The founders of our nation included the Electoral College in the Constitution because they wanted the citizens of their new nation to choose the president — not just wealthy propertied white men.
The Electoral College has become archaic in that it now contradicts the one-person one-vote foundation of our democracy, giving outsized influence to sparsely populated rural states. The votes of heavily populated urban states such as California, New York, Texas and Florida are negated by the electoral votes of less populated rural states.
The result has seen presidential candidates win election with fewer votes than their opponents — 3 million votes fewer in the 2016 election. The Electoral College can compel candidates to campaign only in battleground states where the vote is close and where needed electoral votes can be won.
In a democracy, all citizens have an equal vote, and a president should be elected by the direct popular vote. If the popular vote determined the winner, a candidate might have to campaign where the voters are, and not just in a handful of swing states.
The danger could still exist that candidates would seek to rack up as many votes as possible in big cities while ignoring smaller more rural states. However, it could also mean that if the popular vote were the rule, candidates would need to campaign in areas dominated by the opposing party, as it would matter if one lost by 10 points rather than 20 points. (It does not now.) This could moderate a candidate’s position on hot-button cultural wedge issues, leading to a more homogeneous political stance.
The abolition of the Electoral College might also lead to the rise of third-party candidates. Currently it’s basically impossible for independents or third-party candidates to get to 270 electoral votes.
Under a popular vote system, it is possible that an insurgent could capture the hearts of America’s citizens and might even bring House and Senate candidates to victory under this insurgent’s standard and create, in effect, three parties. Unfortunately this might also lead to a president who won with less than 50 percent of the vote, which would raise issues of what kind of mandate the new president had.
A nationwide popular vote would not necessarily make the most populous states of California, Texas, New York and Florida king makers. These four states cast about a quarter of the nation’s 137 million ballots in 2016. Even if somehow a candidate won all of the votes in these states, they would still have to campaign elsewhere across the country for tens of millions of more votes.
A nationwide popular vote could require a truly national campaign. What might benefit our democracy would be that candidates would have to focus on voter turnout and campaigning across this country rather than only in certain key states.
A constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. Our Congress is so polarized, any attempt to abolish will be futile.
There is a way to marry the popular vote to the Electoral College by splitting each state’s electoral vote in accordance with their popular vote percentages. A candidate who came in second in a state with 45 percent of the popular vote would receive 45 percent of the electoral votes from that state, instead of 0 percent.
Though the majority would come out on top in each state, the minority’s supporters would still contribute to their candidate’s electoral vote total nationwide rather than their electoral votes going to a candidate they do not support.
This system would greatly increase voter turnout, as candidates would need to campaign in all, if not most, of the states rather than just those that are competitive.
Such a change would cause the Electoral College to obey the popular vote while still safeguarding our founders’ concern that all citizens have an equal voice in presidential elections.
This system would have to pass state by state for it to be implemented nationwide, but would probably be easier to secure than the lengthy complicated constitutional amendment process. Changing the ways we elect presidents will not end the disastrous partisan divisions that exist in our country.
Jerry Hanson of Elkhorn is a member of the Walworth County Democratic Party.