15 November 2016

What we can do about the Electoral College

By the time all the vote-counting is done, it will likely turn out that Hillary Clinton got about two million more votes than Trump (link found via Progressive Eruptions) -- a margin of about 2%, not too different from her lead in the RCP average shortly before the election.  This may be of some comfort to pollsters, and in some ways to the rest of us as well -- it simply isn't true that a majority of Americans voted for Trump and the collage of bigotries he put forth.  But it does not change the election outcome, which is determined by the Electoral College.

This is the second time in 16 years that the Electoral College gave the Presidency to a candidate who won fewer actual votes than his opponent.  This time it's worse, since the popular-vote lead was more substantial.  There are several problems with the Electoral College -- it over-weights votes in states with small populations, and makes no allowances for differences in turnout between states -- but the biggest problem is that the winner-take-all system in most states means that a razor-thin margin of victory in one state can offset a large margin in another, making millions of votes in the latter state worthless.  That's what happened this time.

There is currently a petition drive urging certain of the electors (they are actual people, not just numbers on a map) to disregard the state-by-state results and elect Hillary in accordance with the total popular vote when they meet on December 19.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  Yes, it would reflect the actual will of the voters.  But it would trigger a Constitutional crisis, and possibly a civil one as well -- just imagine the fury of the Trumpanzees if such a thing happened.  It would also constitute changing the rules after the game is played.  More to the point, it's very unlikely to succeed.  Slates of electors are chosen by their respective parties and are presumably, with rare exceptions, reliable.  They're not going to persuade 38 Republican electors to switch sides and face the wrath of their party (and of millions of enraged, armed Trump voters).

But there's still something we can do about future elections.  Abolishing the Electoral College could only be done by amending the Constitution, a very slow and difficult process.  But there's an ingenious plan in the works which would solve the problem without an amendment.

The National Popular Vote bill is a law available for adoption by any state which chooses to do so.  It works in two steps.  (1) Any state which adopts the law will henceforth award its electoral votes to the candidate who won the most popular votes nationwide, regardless of the vote result in that particular state; and (2) in those states which have adopted the law, it takes actual effect only after it has been adopted by states whose total electoral votes come to more than the 270 needed to win the Electoral College.  So, a state which adopts the law does not lose any of the clout it has under the existing system, but once the critical mass is reached, all those states would be bound to give their electoral votes to the national popular-vote winner, who would therefore become President.

The law has already been adopted by eleven states with 165 electoral votes, including some states where it was Republican-led legislatures that voted to adopt it.  It only needs to be adopted in states with a further 105 electoral votes and it will take effect.

Supporting this initiative is actual action we can take, now and over the next four years.  No problem in history has ever been solved by sitting around complaining about how bad the situation is.  An hour of focused action in support of a solution is worth more than a year of bemoaning the problem.  Obama has spoken of lending his name and efforts to the fight against gerrymandering after he leaves office.  I hope he will consider supporting the National Popular Vote initiative as well, since it works in the same spirit.  Even Trump has reaffirmed that he considers it unfair for the popular-vote loser to win the election, even after being the beneficiary of that very phenomenon last week.  Especially if he doesn't plan to run for a second term due to his age, it's possible he too could support this.

Right now -- after an election where the injustice was compounded by the size of the "defeated" candidate's margin -- is the time to push this initiative hard.


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

The National Popular Vote bill sounds like an equitable way to solve th EC problem. I hope this will be adopted by the states. Unfortunately it's too late for 2016.

15 November, 2016 19:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

2016 is a done deal. We need to be working on preventing misfires like this in the future. If we'd been focused on the NPV initiative over the last four years and gotten it passed in enough states, Trump would not be President-Elect now.

16 November, 2016 03:11  
Blogger Kevin Robbins said...

Thanks for the information on this. I had heard a bit about it and you've convinced me to look more closely. I'll share a letter that was in my local paper today. Not pro-NPV, BTW. I loved this:

Abraham Lincoln won the election via the Electoral College even though he had only 40 percent of the popular vote. The Electoral College is one of our greatest protections against the tyranny of the majority, aka mob rule.

I'm embarrassed to say I had to look up the results of the popular vote in the 1860 election.
Lincoln 40%
Breckenridge 18%
Bell 13%
Douglas 29%

Damn the tyranny of the majority.

19 November, 2016 10:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

People are usually willing to denounce "mob rule" when the majority wants something different than what they do. There's no reason to think that counting votes by our bizarre state-by-state method gives any wiser a result than straightforward popular vote. Our real defense against mob rule is the court system and the Constitutional protections it enforces.

Thanks for giving me an idea, though. I'm planning to write to my state legislators and the Governor, since Oregon hasn't yet adopted NPV, but I'll probably write a letter to the local paper as well. It can't hurt.

19 November, 2016 14:09  

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