By Dan McLaughlin • National Review
The latest enthusiasm from progressive pundits and activists for replacing the American system of self-government is to abolish the Electoral College and choose presidents by national popular vote. As with all such enthusiasms — expanding the Supreme Court, abolishing the filibuster and the Senate itself, lowering the voting age to 16, letting convicted felons and illegal aliens vote, adding D.C. and Puerto Rico as states, automatic voter registration, abolishing voter ID, etc. — the scarcely concealed argument is that changing the rules will help Democrats and progressives win more.
Also as with all such enthusiasms, Democratic presidential contenders have been unable to resist its siren song. Multiple prominent Democratic senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, are introducing a proposal this week in the Senate to make it happen, the second such proposal by Senate Democrats this month. As radical an idea as this is, its support in high places demands to be taken seriously.
The Electoral College has been with us since the Founding, and in its present form since the election of 1804. Some of the reasons for its creation may be obsolete now, and the original concept of the electors themselves as important actors in the presidential selection process has long since left us. But the fundamental system of electing presidents by 50 simultaneous statewide elections (plus D.C.) rather than a raw national popular vote has long served America well. It isn’t going anywhere, and it shouldn’t.
Uniting the States of America
What would American politics look like without the Electoral College? Changing our current system would unsettle so many of the assumptions and incentives that drive presidential politics that the outcomes could easily be unpredictable. But first, consider the immediate changes. Continue reading
By Sumantra Maitra • The Federalist
During the dying days of the Roman Republic, with effete senators stabbing each other in the back when they were not busy in orgies, Julius Caesar followed the exact trajectory of a Leviathan—what Thomas Hobbes described beautifully hundreds of years later. Caesar, by this time opposed to the Senate, which obstructed his imperial aims, decided to cross the river Rubicon, thereby declaring war on the last vestiges of the craven republic.
After crossing the river, Caesar famously said Alea Eacta Est, or the die is cast. Thus crossing the Rubicon is now considered a revolutionary act that aims to destroy the status quo, structure, and balance, from which there’s no return. The only way forward is through chaos.
The current Democratic presidential frontrunners, with their war cries of Electoral College abolition and reduction of the voting age, signify another crossing the Rubicon moment. That’s because without the Senate, and without the Electoral College, there would be no states in the United States of America. Essentially, there would be no republic anymore. And if history is a good teacher, every time there was direct democracy, it has led to a Caesar—or worse. Continue reading
Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”
Warren’s lofty rhetoric notwithstanding, a large portion of the Democratic party’s present animosity toward the Electoral College is rooted in rank partisanship. Since they watched their supposed “blue wall” evaporate in the small hours of the 2016 presidential election, many Democrats have felt sufficient anger with the system to seek to remake it. This habit has by no means been limited to the Electoral College. Indeed, no sooner has the Democratic party lost control of an institution that it had assumed it would retain in perpetuity than that institution has been denounced as retrograde and unfair. In the past year alone, this impulse has led to calls for the abolition or reinvention of the Senate, the Supreme Court, and more.
Insofar as there does exist a serious argument against the Electoral College, it is increasingly indistinguishable from the broader argument against the role that the states play within the American constitutional order, and thus from the argument against federalism itself. President Reagan liked to remind Americans that, far from serving as regional administrative areas of the nation-state, the states are the essential building blocks of America’s political, legal, and civic life.
In our era of viciously divisive politics, the states are arguably more necessary than they have ever been. Critics of the Electoral College bristle at the insistence that it prevents New York and California from imposing their will on the rest of the country. But the Electoral College guarantees that candidates who seek the only nationally elected office in America must attempt to appeal to as broad a geographic constituency as possible — large states and small, populous and rural — rather than retreating to their preferred pockets and running up the score. The alternative to this arrangement is not less political contention or a reduction in anger; it is more of both.
In addition to protecting the political diversity for which the United States is famous, the Electoral College brings with it a number of practical advantages that are crucial to good government. Under the current system, the result of presidential elections tends to be clear almost immediately — there is no need, for example, to wait three weeks for California to process its ballots; it is nigh-on impossible for voters to return a tie or disputed outcome; and, because presidential elections are, in effect, fifty-one separate elections, accusations of voting fraud and abuse hold less purchase than they would if all franchisees were melted into a single, homogenous blob. The freak occurrence that was Bush v. Gore is often raised as an objection against the status quo. Less attention is paid to the obvious question: What if that recount had been national?
