A band-aid is a beautiful thing: sterile pad ample enough to cover over a wound and protect it from infection until it heals. A tourniquet is entirely different. A rag, a shirtsleeve, a whatever’s available to put pressure between a torn arm or leg and a person’s torso. A stopgap measure to staunch bleeding. An acknowledgement that conditions are grave and medical support remote. A gamble to buy time until the body can be tended, even at the increased risk of losing the limb.
In the first of this three-part post, The Awkward Poser made the case that the United States deserves a new, proscriptive Constitution, and then proposed to warm-up that process by reinvigorating the amendment process. The second post described three amendments to champion as band-aids: the ERA, the 28th, and uniform Federal elections. Today, I take on the electoral extremity in need of a tourniquet in our beleaguered Untied States: the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is not the worst compromise in our Constitution (fractionalizing men as 3/5 deserves that honor), but it is one that plagues the twenty-first century. Five times, in over two hundred years, the man selected as President by the Electoral College lost the popular vote. Two of those elections occurred in this century, and in 2016 the Electoral College voted contrary to the popular wishes of the largest percentage of voters ever. (Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump.)
Today, a voter from Wyoming has more than three times the influence in a Presidential election than a voter from California. Given the ongoing shift from rural America to urban America, and the demographic differences between people living in rural versus urban states, the disproportionate influence of rural white voters will only increase.
How can we level the Presidential electoral playing field? The obvious answer: to abolish the Electoral College and direct elect our President, is logistically impossible. Eliminating the Electoral College requires a Constitutional Amendment; Constitutional amendments require a minimum of ¾ of the states for ratification; and there are too many low-population states who enjoy an Electoral College advantage for that to happen without the kind of horse-trading that might occur at a full Constitutional Convention.
However, there are three possibilities short of that, any of which could lessen the Electoral College’s rural tilt.
One: Expand the House of Representatives
This is a feasible, but non-serious proposal. True, expanding the number of Congressional Representatives would tilt the Electoral College towards larger-population states. However, we hardly need more members of Congress feeding at the public trough with notable ineffectiveness.
Two: National Popular Vote Bill
The National Popular Vote Bill states that the electors of a given state will vote for the winner of the national popular vote, even if that candidate did not win the majority of votes in that state. In theory, if states that cumulatively possess 270 electoral college votes pass the bill, this bill will ensure the winner of the popular vote becomes President.
At present, the bill has been presented in some form in all 50 states. It has passed into law in sixteen states with a total of 196 Electoral College votes (all of which, incidentally, voted for Biden in the 2020 election anyway).
This sounds like a great idea, but I have doubts. A state law is less fixed than a Constitutional Amendment. What if, say, Texas passes the law and in a future election the people of Texas majority vote for a different candidate than the national majority vote. And Texas’ 38 electoral votes will determine which candidate becomes President. What is there to stop the Texas legislature from rescinding that law between the election and the time the electors meet? As a Lone Star might say: darn little.
Three: Electoral College Proportional Voting
A third approach, and one I think most deserving, is for all states to adopt the Electoral College allocation used in Maine and Nebraska. At present, the election winner in 48 states gets 100% of that state’s Electoral College votes. That is not a Constitutional requirement; it is a state determination. However, in Maine and Nebraska, two Electoral College votes go to the candidate who wins the most vote in that state (i.e. the ‘Senate’ electors) while each additional vote is allocated according to the winner of each congressional district. This can result in a split Electoral College vote within the state. (In 2016, Clinton won Maine’s popular vote and the district that includes Portland, while Trump won the 2nd district, which covers primarily rural areas of the state. Clinton received three electoral votes, Trump one.)
What appeals to me about spreading this methodology across all states is not just that it decentralizes the Electoral College, but also that it would bring Presidential candidates into areas of the country where, right now, they never even campaign. No Presidential candidates ever come to my home state: reliably blue Massachusetts. The Democrats own us; the Republicans have no chance. But if the electoral vote from, say, the politically blended area around Worcester was up for grabs, it is likely that both Republican and Democratic candidates would make their way to that district to solicit that vote.
To be sure, all of this is shenanigans against the obvious right thing to do: direct elect our President by popular vote, with a run-off if there is no majority victor. But as long as the Electoral College remains intact, or at least until a new Constitution is enacted, let’s put a tourniquet on a system that is bleeding the entire idea of democracy dry.