(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Should Congress make the Electoral College more responsive to the popular vote?”)
WASHINGTON — The time has come to change or dismantle the Electoral College system of selecting the United States president.
This outdated result of a constitutional compromise sets up not only a system that can produce an imbalance between the popular vote and the final selection of the president, but can result in a dramatic disparity in governing power for a generation.
The original intent of the Electoral College was to get smaller states to ratify the Constitution in a time before the United States was anything remotely resembling the United States today: when only a small number of states existed, when only white men had the right to vote and before the popular vote was even recorded.
A goal of ensuring that smaller states have adequate representation is important. Majorities should not have unchecked ability to impose their will just as each branch of government — the judicial, legislative and executive — should be checked and held in balance by the other two.
The way that the legislative branch is set up already achieves the goal of balancing power among states of varying population, most notably through the United States Senate where each state has equal representation in the upper chamber. The House of Representatives, conversely, allocates representation based on population.
Another balancing effect is that the Senate also has enormous power in shaping not only legislation but shaping the judicial branch and in approving key executive branch administration leaders. This gives smaller states a healthy voice in shaping our government.
But when the Electoral College system produces a presidency without a majority of popular votes, this balance can become decidedly imbalanced.
Imagine a scenario where the executive branch is led by someone who did not receive a majority of the popular vote and the Senate is controlled by ideological allies of the executive branch representing states whose population is less than the population represented by those states in the Senate minority.
This scenario would produce a situation where enormous governing power is concentrated, through the executive branch and the Senate’s power in shaping the makeup of the judicial branch, in favor of the minority — not only for the term of the executive but perhaps for generations.
While many may believe, in the current political climate, that a move to alter or abolish the Electoral College only benefits or should matter to urban voters and residents of large populous states, quite the opposite is true.
Yes, the current political climate and recent electoral examples make the Electoral College system seem to favor Republicans or conservatives and more rural areas while enraging Democrats, progressives and urban voters. But it could foreseeably also swing in the other direction with the right mix of election results.
This could allow a small number of populous states to then concentrate power over a majority not only of other states but population and election results as well.
The current system also encourages presidential candidates to concentrate their campaigning and by extension their legislative and policy attention on a small number of states with larger numbers of electoral votes, which negatively impacts a wide range of regions and ideological groupings.
There are several efforts underway to correct this from the most direct, which is to amend the Constitution, to the more indirect like the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is an agreement between states to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote notwithstanding the outcome in their individual states.
Regardless of whether you live in a small state or populous one, whether you are conservative or progressive, the outdated Electoral College system can create an imbalance of power that could negatively impact your life and needs to change.
Don Kusler is national director of Americans for Democratic Action, the nation’s oldest organization committed to liberal politics, liberal policies, and a liberal future. Readers may write him at ADA, Suite 300, 1629 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20066.