Ever since Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the 2000 presidential election, there has been a major push to abandon the Electoral College system. Superficially, there is a sense that the election was unfair and everyone’s vote did not count equally. Three or four times in history we have elected a president who did not win the popular vote. The election of the president is determined by the Electoral College, not a national popular vote. In every state but two, Maine and Nebraska, all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in that state. Each state is allotted as many electoral votes as they have U.S. Senators and Representatives. This results in smaller states having more electoral votes proportionate to their populations, and larger states having less. Since smaller states tend to be more conservative, this makes it more likely that a Democrat could win the popular vote by winning large urban areas in big states, while still losing the election.
Realizing they can rig the system, Democrats are advocating replacing our current system with the National Popular Vote Compact (NPV). They would get around the difficulty of amending the Constitution by instead having states voluntarily enter into a compact to participate. States would agree to assign all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the total popular vote across the country, not just within that state. As soon as enough states pass this legislation and surpass half the electoral votes, 270, it will go into effect. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia have joined, totaling 132 electoral votes so far.
The problem with choosing mass democracy over electing educated representatives to make most political decisions can be summed up in the well-known expression, “Democracy is two wolves and one lamb voting on what to have for dinner.” The reason we have checks and balances is to avoid tyranny of the majority. Our country has lasted long and excelled because we were not established as a mass democracy. The U.S. was founded as a republican democracy – a representative government. We elect leaders to make decisions for us because not all of us have time to spend delving into political issues to fully understand them. James Madison in Federalist No. 10 explained why the Constitution established electoral representation and not direct representation, “…by enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests…”
Determining who would make the best candidate for the most important office in the country is not necessarily something that needs to be equally weighted among every person. In fact, in the past, several states did not have a popular vote for president, but allowed the state legislatures to choose the electors. The Constitution does not prescribe how the president is elected, other than leaving it up to the state legislatures to determine how to select the electors.
Ensuring one vote per person does not require ensuring one vote per issue or topic. We elect people to various political offices all the time, who then select other people for additional political positions based on criteria they select, not based on additional votes from the rest of us. This is no different.
The move to a national popular vote is supported by far left groups including the ACLU, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which receives funding from George Soros and the Tides Foundation. The President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate, Anthony DeLuca, has declared that once NPV goes into effect, we will never elect another Republican president. Tom Golisano, the billionaire spokesperson bankrolling the movement, is a seven-figure donor to the Democratic Party. He has cleverly hired Republican lobbyists like former Senator Fred Thompson to popularize it.
The NPV website is full of convoluted, deceptive arguments that dance around the real issue of direct democracy. The “myths” section simply denies everything. It claims that small states and federalism will not be harmed, and muddles the distinction between a republic and a democracy.
Shawn Steele, former chairman of the California Republican Party, is leading Republican opposition to NPV. The RNC passed a unanimous 168-person resolution this summer opposing NPV. California, the most recent state to adopt NPV, passed it without a single Republican State Senator voting in favor.
Some Republicans are getting excited about a variation of modifying the Electoral College being considered in Pennsylvania, which has already been adopted in Maine and Nebraska. Pennsylvania’s Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) is leading the effort and Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett has indicated he will probably sign the bill. Under the modified system, one electoral vote is awarded to the popular vote winner in each Congressional district, and the remaining two electors are awarded to the winner of the state’s popular vote. Due to the makeup of Pennsylvania, which has given all of its electoral votes to Democrats since 1988, the change would likely favor Republicans. So far there has only been one election where Maine or Nebraska has not given all of their electoral votes to one candidate, in 2008.
The proposed system in Pennsylvania does not change the fact that since Congressional districts are different sizes, one person’s vote in a district will appear to have more or less weight than someone’s vote in another district. Candidates who win the popular vote in the state could still lose a majority of its electoral votes.
The primary problem with the proposed changes in Pennsylvania is that voting will become heavily influenced by gerrymandering. A state that leans Republican could find itself giving a majority of its electoral votes to Democrats if districts become gerrymandered to favor Democrats. Redistricting and gerrymandering will increase. States, on the other hand, have had established boundaries for years. Pennsylvania State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason opposes the changes. Save our States, a project of the Freedom Foundation think tank in Washington state that is dedicated to saving the Electoral College, opposes NPV but is ambivalent about the proposed changes in Pennsylvania.
Meddling with the Electoral College is a bad idea. It would decentralize elections and nationalize politics. A national popular vote would transfer voting power to large urban cities favoring Democrats. Even the New York Times has editorialized against tampering with the Electoral College, not wanting a solution favoring Republicans like that being proposed in Pennsylvania.
If direct democracy is such a good idea, then why not get rid of the U.S. Senate? It is the same concept. No matter how small a state’s population, it has two U.S. Senators. This is for good reason. We allot a larger proportion of representation to smaller states in order to provide them with adequate representation. Otherwise the heavily dense urban areas of larger states would bulldoze over the interests of smaller, more rural states. Don’t be fooled by the hype. The Electoral College’s system of representative democracy and federalism is the backbone of this country, not mob rule.