Electoral College — You’re Fired!

By Jim Nelson, 

Montana Supreme Court Justice (Ret.)

The Electoral College (EC, for short) is one of the most undemocratic institutions to disserve our Country. For years a substantial majority of Americans has consistently, and rightly, supported the ideal that our president should be elected according to the popular vote. Yet, in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 the person elected president was not the candidate who the majority of people voted for.

Indeed, in 2000, the “winning” candidate, George W. Bush, lost the popular election by nearly 540,000 votes. And in 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular election by over 3 million votes—yet, he was declared the winner because of the EC votes.

The EC is embodied in Article II, Sections 2-4 of the federal Constitution: “Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: . . .’’ And, a lengthy process for utilizing the EC then follows.

Electors controlled by the State Legislatures might have had merit at the founding of the Country when the only people allowed to vote were white, male property owners. In theory, the EC was adopted to reconcile divergent state and federal interests, provide less populous states political leverage, insure some degree of popular election, guarantee a presidency independent of Congress and save the election process from political manipulation. The EC never did fulfill its lofty purposes, though.

Worse, this institution continues to frustrate the ideal of a popularly elected president–as happened twice in the last 16 years. The EC requires candidates to devote disproportionate resources in pivotal “swing states” and ignore the rest (like Montana). The EC tends to decrease voter turnout. In non-swing states, (like Montana), voters, anticipating the probable outcome of an election, simply don’t bother to vote—they know that even if they vote with the popular majority, the EC may nullify their vote (as happened in 2016). In short, the EC is a historical artifact, antithetical to democracy.

Is it realistic to expect Congress or the State Legislatures to amend the Constitution to repeal the Electoral College? No.

But there is another avenue to effectively accomplish the same result. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an agreement among States and the District of Columbia to award their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in the 50 states and D.C. The Compact comes into effect only when it will guarantee that result.

As of January 2017, ten States (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and D.C. have joined the Compact. These signatories have 165 electoral votes (presently, 61.1% of the 270 EC votes needed to give the Compact legal force).

A bill (SB 290) was offered in Montana’s 2007 legislative session to join the Compact, but the proposed legislation failed. Is it realistic to expect that Montana’s legislature might reconsider, and join the Compact? No.

For Montana voters who demand change, there is another viable approach, however. Article III, Section 4 of Montana’s Constitution permits the people to enact laws or amend our State Constitution by way of a citizen initiative (CI). In other words, if a CI to join the NPVIC was enacted by the people, Montana would become a member of the Compact by statute or constitutional amendment; its three EC votes would then be cast for whichever candidate won the popular vote.

With the NPVIC in effect nationwide, each Montana vote would have the same power as each New York, California, and Ohio vote. No Montanan’s vote would be nullified by a federal constitutional relic. America would elect its president in the most direct and democratic way possible—by the popular vote of the people.

We the People need the NPVIC; we need to finally say to the Electoral College: “You’re fired!”

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12 Comments on "Electoral College — You’re Fired!"

  1. The brilliance of the Founding Fathers of this great nation by creating the Electoral College has benefitted ALL citizens by giving one and all a voice in our republic. Mr. Nelson would NEVER have sat at the table of freedom with his insisting only populated areas govern thus eliminating most of the voices across the vastness of our country. Obviously, Mr. Nelson is sore that his ideology was defeated by those who chose freedom over bondage. With President Donald J. Trump, the resurrection of this United States has now begun. May God bless him and the citizens of our great democracy.

  2. Rural and small states were provide TREMENDOUS powers by having TWO senator for EACH state, no matter if you were tiny Rhode Island – or now Wyoming – and New York or California. The EC is an anachronism as much as slavery. We need a new balance to set things right AND another key point, Montana and others states NEVER get a visit no matter what, so that essentially disenfranchised.

  3. Until the problem of gerrymandering is taken care of and voter ID laws targeting non-whites ceases to exist, we’ll never have real representation.

