Senator Elizabeth Warren is hell-bent on dismantling the systems that feed inequality in this country, including the Electoral College.
“Every vote matters,” she said at a recent CNN town hall. That’s why we should “get rid of the Electoral College” and institute “national voting.”
Americans don’t directly elect their president — states do. In most cases, states award all of their “electoral votes” to the candidate who wins the popular vote in those states. Whoever gets 270 electoral votes wins the election.
Because electoral votes aren’t awarded in perfect proportion to population, small states get more influence over the outcome. Which means you can win the electoral vote even while getting fewer popular votes than your opponent.
Abolishing the Electoral College would level the playing field. It would ensure that people, not parties or mechanisms, determine who leads the country.
Is that so bad? If you’re a Republican, yes.
The Electoral College helped the two most recent Republican presidents — Donald Trump and George W. Bush — win office despite losing the popular vote. Bush lost the popular vote by over half a million, Trump by nearly 3 million.
No wonder Republicans are now up in arms about protecting their advantage. After all, the Electoral College gives disproportionate power to smaller, rural states, which tend to vote for them.
For instance, red Wyoming gets one Electoral College vote per 195,000 people. Blue California gets just one per 712,000 people. In other words, your vote counts nearly 4 times more if you live in Wyoming.
“Swing states” that don’t vote the same way each election also wield disproportionate power, since even a narrow winner will get all of their electoral votes. That’s why candidates spend so much time at diners in small-town Iowa and Ohio, rather than New York or Alabama, which vote more predictably for one party.
Seems to me all Senator Warren is calling for is a country that respects its citizens enough to let them choose their own leader — and to do so without some centuries-old electoral mechanism initially designed to inflate the political influence of slaveholders.
Perhaps the most insincere response to Warren’s proposal was National Review editor Rich Lowry’s.
If the Electoral College “is tantamount to disenfranchisement,” he wrote, “California could immediately mitigate the problem by splitting its electoral votes by congressional district the way Nebraska and Maine do… Of course, California is loath to give up any of its solidly Democratic electoral votes.”
I’m sure California would gladly split electoral votes by congressional district the way Nebraska and Maine do, on two conditions.
First, the Supreme Court would have to vanquish partisan gerrymandering to prevent presidential elections from being infected with the same dysfunction currently befalling congressional elections.
And second, the rest of the country would have to agree to divide their electoral votes by the same methodology.
But Lowry doesn’t suggest that, because it would spell doom for Republican second place finishers. Were the roles reversed, you can bet your bottom dollar Republicans would be clamoring for an end to this deeply flawed system.
Abolishing the Electoral College is unlikely in the short term. But that doesn’t mean Americans have given up on the idea of a direct popular vote.
Fourteen states and D.C. have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), agreeing to give their Electoral College votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. Colorado, Delaware, and New Mexico are the latest to join the compact, bringing their collective electoral vote total to 189.
Similar legislation has passed one legislative chamber in eight more states, comprising 72 Electoral College votes, and has been unanimously approved at the committee level in two states, comprising 27 more.
They’ll need 270 votes to ensure the winner of the national popular election wins the presidency. Right now that’s more likely than a constitutional amendment requiring overwhelming bipartisan support.
Still, there’s no getting around the real solution: Abolish the Electoral College so the candidate with the most votes wins.
Robert P. Alvarez works in communications at the Institute for Policy Studies.