It’s time to replace the electoral college with a National Popular Vote system

Once again, a president has been elected with a national popular vote minority due to the Electoral College system

I want to begin this post by saying that I am an election judge (i.e., poll worker) in Vermilion County, Illinois. As an election judge, it is not my responsibility to determine what kind of electoral system is used in a particular election. My responsibility as an election judge is to ensure that the system that exists on the date of the election in question runs as smoothly as possible and that voters are able to cast their votes for the candidate(s) of their choice under the system that exists on the date of the election in question.

Now, I’m going to put on my political activist hat and call for the abolition of the electoral college system that is used to elect the holders of the two highest offices in this country, the offices of President of the United States and Vice President of the United States.

Never has a true direct election for President or Vice President been held in American history. Not counting instances where the U.S. House of Representatives has been required to elect the president because of an electoral college deadlock, every presidential/vice presidential election in American history has been conducted under some form of an electoral college system. The electoral college system that is currently in place in this country is actually the second electoral college system that has been used in the United States. The current electoral college system was established by ratification of the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and has been modified twice by further constitutional amendments: the 14th Amendment includes a section (Section 2) including a reference to elections “…for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States…”, and the 23rd Amendment grants the District of Columbia electoral college members. There is no explicit requirement in the Constitution for a state or federal district to allow for a direct election of an electoral college slate, although all 50 states and the District of Columbia currently do so (in all 50 states and D.C., voters vote for a presidential/vice presidential ticket, although those elections are functionally elections for electoral college members, even if the names of electors are not published on official ballots). However, the 14th Amendment implies that at least an indirect election for electoral college members from a state or federal district must be held (for example, a state could decide to have the state legislature elect its electoral college slate, although no state has used such a system since the 19th century).

Since the ratification of the 12th Amendment, and counting this year, there have been five instances of a presidential popular vote winner not winning the general election for president because of either the electoral college or a U.S. House vote on the presidency due to the lack of an electoral college majority winner:

  • 1824 — John Quincy Adams was elected President by the U.S. House of Representatives, despite the fact that Andrew Jackson received pluralities of both the electoral vote and the national popular vote.
  • 1876 — Democratic nominee Samuel Jones Tilden received a majority of the national popular vote, however, a special 15-member commission established by Congress, whose membership had an 8–7 Republican majority, awarded 20 disputed electoral votes from four states to Republican nominee Rutherford Birchard Hayes, which was enough for Hayes to win an electoral college majority.
  • 1888 — Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison defeated Democratic incumbent Stephen Grover Cleveland after Harrison won an electoral college majority, even though Cleveland received a plurality of the national popular vote.
  • 2000 — Democratic nominee Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. received a plurality of the national popular vote, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case Bush v. Gore, effectively awarded Florida’s disputed electoral votes to Republican nominee George Walker Bush, which was enough to give Bush the electoral college majority.
  • 2016 — Republican nominee Donald John Trump has won a majority of the electoral college votes, even though Democratic nominee Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is, when all of the votes are counted, expected to have received a plurality of the national popular vote.

The electoral college is, in my opinion, an outdated relic of political thought in the early days of the United States, in which many of the Founding Fathers thought that the idea of a direct presidential election was dangerous, and long-distance transportation within the United States was long and difficult. I strongly support efforts to replace the electoral college with a national popular vote system for determining who is elected to the offices of President and Vice President of the United States.

A national popular vote interstate compact is one of two ways that a national popular vote system could be enacted. If such a compact were to be signed by states with 270 or more combined electoral votes, the electoral college members from the compact-signing states would be pledged to the national popular vote majority or plurality winner, effectively establishing a national popular vote system within the current electoral college framework. One such compact already has the signatures of 10 states and the District of Columbia, with a combined 165 electoral votes.

An amendment to the United States Constitution establishing a national popular vote system for president and vice president is the second of two ways that a national popular vote system could be enacted. Like any amendment to the U.S. Constitution that does not affect equal representation of states in the U.S. Senate, a national popular vote amendment would require proposal by either two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress or a national constitutional convention called by two-thirds of U.S. states and ratification by either three-fourths of state legislatures or three-fourths of state ratifying conventions. Retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has proposed a national popular vote amendment, although it is not expected to be proposed to the states by Congress.

If you’re interested in this issue, The Joy Cardin Show, a show that airs on the Wisconsin Public Radio network of radio stations in Wisconsin, recently did a segment about the electoral college with pro-national popular vote guest Kelda Helen Roys and pro-electoral college guest Jarrett Stepman. You can listen to the segment here.