electoral College would give more power and influence to small and mid-size states, thereby maintaining a better balance – as holds true to this day. As Delaware Rep. Lincoln Willis, R-Clayton, points out, NPV would reduce this state’s already modest clout. “Right now, Delaware has through the Electoral College, 3 votes out of 538, which is about 0.5% *** Delaware has 897,934 people. There’s just under 309 million people in America, which gives us 0.29 % under the actual population numbers.”
B. People matter, but so does geography. – It’s not hard to think of provisions in the Constitution that have been amended or reinterpreted over the years as a result of changing conditions and/or viewpoints in this country. Slavery was abolished after the Civil War, voters of modest means and women acquired voting rights, direct election of senators was required, etc. Appeals to history and tradition aren’t and shouldn’t be a complete answer to proposed changes in the system.
This being said, there are good reasons for ensuring that geographical regions of this country are well represented in choosing presidents instead of pretending that Americans are homogenous in their interests and values regardless of where they reside. A dozen states currently have over half of the Electoral votes, yet comprise only about 25% of the nation’s land area. If the NPV proposal were implemented, over half the voting power would be exercised by the nine most populous states and the influence of all the other states would be correspondingly reduced.
Proponents of the NPV proposal seem to ignore the issue of geographical representation, not even trying to make a case for watering down the political influence of “flyover country” inhabitants versus people living in the heavily populated coastal areas.
C. Without the Electoral College, presidential elections could become a nightmare. – Presidential elections are a long and contentious process, and the margin of victory is often narrow. Nevertheless, it has generally been possible to aggregate state-by-state results with the Electoral College (many states aren’t close, even if the overall outcome is) and ascertain the winner quickly (by the next morning or sooner).
The only exception in modern times was the legal wrangling over recounting votes in some of the Florida electoral districts in 2000, which went on for over a month and was only stopped by a decision of the US Supreme Court. Such an exercise undermines the credibility of our voting system, and any repetitions should be avoided if possible.
According to the official statistics, Al Gore received 540K more votes nationwide in 2000 than George W. Bush. This difference represented only 0.5% of the total national vote, however, and it wasn’t necessarily accurate (see below). Consider how much worse the situation could have been if the 2000 outcome had been dependent on the national popular vote and votes in all states had been subject to recounting and verification with attorneys and the courts addressing the inevitable disputes.
In 2016, according to the still not final results, Trump conclusively won the electoral vote (his total stands at 306, including Michigan), but is reportedly trailing in the national popular vote by about half a million votes. https://www.yahoo.com/news/elections
This gap may not be real, however, because states typically don’t count absentee ballots, etc. unless the results are close and they could make a difference. Hillary wins the popular vote – not, Steve Feinstein, americanthinker.com, 11/11/16.
Who votes by absentee ballot? Students overseas, the military, businesspeople on trips, etc. The historical breakout for absentee ballots is about 67-33% Republican. In 2000, when Al Gore “won” the popular vote nationally by 500,000 votes and the liberal media screamed bloody murder, there were 2 million absentee ballots in California alone. A 67-33 breakout of those yields a 1.33- to 0.667-million Republican vote advantage, so Bush would have gotten a 667,000-vote margin from California’s uncounted absentee ballots alone! So much for Gore’s 500,000 popular vote “victory.”
Another concern is vulnerability to voter fraud, which as previously reported appears to be a legitimate concern. Much ado about voter ID requirements, 8/8/16.
To the extent that voter fraud is going on, it affects the Electoral College results of the state(s) concerned. The exposure would grow substantially if the Electoral College was abolished.
For example, let’s say some states were permitting noncitizen voting to occur. Will illegal foreign voters steal the elections? Michele Malkin, townhall.com, 10/5/16. The potential effect would grow with an NPV system because nationwide voting totals could be affected as opposed to Electoral College results in the state(s) where the illegal voting was going on.
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Summing up, we have suggested that the electoral system was adopted for valid reasons historically, that the system as it has evolved continues to give appropriate representation to the various geographic areas of the country, and that an NPV system would introduce new delays and controversies without any clear-cut benefit (partisan considerations aside). Or to paraphrase an old saying, “the system isn’t broken, so don’t try to fix it.”
See also The Electoral College: enlightened democracy, Tara Ross, heritage.org, 11/1/04.
America's election systems have operated smoothly for more than 200 years because the Electoral College accomplishes its intended purposes. America's presidential election process preserves federalism, prevents chaos, grants definitive electoral outcomes, and prevents tyrannical or unreasonable rule. The Founding Fathers created a stable, well-planned and carefully designed system -- and it works. Past elections, even the elections of presidents who lost the popular vote, are testaments to the ingenuity of the Founding Fathers. In each case, the victor was able to succeed only because his opponent did not build the national coalition that is required by the Electoral College. In each case, smaller states were protected from their larger neighbors. In each case, the presidential election system functioned effectively to give the country a president with broad-based support.
If I heard it correctly, Clinton will receive the 2nd most votes in the history of our country’s elections. Some interesting times ahead, that's for sure. – Retired financial executive
I'd put reform effort on 6 year terms for Presidents, with no re-elections, also known as “one and done.” SAFE member (DE)
Comment: A case could also be made for moving in the opposite direction, tempering the growing power of the executive branch by requiring presidents to face reelection every two years. The Constitution: presidential term of office, 6/23/14.
Good report. SAFE member (DE)
From their photos, the demonstrators are mostly white, young and well-dressed. I guess they are upset because they weren’t expecting the outcome. Wonder how many non-citizens voted, and what the national popular vote would be if their votes were eliminated from the totals. – SAFE member (MD)
Whatever the theoretical merits of the NPV proposal, it’s hard to imagine why any Delaware legislators would support watering down this state’s political clout in this fashion – as many of them have done. The Voter's Self Defense System - SAFE member (DE)
Truly a scholarly work; this deserves much broader distribution. I feel sure that the NPV proposal will be pushed again this year, or worse that national popular election will raise its ugly head. – SAFE director