Congressman: Abolish Filibuster and Electoral College
Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton makes an argument familiar to OTB readers.
The third-term Representative and former Marine got op-ed space in the Washington Post to lay out the case:
Amid the tragedies of the Iraq War, one bright spot always stuck with me: seeing Iraqis vote. They dipped their fingers in ink to prove they voted, and rather than hiding those fingers for fear of reprisal, they walked through the streets holding them high. What they were saying was, for the first time in their lives, their opinions mattered — their votes counted.
That’s the most fundamental requirement of a democracy: Everyone should be able to vote, and every vote should matter. But the uncomfortable truth is, those rights have never truly been guaranteed here in the United States. It’s time to fix what’s broken.
To change the country, we need to fundamentally change how government works: We need to abolish the filibuster and the electoral college.
First, the filibuster. The Senate should require a simple majority to pass legislation, not the arbitrary 60 votes required by the filibuster. A recent New York Magazine article sums up why: “At present, the 26 smallest states are home to roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population. Which is to say: The filibuster allows lawmakers elected by less than 17 percent of voters to exercise veto power over any and all laws. This is a monstrously anti-democratic institution with no parallel in any other advanced democracy.”
Next, the electoral college. We all know the obvious reason this needs to be replaced with a popular-vote system: In 2016, approximately 3 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, and yet, Trump is the president. This is not wrong because Trump is a bad president; it’s wrong because it’s unfair to have some Americans’ votes count more than others — just like it was wrong in when a similar thing happened in 2000, 1888 and 1876.
People often defend the electoral college by arguing that without it, presidential candidates would pay attention to only a few states. But that’s already the case because of the electoral college: Two-thirds of general-election presidential campaign events in 2016 were held in just six states, and 94 percent were held in just 12 states. In a winner-take-all-electoral-votes system, candidates campaign only in the states that are a toss-up.
But if we abolish the electoral college — either through a constitutional amendment or a national popular-vote compact — presidential candidates could earn votes anywhere, making them far more likely to campaign everywhere. Then, no matter where you live or how your neighbors vote, your vote would matter. As it should.
I agree with Moulton on the rationale. The execution is the rub.
The filibuster would be the easiest to get rid of. It’s an artifact of another age and a rule the Senate itself could change if it so desired. Indeed, if it did so at the beginning of a new Congress, it could do so by simple majority—bypassing the filibuster. It’s conceivable that this might happen if the stars aligned correctly. After all, the Senate has gotten rid of the filibuster for judicial confirmation under different political parties—for lower court judges under the Democrats and for Supreme Court justices under Republicans.
As noted numerous times here over the years, however, abolishing the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the President would require a Constitutional amendment. It’s simply inconceivable to me that the smaller and more rural states advantaged by the current system would vote to give away the enormous power they now wield in favor of a system where the interests of major metropolitan areas reigned supreme.
Moulton makes oblique reference to the National Popular Vote initiative, which we’ve written about a dozen or so times here over the years, going back to my April 2006 post “Abolishing the Electoral College by Stealth.” It has gained steady traction over the years but not enough to push it over the top. Currently, 12 states, which combine for 172 of the required 270 Electoral Votes, have joined. Whether it constitutes an “interstate compact,” and thus requires Congressional approval under the Constitution, is a hotly-debated but judicially untested question.
Even if we somehow did both things Moulton recommends, the small and rural states would still have disproportionate say in governing the country owing to the Senate. After all, the Electoral College simply mirrors the inequity in Congress in a somewhat different way. But that may be a compromise outcome worth having.