Real Electoral College Reform


In a recent column titled The National Popular Vote Fallacy, I attempted to demonstrate how the progressives who are behind the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) may, in fact, be shooting themselves in the foot.

As the NPVIC rule is designed, when enough states have joined the Compact to bring at least 270 electoral votes (a simple majority in the Electoral College) to the table, then and only then will the combined electoral votes of all the Compact states automatically go to the candidate with a majority of the national popular vote, thereby eliminating any possibility of electing a president and vice president with less than a majority of the national popular vote.

I pointed out that, in 2000, a switch of just 271,948 votes nationwide would have given George Bush and Dick Cheney a slim national popular vote victory, along with a narrow 271 to 266 vote victory in the Electoral College (one DC elector abstained from voting). But what if the NPVIC had been in place in 2000 and Bush-Cheney had been able to eke out a narrow popular vote victory? What would have been the impact on the Electoral College vote?

Looking at the electoral votes state-by-state in 2000 (electoral votes in parentheses), if the thirteen blue states of Connecticut (8), Delaware (3), Iowa (7), Maine (4), Michigan (18), Minnesota (10), Nevada (4), New Mexico (5), New York (33), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (23), Rhode Island (4), and Wisconsin (11), with a total of 137 electoral votes, had joined with the states that now constitute the NPVIC: California (54), Hawaii (4), Illinois (22), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), New Jersey (15), Vermont (3), Washington (11), and the District of Columbia (2), with a total of 133 electoral votes, they would have controlled a total of 270 electoral votes… a simple majority in the Electoral College.

However, had Bush-Cheney been fortunate enough to attract just one additional vote out of every 373 votes cast to eke out a razor-thin victory in the national popular vote, the twenty-one NPVIC states, plus the District of Columbia, would have cast all 270 of their electoral votes for George Bush and Dick Cheney... in spite of the fact that twenty-one of the twenty-two member states in the Compact had cast a majority of their popular votes for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.

Combined with the 242 electoral votes that Bush-Cheney won on their own in 28 of the 29 non-NPVIC states, the Electoral College vote would have been a 512-25 landslide victory for Bush-Cheney. This assumes, of course, that the U.S. Supreme Court would not have intervened to prevent the Democrat-controlled Florida Supreme Court from ordering a recount in only the four most heavily Democratic counties in the state, opening the process to massive fraud and an all but certain Gore-Lieberman capture of Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes. In other words, the proponents of the NPVIC would have insured a near-unanimous electoral vote for Bush-Cheney, the exact opposite of what they intended. The only state left in the Gore-Lieberman column would have been non-NPVIC Florida, which the Democrats would have won fraudulently.

So if those on the political left are dissatisfied with the results provided by the Electoral College, as currently constituted, is there a middle ground that might be acceptable to both the far left… who seek political advantage for progressive candidates… and to those of us who believe the Founders knew what they were doing when they created the Electoral College?

A compromise that progressives seem to admire, because it gives them a sense of having more control over the presidential selection process, and one that might also appeal to conservatives because it may help to reverse some of the negative impact of the 17th Amendment, is the apportionment system adopted by the legislatures in Maine and Nebraska, and which was seriously considered by the Pennsylvania legislature during the 2012 session.

In the Electoral College, each state is allotted two at-large electoral votes, one for each of their two U.S. senators, and one delegate vote for each congressional district in the state. Under the Maine-Nebraska electoral system, the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote is allotted that state’s two at-large electoral votes, while the remainder of the electoral votes in each state are allocated based on the popular vote for president and vice president in each of the state’s congressional districts.

For example, in the 2012 General Election, Barack Obama won the popular vote in both of Maine’s two congressional districts, giving him all four of Maine’s electoral votes, while Mitt Romney won the popular vote in all three of Nebraska’s congressional districts, giving him all five of that state’s electoral votes. So in this election year the Maine-Nebraska system produced no split results in either state. However, in the rest of the country the Maine-Nebraska system, which comes as close as we can get to tying the selection of our presidents and vice presidents to the will of the people at the local level… short of a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College … would have produced a vastly different outcome.

If the Maine-Nebraska electoral system had been in place in every state in this election year, and assuming that the vote for the presidential candidates would roughly equate to the votes for the congressional candidates of the respective parties in each district, Obama would have lost 115 of his 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney in the twenty-seven blue states where he won a majority of the popular vote. On the other hand, in the twenty-four red states carried by Romney-Ryan, they would have lost only 39 electoral votes to Obama-Biden.

