Colleges are under attack today, with the recent admissions scandal triggering charges of inequity in the college admissions process. But Democrats are on the warpath about a particular college, the Electoral College, arguing that it advances its own brand of unfairness.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is the latest critic, saying earlier this week: “My view is that every vote matters … and that means get rid of the Electoral College and everybody counts.” Another candidate, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, agreed. Beto O’Rourke said he saw “a lot of wisdom in that.” Democrats are apparently not content to eliminate economic inequality through their expensive Green New Deal, but also want to pack the Supreme Court and close the Electoral College to remove constitutional barriers to their blue progressive goals.
Warren’s argument, that the Electoral College means votes do not count, is wrong on its face. Votes have to be aggregated and counted somewhere, and the Constitution provides that this be done state by state, even as it empowers the states to run elections for federal offices. Every vote does count, it’s just that they are counted in state capitals, not in Washington.
I guess for Democrats, government does not count if it does not happen in Washington.
There are both historic and current reasons for the elector process. Historically, the founders built a number of mechanisms into the Constitution allowing both the states and the people to play roles in ways that create checks and balances and separations of power. The Senate holds two senators for every state, for example, and the House of Representatives is “the people’s house.” The people vote for a presidential candidate’s electors and the states control the electoral vote.
Besides the constitutional issues, there are two practical reasons why the elector system continues to make sense. One is that it limits recounts to a statewide process rather than a national one. Imagine how the 2000 election would have gone if instead of just counting ballots in Florida, we had to do it all over the country, as a national popular vote would require. Another benefit of the elector system is that it forces candidates to campaign in different states and areas of the country to win, rather than concentrating their efforts on large population centers.
Even more troubling than calls to close the Electoral College, which can only be done by a constitutional amendment, is the end run called the National Popular Vote Bill. This clever bit of legislation working its way through state legislatures would require state electors to cast their votes not for the popular vote winner in their state but for the victor in the national popular vote.
Talk about your vote not counting.
A candidate could win a state in a landslide, but your vote would not count because your state’s electors must vote for the winner of everyone else’s national popular vote. Colorado just passed the bill last week, bringing the total of states that have passed it to 12 (plus the District of Columbia). When enough states pass the bill to total the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president (the count is now 181), it will go into effect.
A better reform, and one that properly addresses what people do not like about the electoral process, would be for states to move away from the winner-take-all aspect of electors. All states except Maine and Nebraska cast all their electoral votes for the winner of their state’s popular vote. However, Maine and Nebraska split theirs according to how the candidates ran in particular districts. Under the Constitution, states may allocate electoral votes as they wish, so this would be a reform requiring neither a constitutional amendment nor a too-clever end run.
Progressives prefer big, national reforms, rather than working this kind of change through each state.
The founders rightly feared direct democracy. The many checks and balances and separations of power they wrote into the Constitution are not, as progressives argue, anachronistic. Rather, they are part of the genius of the American republic that keeps our democracy safe.