The Electoral College Will Destroy AmericaBreaking News
tags: Electoral College, Voting, presidential elections
Jesse Wegman is a member of the editorial board, where he has written about the Supreme Court and national legal affairs since 2013. He is the author of Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College.
The main problem with the Electoral College today is not, as both its supporters and detractors believe, the disproportionate power it gives smaller states. Those states do get a boost from their two Senate-based electoral votes, but that benefit pales in comparison to the real culprit: statewide winner-take-all laws. Under these laws, which states adopted to gain political advantage in the nation’s early years, even though it was never raised by the framers — states award all their electors to the candidate with the most popular votes in their state. The effect is to erase all the voters in that state who didn’t vote for the top candidate.
Today, 48 states use winner-take-all. As a result, most are considered “safe,” that is, comfortably in hand for one party or the other. No amount of campaigning will change that. The only states that matter to either party are the “battleground” states — especially bigger ones like Florida and Pennsylvania, where a swing of a few thousand or even a few hundred votes can shift the entire pot of electors from one candidate to the other.
The corrosiveness of this system isn’t only a modern concern. James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, was very disturbed by the state winner-take-all rule, which he considered one of the central flaws of the Electoral College as it took shape in the early 19th century.
As Madison wrote in an 1823 letter, states using the winner-take-all rule “are a string of beads” and fail to reflect the true political diversity of their citizens. He disliked the practice so much he called for a constitutional amendment barring it.
It’s not only liberals who understand the problem with winner-take-all. In 1950, a Texas representative named Ed Gossett took to the floor of Congress to vent about the unfairness of a system that gave some voters more influence in the election than others, solely because of where they live. New York was at the time the nation’s largest and most important swing state, and the voters who decided which way it swung were racial and ethnic minorities in large urban areas.
“Now, please understand, I have no objection to the Negro in Harlem voting and to his vote being counted,” Gossett said, “but I do resent the fact that both parties will spend a hundred times as much money to get his vote and that his vote is worth a hundred times as much in the scale of national politics as is the vote of a white man in Texas.”
“Is it fair, is it honest, is it democratic, is it to the best interest of anyone in fact, to place such a premium on a few thousand” votes from racial and ethnic minorities, he went on, “simply because they happen to be located in two or three large, industrial pivotal states?”
Two hundred years after James Madison’s letter, the state winner-take-all rule is still crippling our politics and artificially dividing us. Every four years, tens of millions of Americans’ votes magically disappear before the real election for president happens — about six weeks after Election Day, when 538 electors convene in state capitals across the country to cast their votes for president. “Blue” states give all their electors to the Democrat, no matter how many Republicans voted for their candidate; vice versa in the “red” states.
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