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The Electoral College, Under Attack

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

As Tuesday’s election ticks ever nearer, my fervent wish is a solid electoral college win for Mitt Romney. Not to get greedy, but I’d like it in the bag before the wee hours of Wednesday morning.


I hope this is not asking too much. October’s poll swing and a broadening visceral sense tell me this election may not feature the nail-biting closeness we have been told to expect for months.

But if we are to be ensnared by a down-to-the-wire finish, get ready for the attendant micro-focus on the Electoral College, and the resulting debate over whether it should be scrapped.

I spent more than a little of my early adulthood weighing the merits of deciding the presidency on purely popular vote. It took me too long to cast off the myopia and historical illiteracy that led to my ambivalence.

So on the eve of this election, I hope to unburden anyone troubled by this dilemma. To those actively seeking to ditch the Electoral College, I hope to dash your efforts on the rocks of shame.

Simply put, the Electoral College is one of the most brilliant things conceived by our founders-- and not just because it kept Al Gore out of the White House.

It is a cornerstone of American exceptionalism, one of the unique things that makes our system one to be cherished against a tapestry of other enlightened nations following a more ordinary model.

We are not Finland or Jordan or Brazil. All nations have some substrata of political divides-- regions, provinces, some even called “states.” But no nation has ever risen from birth as a collection of states afforded so much stature that they are allowed, even expected, to routinely trump the national government in various collisions of governing interests.


Residents of my state of Texas share U.S. citizen status with residents of Oregon, Maine and Illinois. But our lives, cultures and passions may differ. The founders wanted a nation that exalted and protected those close-to-home interests. This is the precious gift of federalism, which has allowed our nation to flourish both literally and conceptually as a beacon for how to afford citizens the greatest liberty.

The framers of the Constitution could have easily fashioned an election system in which we funnel our votes into one giant hopper, count them all on election night (hoping on each occasion that we don’t get Florida 2000 on a national level), and the winner is the candidate with the most votes.

But they didn’t. And there was a reason.

The President is not just an expanded version of your Congressman. While the House of Representatives was established as an enclave for direct election, the Senate was originally elected by state legislatures, and the presidency was fashioned as an executive position (hence the name of that branch of government), filled by someone who would manage a federation of independent states, not a landscape of millions of individuals.

The realization that the Presidency is not like a race for your local school board is a gateway to dismissing the other arguments against indirect state-level election.


If it is an irritant that the voters in Wyoming may wield a sliver more per capita clout than the voters of California, there is comforting logic in realizing that this compels presidential candidates to build constituencies across a landscape of less populous states rather than just campaigning in our largest cities.

If it is discouraging that votes in solidly red or blue states seem lost in an ocean of foregone conclusion, there is inspiration to be found in the states that have changed from one party’s hands to another as political winds shift. The South was staunchly Democrat as the 1950s became the sixties. Wisconsin was a reliable blue state seemingly yesterday. A few states may change color before our eyes on Tuesday.

Red-state Democrats and blue-state Republicans are welcome to spark movements that lead to such change. Some succeed and some fail. But along the way, the votes of minority parties are not lost in a vacuum of obscurity.

Barack Obama walloped John McCain by 24 points in 2008. His lead over Romney in the Golden State appears to be roughly half of that, a potential leap of substantial significance.

Obama lost Texas by twelve points in 2008. An active state Democrat party, buoyed by changing demographics, is hungry to narrow the gap for future presidential races. That’s not likely next Tuesday, but after that, who knows? Varying margins of party domination are big news.


Changing our electoral system would require a constitutional amendment, a bar which is properly high. But there is mischief afoot by factions seeking to destroy the founders’ intent with a pernicious initiative called the National Popular Vote Bill.

It asks state voters to surrender their influence in a scheme by which a state’s electors would go to the candidate winning the national popular vote.

Sadly, from California to Illinois to New Jersey, it has passed in eight states and the District of Columbia, totaling 132 electoral votes.

If that total reaches 270, the Constitution is officially hijacked, our history and legacy dishonored. It is fairly depressing that voters in those states would be willing to forgo the clout afforded them at our nation’s birth for some subterfuge born of modern whim.

The bitter irony is that the forces behind this dark venture are using the engine of state’s rights to propel it. The Constitution allows states to determine electors in a manner of their choosing. if they choose this unwise path, they are free to do so.

A Democrat friend of mine predicts a Romney victory Tuesday, but only in the popular vote. He believes Obama will take the electoral vote, delivering sweet revenge for what he and other Gore voters had to swallow twelve years ago.

If that happens, I will be appropriately disheartened. But if my candidate loses the next six elections in the same way, you will never hear me lobby for the abolition of the Electoral College.


It is a part of the American fabric. It deserves to be explained and defended. For a while in my scatterbrained youth, I thought no more deeply than to say the presidency should go to the candidate with the most votes.

Much of the current push for change come from the left, fueled by the prospect of the Democrat votes that tend to spring from large population centers. But even if there were something about big-city life that made people vote Republican, I would be unswayed.

An opinion on this issue should not stem from individual political self-interest. It should flow from an appreciation for how the presidency was envisioned and established by the nation’s first stewards.

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