Scott MacKay Commentary: Dump The Electoral College

Dec 23, 2016

Last week, a Democratic-fueled effort to get electoral college delegates to switch their votes failed to gain traction or block the election of Republican Donald Trump, who won a majority in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote.

RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay has a better way to make presidential elections reflect the will of the people.

Democrats should have faced one incontrovertible fact about the presidential election: That Republican Donald Trump won it legitimately, in the manner prescribed by the Constitution. The push on the left to try to peel  electors in individual states from Trump to Hillary Clinton was thus doomed from day one. Almost every elector is chosen because he or she is a partisan. Besides, more than 20 states bind electors by law from voting for anyone but the candidate a state’s voters picked.

But that doesn’t mean that all the post-election debate about the Electoral College has to be in vain. This vestige of the 18th Century has long outlived any purpose it once had and ought to be consigned to  history’s dumpster.

For the second time since 2000, a Democratic presidential candidate has won the popular vote but lost the electoral college and the White House. Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by roughly 500,000 popular votes. This time around the margin was much bigger, as Clinton harvested almost three million more votes than Trump.

Even Trump has complained about the electoral college. In 2012, when he figured that Republican nominee Mitt Romney was going to win the popular vote but lose the electoral vote,  Trump called the Electoral College  ``a disaster for democracy.’’

What the electoral college does is magnify the votes of those in small states dominated by white voters. Most of these states –think Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Montana—are overwhelmingly Republican and rural. There are a few that are blue – such New England strongholds as Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire, but no matter. There is no reason in an Internet era that voting for such an important leader ought to be allocated by a system devised in the days of the horse and buggy.

Some argue that scuttling the electoral college would give too much power to such bi-coastal blue regions as the Pacific West and the northeastern Democratic redoubts of Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. But where is it written in stone that a citizen’s vote in a blue, diverse  urban state ought to count for less, much less in some cases, than rural white red state voters? Has anyone noticed that it is such wealthy states as California, Massachusetts and New York that pay the bills for federal programs for poorer red states?

The current system also has turned the presidential campaign into battle for the votes of about 10 or so swing or battleground states. After the primaries are over, candidates rarely travel to try to appeal to issues in states outside the swing scrum.

There is a danger for the future of our democracy in choosing presidents who don’t have support of a   majority. The cynicism that infects our politics can only get worse when people in urban areas feel there is scant reason to vote because the presidential system is rigged in favor of small flyover states.

This system isn’t a Norman Rockwell Town Meeting illustration that protects yeoman farmers and average citizens. It is a relic of our nation’s original sin. The Electoral College was a compromise that gave southern slave-holders the right to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning U.S. House seats and the college.

Amending the Constitution to get rid of the electoral college would be cumbersome; that would require approval by three-quarters of the states. But there is another path that citizen activism could help achieve – the widespread adoption of the National Popular Vote initiative, an interstate compact that would commit states to award their electoral votes to the national winner. So far 10 states and the District of Columbia have signed on.

Rhode Island is one of those states that has approved such legislation, sponsored by Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston.   Isn’t it time – for once – that the rest of the nation catches up to the Ocean State?

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our On Politics blog at RIPR.org