If George W. Bush hadn’t won the presidency in 2000, and Donald Trump hadn’t won the presidency in 2016, would anyone be talking about doing away with the electoral college?
I find myself pondering that question as more Democrats come out in favor of abolishing our presidential election system, and more states hitch their wagons to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC or NPV).
Since several legislatures have actually passed bills to join the NPVIC, while no one is introducing a Constitutional amendment to end the electoral college, the former effort seems more serious.
The NPVIC is designed to sidestep the electoral college rather than overriding it. If enacted, all states who sign on would require that their presidential electors vote for the winner of the popular vote nationwide. The compact would come into effect once states totaling 270 electors join. Right now they’re 89 electors short, but there’s clearly momentum.
We ought to think about what the NPVIC would mean.
Setting aside the many legal and political issues with this scheme, does it seem fair that if you and people across your state vote differently from the majority of voters overall, your state should be forced to go along with the majority?
The NPVIC also begs the question: If the states are going to cede their power over something as important as the presidency, why have states at all?
Now some supporters of the abolition of the electoral college might like to just have a national government. They might prefer that America resemble the European Union. How’s that working out across the pond?
But joking aside, these folks clearly haven’t thought through the consequences of further reducing the power of the states, which best represent the people. And remember, the federal government didn’t create the states. The states created the federal government through the careful compromise of the Constitution, of which the electoral college was an important part.
It would also seem to me that the way in which certain states are going about this compact is too clever by half.
If you want to junk the electoral college and replace it with a popular vote, the right way to do it is by amending the Constitution. The NPVIC doesn’t touch the Constitution, which means it’s a Constitutional end-around. Why won’t NPVIC proponents just make their case to the public and push to change the Constitution? Well, they must know this is not something the American people overwhelmingly want. History proves this out. There have been more than 700 attempts to reform or get rid of the electoral college in Congress. They’ve all failed, and with good reason.
The very purpose of the Constitution was to make it so that fundamental change is very hard, and can only be accomplished when the states are truly united in agreement.
The NPVIC is not what the Founders had in mind. Forgive me for thinking they had a little bit more wisdom than politicians in this charged partisan era.
Remember why the Founders set up the electoral college. In part, it was to ensure that people from big states and small states, dense urban areas and sparsely populated rural ones, Wall Street and Main Street were all fairly represented.
Those seeking the presidency would have to appeal to everyone across this richly diverse nation. We don’t elect the president of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. We elect the president of the United States.
And contrary to what many of our leaders tell us, we are a republic, not a pure democracy – a simple popular vote doesn’t cut it.
The Founders feared pure democracy because it meant 50 percent plus one of the voters could oppress the other 49.99 percent. They called this “tyranny of the majority,” or mob rule.
The Founders wanted to make it tough to radically alter the Constitution, just like they wanted to make it hard for any group to impose its will on any another (including those on the coasts from dominating “flyover country”).
This is why we have a Bill of Rights, checks and balances, the separation of powers, federalism and yes, the electoral college.
Pulling the electoral college pillar out of our Constitution, or sidestepping it would destabilize and undermine the entire structure of our government.
I can’t help but think that this anti-electoral college wave is really about people who have lost trying to change the rules of the game, rather than accepting defeat and figuring out what they can do to win next time.
And I can’t help but think that they are ignoring the fact that we are a republican union of states, not a democratic union of states in name only.