Pulse of the Peninsula: Reform Electoral College, don’t abolish

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There is no question that the will of the majority was thwarted in the presidential Election of 2016 — but if ever there was a time when the Electoral College should have proved its purpose, it was this election.

Instead, the Electoral College demonstrated the worst of all anti-democratic worlds: denying the popular will while also enabling the exact sort of candidate that Alexander Hamilton described in justifying the Electoral College: so “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” and to prevent a “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”

Trump fails on all accounts.

And here, you have not only Hillary Clinton receiving nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump — the most in history for any candidate who did not go on to win the presidency — but you have clear evidence of foreign manipulation (the Russian hacking, very possibly with collusion by the Trump campaign), fake news, not to mention voter suppression (interesting that every battleground state where Clinton lost was also where Republican legislators had imposed measures designed to suppress the vote of groups inclined to vote Democratic; in Wisconsin, 300,000 registered voters lacked the photo ID necessary to cast their ballots.

On Election Day, there were 868 fewer  polling places in states with a long history of voting discrimination, like Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina,” according to the Nation.

The result was that Democratic-leaning voters had hours-long waits which many could not stand.

And then there was the call-out by Donald Trump for vigilantes to police “you know which” neighborhoods.

Turnout was affected.

Indeed, despite historic levels of engagement in Election 2016, the number of votes cast in Ohio was down 1.1 percent and down 4 percent in Wisconsin — more than the margin of victory for Trump. That’s the art and the science of voter suppression, which was the primary strategy for the Trump campaign.

But instead of serving properly as a check-and-balance, everything that is undemocratic and archaic about the Electoral College (devised to give disproportionate power to slave-holding states and small rural states) was in play.

As a result, a single voter in Wyoming is worth 200 times a voter in California, rendering this country’s notion of “one person, one vote” and “equal justice” a fraud.

Its malfeasance justifies the rising calls to abolish the Electoral College altogether — which would require amending the Constitution which is unlikely.

Instead, there are calls to dramatically reform it to more properly address 21st century America, through changes that the states can make to the regulations that bind their Electoral Voters, now termed “faithless” if they vote against their state’s popular vote.

The predominant reform is for states to join the National Popular Vote Compact, which would require participating states to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.

It wouldn’t take effect until enough states joined in to add up to the 270 electoral votes required to elect the president.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have already signed on, totaling 165 electoral votes.

But this election also demonstrated how easily even a 21st century populace can be manipulated by fake news, social media and a populist snake-oil salesman, not to mention the possibility of hacking the election architecture.

Indeed, it would seem that the Electoral College does have a purpose as envisioned by the founders of the Republic, as a check on populism.

Still, there are ways to make the Electoral College more democratically representative, while still functioning as a “check and balance.”

First, there needs to be an end to “winner take all” which basically erases the votes of millions of voters. Instead, states should apportion their electoral votes based on the popular vote in the state.

That would be a much more representative method and more efficiently make each state and each person’s vote count.

During this election, we kept hearing how discouraged and disaffected those who would vote for third-party candidates, and their complaint that the two-party system is what is so detrimental to a true democracy.

But multiple candidates virtually guarantee that the winner does not represent the majority, as is clear in 2016, where the scant votes for Jill Stein in Michigan gave the state to Trump, putting him over the electoral top despite winning only 46 percent of the national popular vote.

So the second element is to allow the lowest vote-getting candidates to give their electoral votes to one of the top two candidates.

Another idea which would be very possible in the age of sophisticated electronic voting, is for “second choice” weighting, and if no candidate gets 50.1 percent, then a run off of the two top vote getters (as is the case in some primaries).

The end to “winner-takes-all” and allocation by popular vote in a state could not happen until virtually all the states (and not just blue states or red states which have voted for a Democratic president) have approved the policy.

None of this will happen because the Republicans have realized they can keep power without ever having to worry about the demographic shifts and pesky things like needing a majority.

Putting a gate at the ballot box has worked very well.

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