Not Our Forefathers’ Electoral College
Over the past few months I’ve been reading about the “ingenious” solution to do away with the electoral college without amending the constitution: By having states enter into a compact that insures they will allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. There are several reasons to object to this effort, but first some details courtesy of CBS:
Not Our Forefathers’ Electoral College, States Hatch Plan To Insure That Popular Vote Winner Becomes President – CBS News
Advocates hope to put the legislation before every state by 2007, says Mr. Ritchie.
Meanwhile, several newspapers have come out in favor of the plan, including The New York Times, which calls it an “ingenious solution.”
But in California, GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore derisively refers to the proposal as a way to “amend the Constitution without amending the Constitution.”
“It’s like cheating,” says Mr. DeVore, who predicts that the plan would force candidates to campaign primarily in urban areas with large populations to win the popular vote.
Under the current system “we discourage regional candidacies and basically force people who are running for president to have a message that resonates with the vast middle of America,” he says.
DeVore supports a system that would allocate some of a state’s electoral votes based on the popular vote in congressional districts, an approach that exists in Nebraska and Maine. All other states and the District of Columbia award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes in their state.
It takes 270 electoral votes out of 538 total votes in the college to win the presidency. That total equals the number of members each state has in both houses of Congress, with the District of Columbia getting three of its own.
The electoral college system is “distinctly American,” says Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside.
But the proposed system would have another idiosyncrasy: Electors, typically faithful party members, could be forced to cast votes for the opposing party. “You’ll be asking dyed-in-the-wool Democrats to vote for Republicans, and that’s not going to go down well,” Mr. Bowler says.
In U.S. history, there have been about 700 failed proposals in Congress to change the electoral college system, according to the Office of the Federal Register.
“It’s safe to say that there has been no aspect of what the founders worked up in Philadelphia that has received more criticism than the electoral college,” says historian Rick Shenkman of George Mason University.
If any state approves this new proposal, legal challenges are inevitable, Bowler says.
But he figures there might be a way to dampen enthusiasm. “You could say the French elect their president directly,” he says. “I’m thinking that will get people running away from any support: If the French do it, is it really right for the U.S.?”
Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one reason why this might be unconstitutional: The supporters apparently don’t intend to get Congress’s approval of this pact. Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution:
No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
I suspect the courts will knock this pact down on those, or other, grounds.
I’m probably one of the 10% in the country who is actually a fan of the electoral college because it mirrors our system of government and circumscribes the weight of the voters in large populations centers. However, I would like to see the following changes:
- Copy the way Maine and Nebraska allocate electors, with the winner of the State getting two electoral votes, and the winner of the individual Congressional districts getting one vote if they win that.
- Use Instant Runoff Voting to ensure that the winner gets a clear majority of votes within the state and districts.
That’s all I can think of at the moment.
Allocating the electors as described would keep the Parties from becoming too regional and would give Republicans a reason to campaign in New England and the Democrats a reason to campaign in the South. They would be able to get votes from there. This would need to be done on a state-by-state basis and could be done through a compact if they received a Congressional mandate.
Related: Abolishing the Electoral College by Stealth (James Joyner).