Have you ever wondered why you don’t vote directly for your state’s Electoral College Electors? For most of us, they appear in December, cast their votes, and we never know their names. That’s because states choose Electors diversely.
“We have no uniform national system for choosing Electors, which means the legislatures do not have to consult the public at all,” co-write Rep. Jamin Rankin (MD-D) and James Ceaser, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia for the Constitution Center. Thirty-three states, including Indiana, have each party choose Electors during state conventions. The winning party’s slate casts the votes. Seven states and the District of Columbia have the state party committee choose. One state’s governor appoints them. One state lets the presidential nominee choose. In some states, officeholders, the party chairs or candidates choose. The rest use a hybrid of party conventions, committees, party chairs and/or districts. In short, the Electoral College is one of those democratic responsibilities given to states rather than citizens.
Americans have criticized and called for the Electoral College’s reform over 700 times since 1800. The closest it came to reform was when Birch Bayh (D-IN) cosponsored an 1969 amendment that Richard Nixon supported.
There are a number of issues with the Electoral College as it exists now. Dr. David Hadley, Professor of Political Science (retired) at Wabash College, noted that Electors have been party loyal and voting almost mechanistically since 1800. There have been few “faithless electors” and little, if any, “deliberative” debate among Electors, though the citizenry chafe when the candidate who won the popular vote is not the elected presidency.
Another “con” Hadley said, “is that the Electoral College as it operates today gives too much power to a few swing states. Candidates put all or most attention into those states. It isn’t guaranteeing that all states get attention.”
This “dramatically polarizes the nation’s politics while reducing voter turnout,” Rep. Rankin and Prof. Ceaser write in agreement.
What options do we have if the Electoral College system is increasing polarization, decreasing competitiveness, reducing attention given to all states, and affecting voter turnout? Can we eliminate it and institute a national popular vote? Hadley doesn’t believe that’s likely.
“Too many states see they have some advantage one way or another to retain the system. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Nebraska, Iowa, North and South Dakota, for instance, want to keep the Electoral College as is. They are constitutionally over-represented. For example, Montana has a population that would entitle it to a single representative but has three. Take all of the states in similar situations, they don’t want to give that off to California, Florida or Texas. We’d have to amend the Constitution, and it only takes 25% or 12 of states to keep that from happening.” Hadley noted there are enough of those states to prevent an amendment.
One solution is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which does not require an amendment. Ten states and Washington, DC are already members of the NPV Compact Coalition, which would be activated when states representing 270 Electoral College votes agree to join. NPV member states believe this will guarantee that the Electoral College winner is the popular vote winner because they would cast all their electoral college votes for that candidate. They believe it would establish presidential campaigns where every vote counts equally, and that it incentivizes candidates to campaign- ideally in person — all over the US, even in safe-blue and safe-red states that are small or non-competitive.
Rep. Rankin, whose state sponsored the NPV Compact, acknowledges there are critics. Some claim that candidates do campaign all over the USA, though he calls that “dubious.” Some don’t mind that five out of 53 elections have resulted in presidents who didn’t win the popular vote. Others plan to challenge that the NPV is unconstitutional based on one interpretation of Article II Section 1.
Here is where it matters that citizens do not choose the Electors. If states are given exclusive and unqualified determination for the Electors, as decided in 1892, then they may choose to support the direction of the popular vote, they may merely appoint based upon their state or district’s majority vote, or maintain the status quo. But citizens vote for their state leaders, so they can speak their preference.
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