The end result? In 2012, instead of a 332 to 206 vote victory for Obama-Biden in the Electoral College, the Maine-Nebraska system would have producing a comfortable 282 to 256 vote victory for Romney-Ryan, an outcome that would have been far closer to expressing the will of the people than the present winner-take-all system or the NPVIC system.

To understand this phenomenon one need only look at the county-by-county map of the country with counties colored either red or blue. It is reflective of: a) the preference for Republican ideals among a substantial majority of the people, and b) the overwhelming size of the vote for the Democratic “Santa Claus” in the inner city precincts.

If it is true, as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once remarked, that “all politics is local,” then to replace the current winner-take-all system with the Maine-Nebraska electoral system would help to bring political decision-making much closer to the people because of the increased importance it would place on generating interest in local and congressional elections.

When the Founders drafted Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, they directed that, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislature thereof for six Years… ” In other words, the Founders wanted the members of the House of Representatives to be chosen by direct vote of the people and the members of the Senate chosen by the political leadership of the various states, i.e., the members of the state legislatures.

The 17th Amendment, applying the “one man, one vote” rule to U.S. Senate elections, changed all that… and not necessarily for the better. By requiring that members of the Senate be chosen by direct vote of the people, just as members of the House of Representatives are chosen, the 17th Amendment tended to nationalize elections and did irreparable damage to the significance of political parties in local politics.

The Maine-Nebraska electoral system would take the emphasis away from key battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia and require candidates for president and vice president to campaign in all fifty states. As matters now stand, presidential candidates spend little or no time in states such as California, New York, and Texas because the outcome of presidential voting in those states is almost always a foregone conclusion.

Under the Maine-Nebraska system that would not be the case. Had the Maine-Nebraska system been in place for the 2012 General Election, Barack Obama would not have ignored the fifteen votes that Romney could have won in California or the six votes Romney could have won in New York. In Romney’s case, he could not have ignored the twelve electoral votes that Obama might have had access to in Texas.

The American people have been sold on the idea that majority rule is always best… even to the point of failing to see the value of the filibuster rule in the United States Senate which requires a super-majority of sixty votes to invoke cloture. The quality of public education in our primary and secondary schools is so poor that few Americans could write a single cogent paragraph on the importance of shielding the minority from the tyranny of the majority, which is what the filibuster rule is designed to do in the legislative branch of government.

The only way to eliminate the Electoral College is by constitutional amendment, and the chances of that happening anytime soon are almost zero. And since it is not likely that the quality of public education will be substantially improved anytime soon, the best possible way of bringing the selection of our presidents and vice presidents as close as possible to a popular vote of the people is by adoption of the Maine-Nebraska system.

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About Paul Hollrah
Paul R. Hollrah is a freelance writer living among the hills and lakes of northeastern Oklahoma. His life story is one of struggle and adventure, beginning on a Missouri sharecropper farm and ultimately placing him at the centers of power and influence in Washington and abroad. He is a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College.
  • conservativeinOR

    The question is: How do we the people work for and actually effect this change to the electoral process? As a mother of 4 teenagers, my job is to train them to be good citizens. The problem is, my kids are pretty smart, and they see, and certainly feel the futility of their own involvement in the current American process of government. How do we give them hope and real power?

  • Budp50401

    Great article Paul. So how do we go about getting someone to sponsor and write a bill to start the changes that we need? I would donate and write a letter a day to anyone who is really trying to make this change. I think any moron should be able to see that the time is past to restructure the college or move to a popular vote. Not to mention a total crack down on voting fraud. If ANY other country had this much fraud the U.S. would be pounding the UN doors down to nullify the election and redo it with armed guards at the polls.

  • Lew

    Make every state enact voter ID laws. Then get rid of the Electoral college. Have voting for a week to allow evryone to vote. Then count the votes, all of them, even if it takes a month. Then decide who is the winner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.brashear.31 John Brashear

    Americans could have forced the overturning of this last election by just not counting the electoral votes of 1/3 of the states, causing the matter to force congress to decide the election, but when Power corrupts it is usually absolute and with the limited knowledge most of America has about it's own Governing document we end up with this,......

  • 44rd11

    If wishes were horses - beggars would ride.