Another word about abolishing the Electoral College


Democrats have introduced several measures to amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College this year, see H.J.Res.7 (Introduced 01/03/2019), S.J.Res.16 (Introduced 03/28/2019), and on Tuesday S.J.Res.17 (Introduced 04/02/2019) by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D- N.Y.). Senators To Introduce Amendment Abolishing Electoral College:

Abolishing the Electoral College has become a growing topic on the left. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been the most vocal in calling for getting rid of it, although other Democratic presidential candidates ― including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, have all expressed some support for it.

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Schatz’s amendment is almost guaranteed not to go anywhere at this point. A proposal to amend the constitution requires approval from two-thirds of the House and the Senate, or a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. It must be approved by three-fourths of the states.

Republicans, who have won the popular vote for president only once (in 2004) in the previous six presidential elections, with Republicans George W. Bush (2000) and Donald Trump (2016) benefitting from this anti-democratic electoral college provision in the Constitution to preserve the political power of Southern white slave owners, naturally are opposed to it.

At least the former Republican governor of Maine is being honest about the true motive of Republicans: white grievance. Charles Pierce at Esquire reports, Republicans Say the Quiet Parts Out Loud, Volume Infinity:

We begin with one of our old favorites, human bowling jacket Paul LePage, the former governor of Maine now d/b/a freelance box-of-rocks. LePage is now out there on his own, making sure Smitty, Smoothie, and D-Money aren’t stealing our elections. From Law and Crime:

This has been the common criticism of efforts to eliminate the Electoral College, as it would give disproportionate influence to a small number of states, at the expense of many others. Then things started to take a turn for the extreme. “Why don’t we just adopt the constitution of Venezuela and be done with it?” LePage said. “Let’s have a dictator because that’s really what you’re gonna boil down to.”

“What would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do, white people will not have anything to say. It’s only going to be the minorities who would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida,” he added.

This was in response to a proposal before the Maine legislature that would tie the votes of the state’s electors to the winner of that state’s popular vote, a strategy that’s been implemented elsewhere in the country.

This is a reference to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Actually, historically, LePage wasn’t very far off. The Electoral College wasn’t devised to keep D-Money from gaming the vote. It was devised to make sure that white people could continue to own D-Money’s ancestors.

Governor LePage’s white grievance views are reflected in the anti-democratic views of Jon Gabriel, editor-in-chief of the self-styled “center-right” website, and somehow a contributor to The Arizona Republic and The Electoral College is undemocratic? Of course. That’s why it works:

We’ve listened to two years of complaints about how President Donald Trump is destroying the norms of democracy. But as the endless parade of Democrats announce their candidacy for the White House, they want to destroy several norms of their own.

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A radical idea gaining even more traction is abolishing the Electoral College.

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with O’Rourke and Buttigieg, have signed on to this effort, despite it requiring fundamental changes to the Constitution.

Every vote matters, right? Not exactly

“Every vote matters,” Warren said to a crowd in Mississippi, “and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

In 2000 and 2016, the winner of the popular vote didn’t claim the presidency. The fact that these aberrations favored Republicans isn’t lost on Warren, et al.

The Massachusetts senator argued that presidential nominees focus only on swing states instead of one-party states like California and Massachusetts. She wants candidates “to ask every American in every part of the country for their vote, not just those in battleground states.”

It’s a popular applause line, at least on the left. A recent poll showed that 60 percent of Democrats want to jettison the Electoral College, compared to just 20 percent who want to keep it.

While this might help one party’s near-term prospects, there’s a very good reason why America doesn’t choose its chief executive by popular vote. That’s because democracy, at least in its pure form, doesn’t work.

EVERY electoral contest in the United States, save for the presidency, is decided by the popular vote winner. Is this “mob rule” Mr. Gabriel? No other nation on Earth does this.

‘One man, one vote’ can turn to mob rule

Sure, it might be a helpful tool for a group of friends deciding where to eat lunch, or a dozen board members choosing a new executive, but it’s no way to run a country.

The Founders knew this well, having read their classical history.

