Sunday, October 11, 2020

The time has come for majority Presidential rule.

Here I go, talking about politics again. Well, kind of. 

Every four years, Americans go to the polls to elect a new President of the United States (or re-elect the current one). At least that's what most people believe. But we don't, in fact, elect the President directly. Instead, we elect Electors, or people to represent us at the Electoral College -- a once-every-four-years group that gets together solely to vote on who will be the next President.

The number of Electors a state gets is equal to the number of its members of Congress. Every state has two US senators, and every state gets at least one member of the US House of Representatives. So each state has at least three Electors. States with big populations get a lot more. California, for example, has 55; Texas has 38. (Land area has nothing to do with the number of electors a state gets; Alaska is our biggest state by area, and it has only 3 Electors.)

It's not a terrific system (nor was it when it was first devised), but it would be sorta kinda fair if each state apportioned its Electors by its popular vote result. But that's not how it works. Nor has it worked that way since about 1832, by which time most states had gone to the winner-take-all system that persists today. In the meantime, our biggest cities have grown huge, outstripping anything the Founding Fathers could have envisioned in their wildest dreams. The result has been that states with the smallest populations have an outsized influence in the Electoral College. Here's an example: Wyoming has 3 electoral votes while California, as I mentioned above, has 55. Wyoming has something over 565,000 people total; California's population is 66 times that. Each of Wyoming's Electors represents 188,000 residents. But each of California's Electors represents about 677,000 residents. Wyoming's influence in the Electoral College is therefore much bigger than California's.

You might think that would give Wyoming a big influence on the actual Presidential election, but that's not how it works. Instead, because most states give all of their electoral votes to the popular vote winner, candidates concentrate their campaigning on only a handful of battleground states, where voters are closely divided and the race could go either way. This year, right now, all the hoopla is concentrated in a baker's dozen states


The numbers on the map represent major campaign events in each state since the end of the Republican National Convention in August. So if you live in California or Texas, or Wyoming -- or most of the rest of the country -- you're not seeing many ads for either Trump or Biden and you sure aren't seeing the candidates stopping by your hometown.

Because of this concentration on battleground states coupled with the outsized Electoral College influence of states with smaller populations, there have been five elections in our history in which the Electoral College has selected the candidate who didn't win the popular vote. It's happened twice in the past six elections -- in 2000 when George W. Bush won, and in 2016 when Donald Trump won.

The thing that annoys me most about this convoluted system is that for just about everything else, Americans are all about majority rule. It's a hallmark of our democracy, right? You bet it is -- but not for electing our President. We're told we need to protect small states' rights or the big states will run roughshod over them! But as we've seen, the current system protects rights of smaller states (if it actually does) by violating the rights of people who live in big cities, and who make up the majority of the population. How is that fair? Shouldn't the majority rule?

So how can we fix this goofy system? Getting rid of the Electoral College outright is a non-starter; it would require a constitutional amendment, and the political will just isn't there. But a bipartisan non-profit called the National Popular Vote has come up with a sort of end-run around it. It is collecting pledges from state legislatures to award their states' electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote nationally. 

Don't let anybody try to tell you it's illegal. The Constitution allows for states to apportion their electoral votes as they see fit.

The pledge will only kick in when states with a total of 270 electoral votes agree to participate. So far, 16 states and territories, with a total of 196 electoral votes, have signed on, so it won't be a factor during this year's election. But it's something to shoot for before the next presidential election in 2024.


These moments of fairly representational blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Have you made your plan to vote yet? 


Linda Lee Williams said...

Thank you, Lynne. Informative, educational, and persuasive. Shared.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Thank you, Linda!