    • fortunately this is problem Montana has already dealt with. Now as for Texas and States like N.C.-New Confederacy?-you are correct sir.

  4. Personally, I’m more concerned about the way that we fund political campaigns, than I am about the Electoral College.
    * The Electoral College sometimes gives us the candidate for president that didn’t get the most votes. But the way that we fund political campaigns restricts who we get to vote for in the first place.
    * The electoral college only affects the presidential race. The way that we fund political campaigns affects races up and down the ballot.

    If we funded political campaigns differently, we probably would have been voting on different candidates last November.

    Go here for a video illustrates the problem:
    http://lesterland.lessig.org/

    Here’s a group of former elected officials addressing the problem:
    https://www.issueone.org/

  5. Eliminating the influence of the EC is a worthy goal. Unlikely, but worthy. But to say it was inspired to give power to small states is not only a misinterpretation of historical fact, it is a misrepresentation of the current situation. It does not give power to small states, it only gives power to the majority in the small states. Every voter who supported HRC in the last general election had their vote nullified by this mechanism. Yet it is the system we have and will likely continue to have. The challenge for the Democratic Party is to learn how to win in this environment. The last two candidates to lose despite narrowly winning the popular vote were terrible choices. Had the Dems offered someone with even a remote connection to the average voter, the EC issue would have been irrelevant.

  6. In California 75% of eligible voters voted. A very Democrat State, turnout did not appear to be dampened because of EC. Either for Republicans or Democrats. Of course the State does not receive a proportional number of electoral votes.
    I agree that the EC is antiquated. The “vote”, popular vote here, is the decider in every democratic nation. In addition to reasons listed in this article, the EC was also a salve to the slave states. Hamilton had supported the EC as a body that would be composed of learned men that would prevent a demagogue from being President. Of course the EC simply became a group of politicians and Party officials that vote for their candidate.
    As far as candidates concentrating on swing states, I believe this has little effect on the voting. Certainly not in California where no campaigning occurred. Same for Montana, which was voting GOP regardless of the candidate.
    The NPVIC or any plan that might diminish the power of smaller states or the GOP will probably never be approved. But Dems received the most votes and still have a good chance to win the Presidency in the future. Just need better turnout in some key states. By the way, we live in So. Cal, but have a vacation home near Bull Lake.

  7. Yes registered voters. There were 19.4 million, 14.6 million voted. My point was that California was basically a lock for Hillary, yet the turnout of registered voters was the second highest in history.
    Eligible voters are a different issue. Nearly half do not vote. It seems rather discouraging. Why, not interested, feel it does not matter, lazy. I think most democracies have better turnout.
    As for the first post, sounds like a contradiction. The Founding Fathers cherished one man one vote but then let the vote of the states rule. Besides, many of the Founding Fathers were really the elite class that did not trust the citizens voting. Thus most states allowed only white male property owners.
    Yes, and let us make sure that the populated areas where the vast majority of people live do not overwhelm the areas where few people live!!
    Besides anyone using the terms great nation and table of freedom to me lacks good knowledge of history and critical thinking. Certainly the definition of a Trumpster, though since he calls this a great nation, which it is in many ways, why does he want to “Make the Nation Great Again!”

    • “and let us make sure that the populated areas where the vast majority of people live do not overwhelm the areas where few people live!!” This argument always slays me. What you’re saying is give rural voters more voice than city dwellers because…? People in big cities tend to worry more about things like safe air and water because it’s so obvious when it’s bad-a logger in Wyoming doesn’t give a shit cuz his air and water look OK. The ocean isn’t taking his back yard-and front if you live in Florida. Democracy means every vote is equal. Once you deviate from that you’re just arguing about the size of the Tyrant.

  8. Suppose we simply, like Maine and Nebraska do now, require proportional representation of electors in all states. The EC would not have to be changed (thus no constitutional issue) and we’d come closer to one man one vote. As a voting democrat, my vote has been nullified in virtually every presidential election.

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