Impressively, Elizabeth Warren’s plan for straight abolition is not the worst reform being touted at the moment. Impatient at the lack of progress that the #Resistance has made in pulling the wiring out of America’s constitutional engine, a handful of states have adopted the “National Popular Vote” plan, which binds their electors to cast their ballots for the candidate who wins a majority of votes nationwide. Until enough states have signed on to tip the balance past 270 — and, indeed, until the inevitable litigation has been concluded — adoption of the NPV will remain purely symbolic. Should it be put into action, however, it would achieve the remarkable feat of removing all of the benefits that the Electoral College provides while preventing the electors of each state from voting for the presidential candidate whom a majority in that state had picked. Who knew that the outsourcing craze would extend to democracy?
The U.S. Constitution is a complex document that, as Whitman might have put it, contains multitudes. At once, it boasts guarantees of democracy and protections against it; hosts an outline for national action, and a blueprint for localism; and serves as a vehicle for the majority, while including guarantees that the most significant decisions must be broadly agreed upon. The Electoral College is one of the many finely tuned institutions within the charter that have ensured stability and continuity in America for more than two centuries. To destroy it in a hail of platitudes, civic ignorance, and old-fashioned political pique would be a disastrous mistake.
by Joel Goodman • The Federalist
Some disparage the Founding Fathers’ distrust of the population. They constructed a representative republic rather than a pure democracy, even in a time when voting was limited to white yeomen—those who owned land and had what was considered a “stake in the country.”
The example of the French under Napoleon Bonaparte, who were constantly engaged in referendums that determined the amount of authority Napoleon should have, provide an example of why the Founders eschewed democracy. These referendums were direct votes, considered to be the most democratic of all voting methods. Each vote granted Napoleon more power until he became an absolute emperor over the French people. The French democratically and freely voted away their own liberty.
It appears the American Founders had presaged the events in France by examining the history of earlier democracies. The reasons America is a republic are more basic. Continue reading
The presidential electors have a constitutional duty to vote for the person best-suited to be president, regardless of whether that person is Donald Trump.
By James Heaney • The Federalist
On November 8, Americans cast their votes, and Hillary Clinton won more of them. In most democracies, that would make her the winner—and the next president. But she isn’t.
This was not a stolen election. It is not an error in our system. This is by design.
America’s Founding Fathers were too wise to establish a national popular vote for the highest office in the land. Instead, they created an Electoral College. It spreads the power to elect the president across the country, with every state getting a certain number of votes, usually winner-take-all. This system means any would-be president has to win support from a broad coalition that encompasses many diverse states. Continue reading
Diffused democracy weakens centralized power. This is why Democrats hate it.
By David Harsanyi • The Federalist
This week, anti-Trump protesters hit the streets in big cities around the country, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” Yes. That’s the problem.
For many Democrats, the greatest political system is the one that instills their party with the most power. Now that it looks like Hillary Clinton will “win” the fictional popular vote over Donald Trump, people — not just young people who’ve spent their entire lives being told America is a democracy, but people who know better — are getting hysterical about the Electoral College. Not only is it “unfair” and “undemocratic,” but like anything else progressives dislike these days, it’s a tool of “White Supremacy—and Sexism.”
If liberals truly believe majoritarianism is the fairest way to run a government, then why shouldn’t 50 percent of states be able to repeal constitutional amendments? (Democrats only run only 13 state legislatures. But, you know, when it’s convenient.) Continue reading
My last column on the Electoral College prompted a number of thoughtful responses, so I would like to deal with those, and then make some general points in (qualified) support of the Electoral College itself.
One reader produced polling results demonstrating that support for the elimination of the EC and its replacement with a direct popular election of the president runs between 70 and 80 percent in every state in the country.
With opposition like that, it is quite astonishing that the EC can survive. Surely it must have some things going for it. I shall try to explain what those are as I go along. Continue reading
Regular as clockwork, every four years, we get calls for scrapping that archaic relic of the 18th century, the Electoral College. An institution unique to the U.S. political system, the EC takes a beating for occasionally producing a president who was not elected by a majority of the voters.
The issue is timely, because Virginia is considering a change in the way it allocates its Electoral College votes, and some conservative groups are salivating that this change, if emulated in other states, could enhance Republican presidential prospects. Their “evidence” is that if this change had been in effect in only five states, Mitt Romney would have won the election last year
What is this “silver bullet” of reform, and what would be its real world effects? Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading
Romney 315, Obama 223
by Michael Barone
November 2, 2012
Fundamentals usually prevail in American elections. That’s bad news for Barack Obama. True, Americans want to think well of their presidents and many think it would be bad if Americans were perceived as rejecting the first black president.
But it’s also true that most voters oppose Obama’s major policies and consider unsatisfactory the very sluggish economic recovery — Friday’s jobs report showed an unemployment uptick.
Also, both national and target state polls show that independents, voters who don’t identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans, break for Romney. Continue reading