Opinion

Electoral College dropouts look to change system

Believing that enforcing majority will is the only purpose of government, a group called “National Popular Vote” is attempting to nullify the Electoral College.

Rather than amend the Constitution — the only legitimate way for such a dramatic change — it is lobbying state legislatures around the country to pass a law awarding their electoral votes to whoever wins the most popular votes nationwide.

It only takes effect if passed by enough states to have an Electoral College majority.

So far, only Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland have adopted National Popular Vote legislation.

The framers of our Constitution considered many ways to select the president. They declined to give the power to Congress or to state governors for fear of corrupt bargaining between politicians.

They rejected using the national popular vote for multiple reasons, including concern that large states or regions or powerful interests might control the outcome.

Instead, they created something new and unique and, after 55 presidential elections, uniquely successful.

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors. Their only job is to meet once in their own state and vote for president and vice president.

Each state has the same number of electors as its total number of representatives plus its two senators; the District of Columbia has three.

It takes a majority — the votes of 270 of the 538 electors—to win the presidency.

If no candidate gets a majority, then the House of Representatives elects the president.

Today, each state political party nominates a group of potential electors who pledge to support the party’s presidential candidate.

If the party’s presidential candidate wins the statewide vote, all of that party’s nominees become electors.

Two states — Maine and Nebraska — are exceptions; in those states, one elector is elected from each congressional district and the remaining two are elected based on the statewide vote.

If the purpose of government is liberty and justice, the Electoral College has done America proud.

The system moderates our politics and protects minority rights.

If the purpose of government is simply enforcing the will of the majority, the Electoral College is in question.

An Electoral College tie in 1800 and lack of a majority in 1824 left it to the House of Representatives to elect Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, respectively.

The House also settled a dispute over electors in 1876, giving victory to Rutherford B. Hayes against a possible popular vote majority for Samuel J. Tilden.

In 1888 and again in 2000, the Electoral College winner had slightly fewer popular votes than his opponent, though neither candidate received a majority of the total votes cast.

The fact is, the losses would far outweigh the gains from changing how we elected our presidents.

The Electoral College moderates and stabilizes American politics. It forces presidential candidates to appeal to the most politically balanced states rather than simply “preaching to the choir” where they have strong support.

Campaigns depend on building large coalitions that transcend their political base, spending time and resources in a group of “battleground states” that represent America’s moderate middle rather than the ideological extremes.

These key states change over time and are remarkably diverse — in 2004, battlegrounds included Florida, Iowa, Ohio, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

Some day it could be Washington state.

A national popular vote scheme would enhance the power of big cities at the expense of small town America.

Campaigning in metropolitan areas is already less expensive, but without the Electoral College, candidates would be foolish to venture beyond the suburbs.

The Electoral College also makes elections more reliable and secure.

Under a national popular vote system, a close election could require a nationwide recount. If the raw vote total were all that mattered, vote fraud anywhere in the country could be decisive.

With the Electoral College, a corrupt big city political machine can only steal a presidential election in the unlikely and unpredictable event that its state electors become decisive to the electoral vote outcome.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned against attempts to change the Constitution based on “mere hypotheses and opinion,” and counseled that “experience is the surest standard” when considering constitutional changes.

Wise words that weigh heavily in favor of the Electoral College.

Trent England is director of the

Center for Governance and Citizenship

at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

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