Elizabeth Warren, the pointy end of the spear of Democratic radicalism, has called for the end of the Electoral College.
“My view,” she said at a CNN town hall, “is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”
Her statement elicited the support of other 2020 candidates. The same people who complain daily about Donald Trump violating norms are now openly advocating eliminating the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court.
The Constitution, where the workings of the Electoral College are set out at length, is impossible to change on a partisan basis. So the Electoral College isn’t going anywhere soon, although opponents are attempting an end run through a compact of states.
The disproportion of this effort is notable. In 2016, Democrats rigged their nomination process in favor of a radioactive candidate who was uninterested in appealing to white working-class voters and operated on a deeply flawed view of the electoral map—and yet they blame her loss on a mechanism for electing presidents that has existed, with slight modification, since the adoption of the Constitution.
Democrats want to beat Donald Trump and win the presidency going forward. There are simpler, less far-reaching expedients within their grasp before trying to dump the Electoral College: Nominate a more appealing candidate. Find a way to pick up a little more support in the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest. Moderate on culture issues. Drive up African-American turnout.
If Democrats could manage a few of these things, and win both the popular vote and an Electoral College majority—the usual outcome throughout our history—their concerns over the Electoral College will suddenly evaporate.
The case against the Electoral College is, first, as Elizabeth Warren said, that it supposedly ensures that some votes don’t matter: In heavily blue or red states, voters on the other side are effectively disenfranchised.
This isn’t true, though. All votes are counted toward the outcome in every state. Voters from Republican, rural areas in California, for instance, aren’t disregarded; they are simply outnumbered.
If it is the considered progressive view that this is tantamount to disenfranchisement, California could immediately mitigate the problem by splitting its electoral votes by congressional district the way Nebraska and Maine do. This would require no change to the U.S. Constitution, or elaborate schemes. Of course, California is loath to give up any of its solidly Democratic electoral votes.
Another argument is that the Electoral College bears the moral stain of slavery. But the debate over how to select the president that took place at the Constitutional Convention—whether to do it by popular vote, or via Congress, or another method—was between the large and small states. Slavery wasn’t mentioned, except in an ambiguous remark by James Madison.
The Electoral College was indirectly touched by the notorious slavery compromise only because states were allocated electors based on their senators and congressional districts, and slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of congressional representation. The Electoral College wasn’t in any way dependent on the 3/5th clause or defined by it. The clause was abolished 150 years ago—and yet the Electoral College persisted.
Then, there’s the question of proportionality. The way the Electoral College distributes electors isn’t strictly proportional to the population of the states. This makes sense, since it was a compromise between the large and small states. Still, it’s not as though the big states aren’t hugely important.
The 84 electoral votes of automatically blue California and New York are an enormous step toward Electoral College victory. It takes 19 small states to almost equal the electoral vote haul of those behemoths. Indeed, it’s theoretically possible via a coalition of big states alone to get to 270 electoral votes, while losing 39 smaller states and the District of Columbia.
Finally, there’s the issue of the legitimacy of the popular-vote winner losing the presidency. It’s understandable that Democrats feel aggrieved by how Hillary Clinton lost. But 2016 wasn’t a true test of the popular vote, given her opponent wasn’t contesting the campaign on those grounds. Trump’s team was, rightly, trying to eke out an Electoral College victory rather than run up the score in Republican states.
Yes, Clinton made the rubble bounce in California and New York, beating Trump by almost 2-1 margins, but that didn’t get her anything except greater permission to act the sore loser. What Democrats want is effectively to make California and New York the kingmakers in presidential politics, and not have to bother with the middle of country and smaller, more rural states. This is exactly the approach that the Electoral College is meant to foreclose, in favor of greater geographic diversity.
Opponents of the Electoral College have made some progress in getting blue states to agree to award their electors to the popular-vote winner, a deal that would go into effect when states equaling 270 electors join the compact. This arrangement would surely lose its allure as soon as it meant awarding the electoral votes of these states to Donald Trump, or any other Republican. And, indeed, why should Connecticut or Illinois give its electors to a candidate its voters opposed?
In the Trump era, Democrats are in a perpetual state of panic. They should remember that the electoral map is always changing. Before 2016, it was thought the Electoral College favored Democrats. It shouldn’t be beyond their conceiving that they can win again under the long-established rules of America’s foundational governing document.
If it’s true that they can’t, they have only themselves to blame.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Droolin’ Dog sniffed out this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: (Rich Lowry)