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James Madison [a lifelong slave holder] said that democracies are “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

That’s why we have checks and balances

Therefore, America was set up as a republic, filled with countless checks and balances to avoid one group gaining power and using it to punish or exclude everyone they didn’t like.

Most people have a limited view of checks and balances, focusing on the president, Congress and courts. But the Founders created a system in which all sorts of groups strive against each other. Long-serving senators vs. representatives, the states vs. Washington, D.C., urban voters vs. rural voters — you name it.

This last point is a modern invention of Mr. Gabriel. America was predominantly a rural agrarian society at the time the Constitution was drafted. While there were a handful of large urban centers — the nation’s five largest cities in 1790 were (1) New York, New York; (2) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; (3) Baltimore, Maryland; (4) Boston, Massachusetts; and (5) Charleston, South Carolina — city residents were outnumbered by the larger rural population. 1790 Census.

And let’s not forget that “At 17.8 percent, the 1790 Census’s proportion of slaves to the free population was the highest ever recorded by any census.” The estimated 694,280 slaves were what James Madison considered his “property” and did not count as persons, except as 3/5 a person only for purposes of congressional apportionment.

Each of these checks incentivize Americans to strive for their own interests while ensuring that no group is left out in the cold — at least not for long.

By distributing our presidential choice among 51 individual elections, nominees must appeal to a wide variety of voters with a wide variety of interests. Farmers in Wisconsin are important, as are retirees in Florida, factory workers in Pennsylvania, and shopkeepers in Arizona. White Evangelicals need to be courted in Charlotte, as do Latino Catholics in Mesa.

A national popular vote would destroy that

If the Electoral College were abandoned, party frontrunners would camp out exclusively in urban areas. The pancake breakfasts in Des Moines and Denver would be replaced with mammoth rallies in Los Angeles and New York City.

A candidate might visit Phoenix, but would they ever hit the tarmac in Tucson? [Note to Mr. Gabriel: candidates rarely do that now].

Moving to a national popular vote would destroy one of our foundational checks and balances: the interests of rural and small-town Americans would be abandoned for those of urban elites.

And can anyone fathom the tumult of a close election requiring a nationwide recount? Florida in 2000 created enough problems.

The Democrats’ most accurate argument against the Electoral College is that it’s undemocratic. But that’s the entire point.

As is typical of the GOPropaganda I too frequently see published in the editorial pages of The Arizona Republic, Mr. Gabriel’s assertions are misleading if not outright false.

Robert Speel, associate professor of political science at Pennsylania State University explains You’ll hear these 4 arguments in defense of the Electoral College. Here’s why they’re wrong:

In my class on American elections, we often discuss the flaws of the current version of the Electoral College. Since this issue has been injected into the 2020 presidential campaign, I’ve seen politicians, journalists and social media usersadvocate for the preservation of the Electoral College. They often repeat arguments that are misleading or outright false.

Here are four of the most common arguments I’ve noticed – and why they’re wrong.

1. Electors filter the passions of the people

Some defend the system by citing its original purpose: to provide a check on the public in case they make a poor choice for president.

But electors no longer work as independent agents nor as agents of the state legislature. They’re chosen for their party loyalty by party conventions or leaders.

Since winner-take-all laws began in the 1820s, electors have rarely acted independently or against the wishes of the party that chose them. A majority of states even have laws requiring the partisan electors to keep their pledges when voting. In presidential elections from 1992 to 2012, over 99 percent of electors kept their pledges to a candidate.

There have been scattered faithless electors in past elections, but they’ve never influenced the outcome. Even in 2016, when seven faithless electors broke their pledges, it didn’t move the needle.

2. It forces candidates to campaign in rural areas

A popular argument on conservative websites and talk radio is that without the Electoral College, candidates would spend all their time campaigning in big cities and would ignore low-population areas. (See above).

This is false. In fact, because of the Electoral College, campaigning is generally limited to the urban areas of a handful of states.

