Last updated on October 2, 2020
Although frequently posed as one question — “should we eliminate the Electoral College?” — there really are two separate questions: should we (i) abolish the Electoral College, but keep the formulation where each state’s weight is based on the combined total of its US Senators and Representatives, or (ii) move entirely to a national popular vote?
I believe we should enact Option Two, a national popular vote, because it would better and more justly reflect the Presidency — the one national officeholder. And the US Senate sufficiently protects smaller states’ political weight. (The filibuster does that too but I would eliminate that if the filibuster abuse continues.) At this point in our national development, I also think that a national vote would make most state populations relevant for the first time in decades. Today, only the voters of a very few “swing states” are courted. The rest of state populations are written off as reliably “Red” or “Blue.” A national popular vote would change all of that, for the better.
But the reason I write this is that if a sufficient consensus does not exist for Option Two (popular vote), then surely we all must agree that we urgently need to adopt Option One — abolishing the arcane, outdated and dangerous institution of the Electoral College itself, while keeping the electoral college vote allocation for states.
The Option One approach is not complicated. Yes, there still will be 50 individual state popular vote elections, and the relative weight of such elections will be distributed via the existing electoral college allocation based on US Senators plus US Representatives. So, if you win state X, you get Y “points” toward the necessary 270 points. This would keep the elections more local and varied, and the smaller states would keep their disproportionate “protection” based on the two-Senators-per-state rule.
But Option One would get rid of the real and dangerous threat that some “Electoral College” body — not the People — would elect the president. It would get rid of the notion of individual “electors” (and whatever deals they could make), and any problem of “faithless electors,” who go rogue. As importantly, it would get rid of the notion of state legislatures picking a slate of electors, rather than the voters doing so. It would eliminate the notion of competing or disputed slates of electors — and of the varying and partisan U.S. House and Senate members voting to decide such issues.
Thus, Option One would eliminate a lot, albeit not all, of the election chaos threatened by Trump and Republicans today and by other would be authoritarians in the future. There is no good reason for a separate “Electoral College,” of electors (not voters) deciding elections, of possibly “rogue” electors and, maybe most notably (currently), of state legislatures, or courts, picking between competing slates of elector delegations. We can have separate state elections, weighted by the artificial factor of Congressional representation, without any of the above risk of political intrigue or corruption.
Thought of properly, Option Two is a philosophical argument: national popular vote or not? But Option One is a vital, urgent “good government” reform needed to avoid immediate and important harm. (And, yes, Option One is a compromise.)
In short: If we don't have the support yet for a national popular vote, don't let that be the enemy of the urgent need to abolish the real and imminent threat of the Electoral College. However, you look at it, the current Electoral College system is indefensible and a catastrophic problem waiting to be set off for no good reason.
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