Like many liberals, since Tuesday night I have drunkenly swerved across the five lanes of grief in mourning the loss of a country that apparently never existed—to the right’s delight, if Twitter is any indication. In two of these stages, Anger and Bargaining, the Electoral College has featured prominently.
As I come to grips with 11/9’s grim outcome, my anger sprays in many directions: Trump voters, of course; Stein and Johnson voters; non-voters; Comey; the media; and our old nemesis, the Electoral College.
I wasn’t old enough to vote for Al Gore, but even at 16 I knew the Electoral College was a stupid way to pick a President. I wrote a paper about it for my AP Government class, which probably holds up better than anything else I penned in adolescence. After all, my thesis has been vindicated twice since then in historically awful fashion.
As of this writing, Hillary leads the popular vote by almost one million votes. Experts estimate that when all the early and absentee votes are counted, she will win this (meaningless!) tally by more than two million votes and 1.7 percentage points. She will likely receive the third-most votes ever, behind Obama in 2008 and Obama in 2012. (I realize our population grows every year. But still.)
Millions more votes—and a loss. As a democracy, how do we justify this system?
In two of the past five elections, the candidate who received the most votes from the American people did not win the Presidency. Since the turn of the 21st Century, our general election has failed us 40% of the time. And given the razor-thin divide in the past five elections, it most likely will continue to fail us.
“Just think,” I texted my friend during Hillary’s heartbreaking concession Wednesday morning, “if not for the Electoral College, we’d be watching a victory speech right now.”
In the wake of Gore’s crushing “loss” in 2000 (the last time this happened), Senator-Elect Hillary Clinton said:
“We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago. I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”
Christ, that hurts to read. Clinton supported an Electoral College reform bill cosponsored by Republican Ray LaHood and Democrat Michael McNulty. Obviously that measure did not advance.
In 2012, while under the mistaken impression that Mitt Romney would win the popular vote but lose the election, Donald J. Trump tweeted, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” Incredibly, Trump reiterated that stance in his 60 Minutes interview Sunday night. On this issue and this issue alone, the President-Elect and I agree.
The Bargaining stage of my grief has taken the form of a Change.org petition calling for Electoral College electors to vote for Clinton even if their state went to Trump. One in Texas hinted he would go that route before backtracking. (Two in Washington may actually go “faithless” even though they’re supposed to vote Hillary, which would throw salt on America’s gaping, potentially fatal wound.)
This is a very nice thought—that the Electoral College got us into this mess, and it can get us out. Plus, Trump is exactly the kind of unqualified, unhinged demagogue from which the College should rescue us by acting as an eleventh hour failsafe.
But despite amassing more than four million signatures, the petition won’t do any good. Hill Dawg would have to flip 20+ electors to keep Trump from hitting 270—a towering order given that electors fall in line 99% of the time. Even if that happened, the vote would then go to our right-leaning Congress. They would object, of course, at which point, “The House and Senate would withdraw to their respective chambers to consider the merits of any objections according the procedure set out under 3 U.S.C. section 15.”
I’m a little rusty on 3 U.S.C. section 15, but my hunch is that even if the Electoral College rebelled (which would be one hell of a statement, if nothing else), Congress would put Trump in The White House. (Not that he will live there full time!) So, as much as it pains me to write this, a Trump presidency is nigh. As Rachel Maddow reminded us on 11/9, this is not a terrible, terrible dream. We haven’t died and gone to hell—our ideals have.
The irony, as others have noted, is that all along Trump said the election was rigged, and he was right. It just turns out that it was rigged in his favor. He will lose the popular vote by at least a million votes, but because of 110,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, he will lead the free world. Trump’s nauseating ascension is symptomatic of a broken system that does not weigh each vote equally.
Based on the number of electoral votes and the size of the state population, a Wyoming voter has four times the power of a New York voter. By another metric—which factors in swing states versus states that consistently go one way—voters in Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina carry the most weight (along with red states like Alaska and South Dakota, which presumably land in the top five for their small populations).
One popular argument in favor of the Electoral College is that if we count only on the popular vote, candidates will spend all their time and energy in the most populous places, snubbing flyover states and small towns. But the candidates will narrow their focuses regardless of how we count the votes. The way it works now, the 12 or so swing states get all the attention because they decide every election. How is that fair to someone in a solid red state like Nebraska or Alabama? Or a reliably blue one like New York or California?
Now more than ever, I think most Americans would agree that One Person, One Vote should be a cornerstone of our democracy. (Only 32 percent of Americans are proud to call Trump President. Forty-two percent are afraid, and 34 percent are devastated—which sounds low here in my little liberal echo chamber.) So how do we go about abolishing the Electoral College, as Hillary and Trump and Eric Holder have advocated?
This is where things get tricky. Ridding ourselves of this outdated system (see also: voting on a Tuesday) would require a Constitutional amendment, which would require three quarters of Congress voting in favor of the move. Considering that the College has delivered the Republicans to The White House in two of the past five elections, it’s hard to imagine them getting onboard. (If the Electoral College ever works in favor of a Democrat, on the other hand…)
Instead, our best shot is probably state legislation that ensures each state’s electors will vote for the candidate who won the popular vote regardless of the state tally/electoral map. The Baltimore Sun explains:
Ten states plus Washington, D.C., have enacted legislation that could lead to a system that leaves the Electoral College intact but ensures that it deliver the presidency to the popular vote winner. This national compact stipulates that as soon as states comprising a majority of the Electoral College—270 votes—sign on, each will award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
So far, 11 jurisdictions that have enacted National Popular Vote laws, totaling 165 electoral votes—105 shy of 270. Only blue states have signed on, but the measure has been considered in red states like Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Arizona, and in swing states like Colorado and Nevada. Those states alone wouldn’t be enough to get to 270, but if you threw Texas and North Carolina (whose Senate voted in favor of the law in 2007) into the mix, for example, that would do it.
By all means, sign the Change.org petition: it won’t work, but millions of signatures send a loud and powerful message (Not My President). The best thing you can do, though, is call and write your state legislators to demand that they enact National Popular Vote laws.
Clinton got robbed: there’s nothing we can do about that. But we can try to make sure it never happens again. We can fight for a true democracy. We must.