We Think: It’s Time to Reform the Electoral College

We Think: It’s Time to Reform the Electoral College

October 14, 2016.

In 25 days we will elect the next President of the United States, someone who is likely to be the most unpopular president-elect in American history.

By all rights 2016 should mark a change election in America, but most Americans are grumbling about their choices for president. It doesn’t help that the electoral college assures that most states were already spoken for before before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were even nominated.

Changing the way we elect the president has been debated for decades. It is a frequent topic of college political science courses, think tank analysts, and editorial commentators during a presidential election year.  Here’s our view.

Notwithstanding the more democratic approaches of Maine (beginning in 1972) and Nebraska (beginning in 1996), there’s still too much opposition and inertia for the other 48 states to do the same or something similar. Once the 2016 election is over, we hope sound minds rise up and demand change, particularly since public confidence in government, elections and candidates continues to erode. Some have expressed interest in changing how we do things in Virginia.  We hope that sentiment grows.

Democrat and Republican political organizations deserve much of the blame for why nothing ever happens. Reforming the electoral college is something to which they give mostly lip service because they define reform as what’s good for them.  They should be among the parties at the table, but not the brokers if we want to get anything useful done.

As for Nov. 8, forget the Libertarian and Green party candidates. Together they may be a spoiler in a state or two, but that’s all.  Forget 40 or more states, including the 122 electoral votes that are delivered just by California, New York and Texas. They are already spoken for (again).

In most states the reason to vote is one’s sense of civic duty, and to elect members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  It’s not to elect the president.

To be clear, everyone should feel compelled to vote. But when you’re voting for president in a winner-take-all system, it’s discomforting to know that even if your candidate loses by a single vote, he or she gets none of your state’s electoral votes.

Just imagine if a state’s electoral votes were determined by congressional district (along with reform of the redistricting process to minimize gerrymandering), or by proportional allocation based on the popular vote (which would mimic the popular vote, but might still lead to a different result).

We’re heard the arguments about America being a constitutional republic not a pure democracy, but what has ever been good or fair about the electoral college?

Polls in Virginia show Hillary Clinton with a solid lead over Donald Trump, and the Trump campaign likely dropped Virginia from its calculus of how to get to 270 a while ago.  Trump may still win Virginia, but as we enter the final stretch of any presidential races, campaigns are wise to focus their television ads and other resources in the handful of states each regards as critical to winning. Virginia is not on that short list.

Thanks again, electoral college.

Just imagine if a state’s electoral votes were determined by congressional district (along with reform of the redistricting process to minimize gerrymandering), or by proportional allocation based on the popular vote (which would mimic the popular vote, but might still lead to a different result).

Both are imperfect but more democratic than what we have today. And each is one step short of direct election by popular vote, a heretical thought to some even though it’s how we elect everyone else in America.

There are plenty of issues to consider with any reform of the electoral college, but that’s not a legitimate reason to push this back under the rug.

Wouldn’t it be a good thing if Congressional elections such as the one in Virginia’s 10th District had direct, measurable consequences not only for Barbara Comstock and LuAnn Bennett but also for the presidential candidates?  Third party candidates might matter more too, even if they don’t know where Aleppo is.

Tom Julia
ADMINISTRATOR
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