2019

Time to retire the Electoral College

It’s a disaster for a democracy, a total sham and a travesty. – Donald Trump.

If Governor Jared Polis signs SB 42, Colorado would join the National Popular Vote compact that would commit Colorado’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The compact would take effect once enacted by states with 89 more electoral votes.

The compact is an end-around to the Electoral College. Some that claim they’re for “protecting the union that our founders established for us,” which, one must conclude, includes restoring slavery and restricting voting to white, propertied males, claim the compact is an egregious affront to states’ rights and power.

Curiously, they have no qualms about 48 states awarding their electoral votes collectively to the winner of its popular vote despite it being an end-around to the intent of the Electoral College.

Electoral College apologists argue the reason progressives support the compact is because of Democrats Al Gore and Hillary Clinton losing despite them winning the popular vote. Possibly, but conversely, opponents resist the effort not on principle but out of fear: Republicans are increasingly marginalizing themselves, thus unable to win the presidency one-on-one.

Colorado would be the thirteenth state to join the compact. While approving states to date are blue, ten others, including reliably red Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Arizona, have also approved the measure in at least one chamber.

With understanding the history and role of the Electoral College being poor, defenders of our peculiar system get away with using fallacious arguments to support their position.

Electoral College defenders erroneously conflate it with our republican form of government. However, a popularly elected president is hardly the antithesis of republicanism. France and other nations do it regularly.

The Founders concocted the Electoral College for three reasons: practical, philosophical, and expedient.

Then, the electorate lived primarily in rural backwoods, which inhibited rapid communication of their ballot choices. Today, there’s no property provision, and the electorate has grown exponentially diverse: educated, female-dominated, mixed-race, and urban-suburban. And communication happens instantly.

Philosophically, the Founders sought a way to prevent a demagogue, in Alexander Hamilton’s words, with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from being elected Chief Executive. They envisioned, unwisely in hindsight, electors of eminent stature and education who would rise above political passion and put the needs of their country ahead of party, faction, or sector.

Men being men soon devised a way to circumvent that ideal. The enactment of the Twelfth Amendment, which mandated a ticket of president and vice-president candidates, indirectly formalized parties/factions. States then began compelling their electors, no longer persons of stature but, rather, party activists, to collectively affirm their state’s popular vote.

Third, slavery is an underlying raison d’etre for the system, an expediential compromise the northern free states made with slave-holders to get them to agree to the Union. In conjunction with the three-fifths clause, the Electoral College awarded slave states with disproportionate power. Virginia with a smaller voting population than Pennsylvania had more electoral votes.

Times have obviously changed. Americans no longer trudge great distances to X a paper ballot.

Our sense of fairness has evolved. Large majorities are offended that the Electoral College immorally denies certain voters their constitutional rights and allots them to others giving them outsized power.

Negating the Electoral College would make every vote count by obliging candidates to follow a 50-state strategy. As Trump said, “I would rather see it, where you went with simple votes. It brings all the states into play.”

It’s time to send the college to the same ash-heap where slavery lies. The compact is an intelligent, elegant method to do just that.

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