Data from the 2016 campaign indicate that 57 percent of general election campaign events for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine were in only four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio. During the general election campaign, 94 percent of campaign visits by the four candidates were in 12 battleground states.

And within these battleground states the candidates focused on campaigning in regions where most voters lived. In Pennsylvania, for example, 59 percent of Pennsylvania campaign visits by Clinton and Trump in the final two months of their campaigns were to the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, with all other campaign visits going to other major cities and their suburbs in the state.

Meanwhile, during the entire period after the 2016 national conventions, the four candidates never campaigned at all in 24 states, including rural states like South Dakota, Kansas and Wyoming.

Presidential candidates don’t campaign in rural areas no matter what system is used, simply because there are not a lot of votes to be gained in those areas. Even in the swing states where they do campaign, the candidates focus on urban areas where most voters live.

3. It prohibits a couple of states or cities from picking the winner

Some claim that the Electoral College prevents one state or prohibits a few cities from determining the winner of the presidential election. (See above).

With states, the truth is the opposite.

Under the current Electoral College system, one state by itself determined the winner of the last presidential election. Without all of Texas’ 38 electoral votes, Trump would have lost the 2016 election. The same thing happened with Florida in 2000. Without its 25 electoral votes, George W. Bush would have lost the election.

Meanwhile, the combined populations of the three largest U.S. cities – New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago – are less than 5 percent of the country’s population. Their combined metro area populations, including suburbs, are 13 percent of the U.S. population. It’s not clear how 5 percent or 13 percent of the population would outvote the rest of the country in a national vote – and that’s assuming every voter in these metro areas votes the same way.

4. It prevents the chaos of a contested election

Some, including the late historian Theodore H. White, cite the Electoral College as a way to prevent political chaos.

After the 1960 presidential election, John Kennedy’s nationwide share of the vote was only 0.17 percentage points higher than Richard Nixon’s share. If there had been the need for a nationwide recount, there could have been weeks or months of political deadlock. Kennedy’s clearer margin of victory in the Electoral College – 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219 – prevented that.

However, during the 2000 presidential election, the opposite occurred. While Al Gore’s nationwide popular vote victory margin was clear, the number of votes separating Gore from George W. Bush in Florida was minuscule. And because of the Electoral College system, the outcome in Florida became the deciding factor.

After a month of court challenges, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision awarded the presidency to Bush. In other words, the Electoral College was actually the cause of a chaotic and controversial outcome.

The typical Republican response will be “Don’t bother me with the facts, I know what I believe!

Professor Speel offers his solution to fix the system:

Campaigning on fixing the Electoral College is one thing. But how could it actually be abolished or amended?

Abolishing the Electoral College entirely would require a constitutional amendment, involving two-thirds approval from both houses of Congress and 38 states. In today’s partisan environment, that’s unlikely to succeed [because states that benefit from this undemocratic provision are unlikely to give up their unfair advantage out of political self-interest.]

Some advocate that all 50 states adopt Maine and Nebraska’s system of dividing up electoral votes by congressional district. But until extreme gerrymandering is addressed, giving congressional districts a bigger role could lead to an even greater loss of voter confidence.

There’s another way to create a national popular vote election for president without amending the Constitution. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact advocates passing legislation at the state level that awards electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the winner of the state popular vote.

The proposal has been enacted into law in 12 states and the District of Columbia, meaning states with a combined 181 electoral votes have signed on. These states, however, are mostly controlled by Democrats. There seems to be less support from Republican-controlled legislatures, probably due to the Electoral College victories by Trump in 2016 and Bush in 2000 in elections where those candidates lost the national popular vote.

Unfortunately, political self-interest seems to be the biggest roadblock to reform. Look no further than President Trump. Back in 2012, he tweeted that the Electoral College was “a disaster for democracy.”

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By November 2016 – after winning the presidential election despite losing the nationwide popular vote to Hillary Clinton – he’d changed his tune.

“The Electoral College,” he tweeted, “is actually genius.”

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The majority will not long tolerate a tyranny of the minority made possible only by an antiquated anti-democratic provision in the Constitution.