(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Should Congress make the Electoral College more responsive to the popular vote?”)
DALLAS — The Electoral College is one of the most critical institutions created by the framers of the Constitution to ensure a stable representative government, yet it’s under attack.
Eliminating or effectively neutering the Electoral College — the two options being proposed by many Democrats — would fundamentally alter the country, which, of course, is exactly what progressives are hoping to do. This would be grievously wrong.
Let’s start with the basics of our American system, which is, by design, unlike any other.
States, not individuals, are the original source of power. The states — 13 of them, anyway — created the federal government.
Less-populated states were understandably concerned they would be overshadowed by the larger ones, so they demanded protections within the Constitution. Giving every state, regardless of size, two senators was one of those protections. The Electoral College was another.
Both concessions were intended to protect the minority against what is sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of the majority,” the concern that in a pure democracy the majority can do whatever it wants, regardless of how badly it might harm the minority.
The framers did their best to create a representative political system that minimized the potential for a tyranny of the majority. They largely achieved their goal, though progressives have been successfully chipping away at those protections for decades.
Because the states created the federal government, the Constitution gives the states, not individuals, the right to choose the president. Thus the states decide how their electors are chosen and function.
The Electoral College is a feature, not a bug, because it helps ensure that every state matters.
For example, California, with 55 electoral votes, has more people than the 21 smallest states combined. Yet those 21 states have a combined total of 92 electoral votes — more than a third of the total votes needed to win.
Under a majority-wins election, candidates would spend most of their time in and catering to the most-populated states and largest cities, rather than traveling to thinly populated rural areas.
But doesn’t the Electoral College distort the popular will? No, not really.
The Electoral College vote has generally reflected the popular vote. Since 1900 there have only been two presidential elections, 2000 and 2016, in which the loser had slightly more votes than the winner.
Democrats lost in both instances, which is why they want to change the system.
They want presidential elections based on the popular vote, but that sometimes isn’t the majority. Several presidential candidates won with a plurality of votes rather than a majority, including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — twice.
It was the Electoral College vote that legitimized their victories, even though they didn’t win a majority of votes.
Fortunately, only a constitutional amendment can change the Electoral College. And the framers made that process very difficult, again in an effort to limit the majority’s ability to ride roughshod over the minority.
So Democrats are pushing a workaround known as the National Popular Vote Compact. NPVC legislation requires a state’s electors to vote for whoever wins the national popular vote.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 13 states plus the District of Columbia — all of which currently are blue — with a total of 184 electoral votes, have passed NPVC legislation.
However, it doesn’t go into effect until states representing the 270 electoral votes needed to win a presidential election have joined the NPVC.
As for me, if my state of Texas votes overwhelmingly for a particular candidate, I want my state’s electors supporting that candidate, not someone who won in another state.
For more than 200 years the Constitution and the government it created have served as a model for stability and representative government. Do we really want to undermine that success story just so Democrats can win a presidential election?
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute of Policy Innovation, a research-based public policy think-tank. Readers may write him at IPI, 1320 Greenway Drive, Suite 820, 1320 Greenway Drive, Suite 820, Irving, TX 75038.