By Connie Ross
Rarely a day goes by that we’re not witnessing some act of defiance because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote (not withstanding Census data that calls into question counties with more registered voters than adults over the age of 18), yet lost the Electoral College. As when George W. Bush won the 2000 Presidential Election via the awarding of Florida’s 29 Electoral votes, there is a renewed demand to abolish the Electoral College in favor of selecting the U.S. President based on a majority of the Nation’s popular vote. The danger with that response is a failure to foresee eliminating the College would create a situation that’s not just one of disagreement and frustration; rather it would create a state of total cataclysm.
The Electoral College is outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, and modified by the 12th and 23rd Amendments. The Electoral College can be repealed by Constitutional amendment, but that’s a difficult road. Amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress, and ratification by three-fourths of the States.
The existing methodology of electing our Nation’s leader is highly systematic and regulated. Each state is given as many Electors as they have members in the two houses of Congress, with 3 additional votes for the District of Columbia. A candidate must receive at least 270 of 538 Electoral votes to win an election. Representatives officially cast their state’s allotted “winner takes all” number of Electoral votes based on the state’s popular vote (with exception to Maine & Nebraska that split Electors between statewide popular vote and the popular vote within each Congressional district) in January, though a presumptive determination of their vote is made in November following regular ballot counting. The Achilles heel is Electors are not bound by the Constitution to vote for the candidate for whom they have pledged their vote; twice in history Electors were unfaithful. The Constitution also does not expressly limit the ‘manner’ selected by the states, and it does not actually mention an ‘Electoral College’, which has left a loophole opportunity to manipulate the process.
Exploiting that vulnerability, states are passing radical legislation to go around the Constitution and award their Electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote for President. Fourteen states and D.C. (accounting for 189 Electoral votes) have entered into the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact”, which will go into effect when states with an additional 81 Electoral votes join the effort, for a total of 270. The National Popular Vote bill would ‘guarantee the presidency‘ to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Status of the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact” – Click Image Below for larger view.
The problem with a process that basically resembles ‘direct elections’ is candidates would focus on winning votes in populous areas (namely the east and west coasts) and ignore the middle of the country. In a race to run up a mathematical majority, there would be no need to build a broad cross-national coalition representative of diverse demographic populations. Without the College, entire presidential campaigns could look past the smaller states and be waged from the media centers in New York and Los Angeles.
Chaos is the other matter of concern when utilizing nation-wide popular vote tallies. In a February 2001 issue of State Legislatures, Norman Ornstein revisited the 2000 election recount situation in Florida some of us may recall. He suggested that Florida provided a perfect example of what would happen if the College was abolished. He began by pointing out that there would be no quick or clean resolution to an election. Using Florida as a sample, he expanded the recount situation there into nation-wide perspective. What he said is, “But that would not be a recount like Florida–confined to 67 counties, each with its own clear-cut partisan power and structure and administration. Instead we would have a nationwide recount, taking place in thousands of election units, some counties, some cities, some precincts, depending on individual states. All the ballot boxes in the country would have to be impounded. Instead of the squadron of lawyers who have descended on Florida to oversee, sue and kibitz about the recounts, we would have armies of lawyers, exceeding the troops massed for the D-Day invasion, fanning out across the country to argue, bicker and litigate.” In percentage terms, even half of a percent is not trivial in the sizable whole numbers that would trigger recount demands.
The beauty of the Electoral College system is it yields a decisive margin to declare the winner; and it’s directed by intricate rules, alternatives, and deadlines, which have resulted in generally stable elections and a balance of power for small states. Such order and regulation would not be possible when dealing with hundreds of millions of individual votes to establish a nation-wide vote total. Assuming the raw number of popular votes in itself it is not challenged in upcoming elections; lawsuits questioning the validity of employing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will keep election results in the courts for a dangerous period of time. Any inability to maintain the historical Electoral College precedent is destined to initiate devastating turmoil and instability. Nevada will become the latest state to join the Compact, adding 6 votes as soon as the governor signs their state’s bill passed May 21st.. Let’s closely monitor this situation in Florida and advocate against it.