Ever since the 2016 election I’ve been trying to figure out how a presidential candidate can win the popular vote, and still lose the election.
So I started doing some research.
And I learned that 2016 wasn’t the first time this has happened – it’s the fifth:
And here’s what else I learned:
The Electoral College is so damn confusing that NOBODY does a good job of explaining it.
Starting with, but not limited to – the Electoral College is not even a college. It’s a process that elects the president of the United States.
I thought we, the people, elected the president of the United States?
I looked at many websites trying to learn the why and the when and the how-does-this-work. Here’s one unhelpful bit of information from among many:
The Electoral College insulates the election of the President from the people by having the people elect not the person of the President, but the person of an Elector who is pledged to vote for a specific person for President.
Though the ballot may read “John McCain” or “Barack Obama,” you’re really voting for “John Smith” who is a McCain supporter or “Jack Jones” who is an Obama supporter.
But why “insulate the election of the President from the people”? Why not one person, one vote, period?
Are we too stupid to vote for a president, when it appears we’re capable of voting in all our other elections?
Aren’t all other national and local elections won by popular vote? Our members of Congress, governors, mayors, various propositions, all by popular vote?
I kept looking for answers.
And while I don’t consider myself a dummy…most of the time…in desperation, I went here, to CNN’s “Electoral College For Dummies”:
And even here, “The Electoral College: By Dummy For Dummies”:
Despite all my reading, it still just didn’t make sense to me.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Here’s an opinion from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law:
“The Electoral College is one of the most unique – and undemocratic – elements of the U.S. government. It was originally included in the Constitution as a means to thwart direct democracy. Many of the framers of the Constitution were uncomfortable with giving power to the people, and in part devised the Electoral College as a democratic bypass.
“The Electoral College was also designed to protect the influence of slave states. Under a provision that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation in Congress, Southern slave states gained outsize influence in selecting the president.
“The system has endured despite the expansion of suffrage and the abolition of slavery.”
Why were many Founding Fathers interested in protecting “the influence of slave states”? Because a majority of them were slaveholders including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
A CNN commentator called the Electoral College,
“This archaic safeguard from our Founding Fathers, created to stop an unfit leader from becoming president but having the modern effect of blocking the will of the people…”
And one last opinion:
“…a disaster for a democracy…a total sham and a travesty.”
– Donald Trump, 2012
We don’t – can’t – elect the president by popular vote because the U.S. Constitution says so. In Article 2, Section 1, the Founding Fathers wrote:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress…
At this point, wiser heads than mine – and there are legions of them – would say, “We might be better off without the Electoral College, but we’d have to pass a constitutional amendment to make that happen.”
Passing a constitutional amendment is a long and complicated process. First Congress proposes an amendment – and we all know how often the House and Senate agree to do anything together. Then the amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. This can take a copious amount of time.
One example – and granted, it’s extreme, but still – the most recent amendment, the 27th, was ratified in 1992.
It was originally proposed in 1789
And some amendments simply languish in limbo. The Equal Rights Amendment went to states for ratification in 1972.
It’s still languishing.
So where does that leave us? Ending the Electoral College and any possibility of electing our president (and vice president) by popular vote seems like the proverbial pipe dream.
I’d just about reached the tearing-out-my-hair point, and then on March 16…
I learned about this:
The National Popular Vote Bill, or more formally, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).
What is it?
Unlike Electoral College explanations, this one is quite straightforward. The NPVIC is:
An agreement among a group of U.S. states and the District of Columbia to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The compact is designed to ensure that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide is elected president, and it would come into effect only when it would guarantee that outcome.
More important, but easy-to-understand information:
This agreement takes effect only once the participating states together hold a majority of electoral votes (270 of 538) – guaranteeing that the winner of the national popular vote will win an Electoral College majority.
So where are we, in terms of what the states are doing?
State legislators have introduced NPVIC legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
As of March 2019, it has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Together, they have 181 electoral votes, which is 33.6% of the Electoral College and 67.0% of the 270 votes needed to give the compact legal force.
But wait – it gets better.
As of April 3, 2019 the NPVIC has been adopted by two more states.
Together, they have 189 electoral votes, which is 35.1% of the Electoral College and 70% of the 270 votes needed to give the compact legal force.
That means only 81 electoral votes to go.
Here’s out it shakes out:
The green is the 14 states plus the District of Columbia that have enacted the NPVIC; yellow states have pending legislation, and I added in their number of electoral votes:
We can do this.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact was new to me, but it’s not new – the first state, Maryland, passed this back in 2007.
But – and this is critical – three states passed it in March and April, so it could be that momentum is building.
Only 81 more electoral votes.
So there may be – may be – a light at the end of the Electoral College Confusion Tunnel.
One person – one vote.
Regardless of your political preferences, doesn’t the National Popular Vote make sense?
It makes sense to me.
We can do this.