Something Even Better Than Abolishing The Electoral College
A petition on Change.org calling on the Electoral College to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump has passed the four million signature mark. The author of the petition argues that Hillary Clinton,who has surpassed Trump in the popular vote by more than a million votes as of this writing, was the obvious choice of the people and that the electors should use this "most undemocratic of institutions" to ensure a democratic result.
I signed this petition and shared a link on Facebook to encourage others to do so. I also signed another petition on MoveOn.org calling for the abolition of the Electoral College.
I don't think these petitions will have the desired effect. First, electors tend to be party loyalists, the very last people to deny the candidate of their party the victory. Second, the authors of the "abolish the Electoral College" petitions don't seem to understand that presenting the petitions to President Obama (an official lame duck) or to Congress (now controlled by Republicans) won't actually help reach this goal. But I signed them anyway, first, on principle, and second, because I felt that Hillary Clinton would feel a lot better about last week's events if she knew that her supporters weren't taking it lying down.
Still, I wanted to do something that had more tangible results than signing a petition or protesting. So I went about researching the actual steps involved in getting a constitutional amendment passed.
While I was researching feasible ways to go about getting rid of the Electoral College, I stumbled across a solution that would be even better than abolishing the Electoral College. What if it were possible to make sure that the winner of the popular vote in a presidential election always won at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, the minimum amount necessary to ensure victory?
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would do just that. Under NPVIC, states would pledge their Electoral College votes to whomever won the popular vote nationwide as opposed to whomever won the statewide vote.
This system has several advantages. First, it will eliminate scenarios where a presidential candidate wins the popular vote and still loses the election.
Second, it guarantees that small states get more attention from presidential candidates during campaigns. For example, the tiny state of Delaware,with a population of less than a million people, got precious little attention from either candidate this cycle. While Clinton visited the state of Delaware during the primaries, she spent more time inDelaware County, Pennsylvania and Delaware, Ohio, sites in two swing states.
Delaware went blue in 1996 and was in no danger of swinging. It also has only three Electoral College votes. Consequently, Clinton and Trump could safely ignore the state without drastically altering the outcome of the election.
On the other hand, NPVIC would make Delaware competitive. Of 670,000 registered voters, approximately 319,000 are Democrats with the rest of the voters being split between Republicans, unaffiliated voters, and third parties. No politician worth his or her salt would turn up his or her nose at hundreds of thousands of votes. Under NPVIC, presidential candidates would have to actively campaign in Delaware.
NPVIC would be beneficial to red states as well. Nineteen red states have fewer than ten Electoral College votes. As a result the Trump campaign had little incentive to spend lots of time and money campaigning there. And because Democrats had virtually no chance of winning those states, the Clinton campaign steered clear, too.
Under NPVIC both candidates would have campaigned in red states. In all but six states, the losing major party candidate got a minimum of thirty percent of the vote. In Alaska, where Clinton garnered 37.7% of the vote in a race with about 48% turnout, Clinton netted almost 92,000 votes. In California, Trump won 33.2% of the vote with a turnout rate of about 54%. That's a whopping three million votes. In an election determined by the popular vote, no presidential candidate would have dared to write off that many votes.
Third, NPVIC would most likely spur voter turnout, or at the very least, cause low-propensity voters to rethink their apolitical apathy. All too often, people rationalize their lack of political engagement by saying that one vote--their vote--doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, under the current system, your vote usually doesn’t count unless you live in an all important swing state. An analysis of voter turnout rates for the 2016 election bears this out. Dark blue New York State which ranks 48th out of 50 states (or 42nd, depending on the source you consult) in voter turnout gave Hillary Clinton nearly sixty percent of its vote last week. Hawaii, West Virginia, and Tennessee, states where one party inevitably gets a supermajority, have abysmal voter turnout rates, too. On the other hand, races in states with voter turnout of seventy percent or more--Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Maine--were very close; the winning candidates in those states won by an average of only 1.6% of the vote.
Fourth, it would eliminate the spoiler effect of third parties. As we now know Jill Stein's vote count in Michigan and Wisconsin was greater than Trump's margin of victory in those states, in effect putting these once solidly blue states in Trump's column. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson together siphoned off enough votes in Florida and Arizona to rob Clinton of victory in those states, too.
And, under NPVIC, third party candidates like Stein and Johnson would get more votes--without unduly affecting the final outcome. It's much easier to get five percent of the electorate to vote for your party if the electorate doesn't feel that it has to choose "the lesser of the two evils" to avert a disaster. NPVIC would give alternative parties like the Greens and Libertarians a more level playing field which would ultimately help them subvert the two-party political system.
Fifth, NPVIC would probably dampen voter suppression efforts. While political operatives in a state like North Carolina and Wisconsin could still implement and enforce voter suppression laws in their state, their attempts to keep certain people from the polls would do little damage, even if the state in question didn’t sign the compact. The recent election supports this theory. Although voter suppression efforts by the Republican Party in Wisconsin and North Carolina played a role in Hillary Clinton’s Electoral College defeat, Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has decisively won the popular vote. By the time all the absentee and provisional ballots are counted, Clinton could end up with a two million vote lead. The voter suppression efforts of Republicans in Wisconsin and North Carolina did not stop voters in other states from voting for Clinton.
Sixth, NPVIC would discourage underqualified dilletantes from seeking office. If a presidential candidate was required to visit all fifty states, only the most committed organized politicians would throw their hats into the ring. Would Trump, who reportedly failed to grasp the complexity of staffing the White House, have even thought about launching a White House run if it involved travelling to more than a handful of states? Maybe not.
Seventh, the NPVIC would effectively usher in the modern era of American governance--the "one person, one vote" representative democracy. The indirect election system of the Electoral College is antiquated; the problem that the Electoral College was designed to deal with--slavery--ceased to be a problem more than one hundred and fifty years ago. The Electoral College should have been eradicated right along with the "peculiar institution."
Last of all, NPVIC is much easier to implement than a complete eradication of the Electoral College. It doesn't require consitutional amendments or any action at the federal level. The decision to adopt NPVIC is made at the state level by state legislatures, making it a much more achievable goal.
Yes, NPVIC would disadvantage people living in smaller population centers but the voters living in those places would still have quite a bit of clout in the voting booth. As I said before, there are hundreds of thousands of votes up for grabs in sparsely populated states. In a close presidential race, the candidates would have to compete for every single vote because NPVIC destroys the winner-take-all Electoral College math.
All told, widespread adoption on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would cure much of what ails our democracy. While ten states have signed the compact, their Electoral College vote count is only 165, nearly one hundred votes short of the 270 required to put the compact into effect.
Want to help get it passed in your state? You can start by donating money to NationalPopularVote.com, a non-profit organization that has been advocating for the elimination of the Electoral College since 2001. Calling the state-level representatives (not the national ones) is another step you can take if your state has not already signed the compact. And simply drawing attention to the compact by harnessing the power of social media would do a lot to draw attention to the cause.
Whatever you choose to do, don’t throw up your hands in despair. We’ve ended up with two grossly incompetent presidents in the last fifteen years due to the vagaries of the Electoral College and this time we’ve ended up with a despot who will have four years to wreak all kinds of havoc on the lives of million Americans. It can only get worse from here if we don’t do the work of reforming the system.