We do it all the time. We ask for a show of hands. How many want to send out for pizza? How many want to take a break and go out to lunch? Majority rules. Pure democracy. Simple principle in action. Choose a school board member or mayor? The one with the most votes wins. Even in our sharply divided political climate of today, most folks agree with this fundamental principle.
Except for electing a president.
Robert Schlesinger, US News’ managing editor for opinion, quotes political scientist William Keech, who wrote in 1978: “The Electoral College system … was created by the founding fathers for the new Republic not as a direct outgrowth of eighteenth-century political principles but rather as an ad hoc compromise between those who believed in election of the president by Congress and those who believed in popular election.” Schlesinger wrote that some founders didn’t trust that voters had the capacity to judge the qualifications of the candidates. How could some farmer from Virginia or New York know enough about all the candidates from other states and regions, the reasoning went.
Wait. They believed that some voters were too stupid to make their own choices?
So, our nation’s founders created the Electoral College we have today, in which each state chooses its own electors who cast the votes for their states. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the president. Each state’s allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for its senators.
Here is how this worked in the 2016 election that gave the presidency to Donald Trump. Electors delivered 304 electoral votes to Trump, compared to 227 for Hillary Clinton. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the president. But when all the votes of all the people were counted, Clinton had collected nearly three million more so-called popular votes, meaning the actual votes of us, the people.
Picture the entire population of the city of Chicago crammed into a huge stadium, not for a Super Bowl or a Billy Graham revival, but to vote. Clinton’s final tally came in at 65,844,610, compared to Donald Trump’s 62,979,636, a difference of 2,864,974, more than the population of Chicago. That’s a lot of votes. Should be enough to determine which candidate that we, the people, wanted to win, wouldn’t you think?
In 2000, Al Gore garnered more votes than George W. Bush, yet the Electoral College delivered our worst president — until now. In 2016, well, we all know what the Electoral College gave us. Is it time for a change?
Common Cause thinks it knows how to fix this. “Many Americans are outraged that for the second time in five elections, the presidential candidate who won the most popular votes lost the election,” it wrote on its website. “And every presidential election, candidates are forced to only compete in a handful of swing states, and effectively ignore voters in every other state in the union. States can decide how they award their electoral vote, so if enough require their electors to vote for the winner of the nationwide popular vote (instead of who won in that state,) it would fix the problems of the Electoral College without needing to amend the Constitution.”
“This National Popular Vote compact wouldn’t take effect until enough states joined in, but we’re closer to that than you might think — ten states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington) and the District of Columbia have already signed on, totaling 165 electoral votes of the needed 270,” Common Cause points out.
Whoa. Really? How many states would it take to support a fair and democratic way to elect our presidents?
Time to get to work.