Don't Mess With Electoral College
I guess it's time for my quadrennial defense of the Electoral College. Every time a presidential election rolls around, perfectly reasonable people, including the Pilot's own Steve Bouser, argue that the College is a weird, archaic device that has outlived its usefulness, if, indeed, it ever had any.
They favor the presumably more democratic practice of awarding the presidency to whomever receives the most popular votes. I disagree.
Granted, the Electoral College is weird. It was cobbled together in one of the many compromises required to get 13 states to agree on a Constitution. As its absence on the current political scene should demonstrate, compromise can be a good thing.
Because the number of each state's electors is equal to the total of its representatives and senators, the balance of power in the Electoral College is skewed a bit toward the less populous states. This seems to upset people, but it is nowhere near as extreme as the disparity in the Senate itself. No one seems concerned about that.
As originally intended, voters were supposed to choose smart local folks who would then meet and elect a president, hence the name: electors. There weren't going to be any political parties or campaigns, and some important national figure would become president. All that lasted exactly as long as George Washington was available.
After national politics descended into name-calling and partisanship, which took only until 1796, electors became essentially nameless figures pledged to vote for a particular candidate. This took decision-making out of their hands and left it to the voters.
An anomaly in the present system is that in 48 states all of the electors are pledged to the candidate winning a plurality, not even necessarily a majority, of that state's votes. The argument goes that this disenfranchises anyone who did not vote for that candidate. In Maine and Nebraska, electors cast their votes proportionately for all candidates. There is nothing preventing the other 48 states from following suit if they choose.
The real problem with abandoning the Electoral College is a practical one. Do you enjoy our election process? Do you think candidates should spend more money, take more time? Here's what will happen if the president is elected by popular vote:
There will be a dozen candidates on the ballot, maybe more. There will be not only Ross Perots, Ralph Naders and John Andersons, but governors, mayors and a Donald Trump or two. It won't matter if they appear only on their own state's ballots; they will collectively siphon off millions of votes, and nobody will receive a majority. There will be a runoff. More campaigning, more time, recounts, lawsuits. Aren't things bad enough now?
If we had a parliamentary system, we could elect as many different parties as we liked and they would have to hash it out in the legislature, but our system, as a practical matter, relies on two parties. You can make a good case against it, but we are stuck with it.
There is an unfortunate movement making headway in the land to promote something called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This is seen as a way to bypass the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment. It would require the electors of all participating states to vote for whatever candidate won the national popular vote.
This is a truly terrible idea. In the first place, it disenfranchises all the voters in those states who may have voted for someone else. How is this any different from the same complaint about the Electoral College?
In the second place, it will end in chaos.
Suppose, for example, that a majority of California voters goes Democratic. This is not difficult to imagine. Suppose also, and even this is possible, that the national popular vote goes Republican. Suppose, too, that California's electors hold the balance of power in the Electoral College. Do you really think those California electors are going to vote Republican? And if they do, do you foresee any litigation? Would the California public employees unions cause any problems?
Instead of wasting energy fretting about an institution that has served us reasonably well for a couple of centuries, we should focus on the real problem with presidential elections: finding better candidates.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by email at fwolferman@ sbcglobal.net.
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