Electoral College should be abolished

by Sue Hagan

 

 

Some consider the Electoral College system for electing presidents to be a great equalizer: it empowers states with fewer number of voters to win against a majority vote. They are correct, of course, but this certainly is not a democratic outcome nor do I think it best for a nation that believes in equality for all.

We ought not to forget the fact that the “small states” protection offered by the Electoral College was originally designed to protect the institution of slavery. The real question about the Electoral College is this: do you believe in democracy or not?

When Reagan won with just 51 percent of the vote but 90 percent of the Electoral College vote, he claimed he had a super mandate - he did not! Donald Trump, not surprisingly, has claimed a similar mandate despite having won much fewer Electoral College votes. Moreover, before gaining the Presidency, Trump weighed in on both sides of the debate - when he thought  he might win the popular vote, but not the Electoral College’s, Trump was ready to take a failure to win the Presidency to the courts, even to the streets. But he won the Electoral College vote in 2016, promptly claimed he had won the popular vote as well, which of course he hadn’t, and then claimed that millions had voted illegally, an absolute lie intended to kick-fire his 2020 campaign.

Certainly Trump’s loss of the popular vote has much to do with his continuing struggles as President: the truth is, the majority of the country did not vote for him and do not like the fact that their vote didn’t stop him from becoming the President. Nor do they like the fact that he claims his Electoral College win gives him the moral right to undo everything enacted by the previous President who had a high popular vote win as well as a win with the Electoral College.

Saying it is a “stale liberal talking point” that everyone’s vote should count, avoids explaining why some votes (mostly rural ones) should count more heavily than others. Why should a rural Missourian operating a large-scale cattle feeding operation have more say over whether toxic wastes ending up in the Mississippi River, than the inhabitants of large cities who derive their drinking water from the flowing river? Why 

should rural electric users seeking cheap utility bills get more weight on determining whether out-of-date coal-fired generators should be allowed to release toxins that cause life-threatening illnesses in city dwellers? Is it not a stale conservative talking point to claim that rural votes are more important than urban votes?

It is also absurd to say that if the Electoral College did not exist, most of the country would not have a say in a presidential election - a few desert dwellers should have more sway than a city of hundreds of thousands? The Electoral College denies a genuinely democratic (majority rules) outcome to everyone across the nation. This is most important when it comes to electing the President - a position which was intended by our nation’s founders to be someone who would serve the interests of all.

And why should I as a liberal voter in southeast Missouri, vastly outnumbered by GOP voters, find my vote for the most important nation-wide office discounted by the electoral system? It is an injustice to me (and the approximately 25 percent of other liberal rural voters in Missouri) to have our votes undermined by the Electoral College system.

The fact is the GOP has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections and it fears the future: the party is increasingly reliant on white, rural voters, but even that stronghold is declining as better educated young people leave the corporate hog-farm areas for more lucrative jobs in the cities.

As to the notion that rural areas will be neglected by presidential candidates if the Electoral College is eliminated, they already are! There are simply not enough votes for candidates to spend time there. They don’t even spend much time in rural states:  87 percent of campaign visits by the candidates were in only 12 battleground states. There are 27 states, including most of rural America, where none of the four candidates ever went!   

There is no reason to think that electing the President by popular vote will destroy the ability of rural areas to have representation for their special needs: Senators and Representatives, elected by their states, will still have the responsibility to advocate legislation that benefits their home base.  More to the point, rural residents’ needs are not all that different from their urban counterparts: all need clean water, clean air, a good economy, and provisions for basic needs (health care, food, and housing).

Of course, take a look at how bad health care is in rural Missouri and you will realize how badly the GOP has failed rural citizens, and the Electoral College system has had no good benefit for them in his respect. With the internet, rural citizens can become a powerfully interconnected voting block across the nation.

The Electoral College system failed to stop the abolition of slavery, which was then replaced by Jim Crow laws which turned the South into an apartheid nation. When major inroads were made by Democrats in reversing Jim Crow laws, white flight to the GOP began. The GOP became increasingly anti-union, anti-environment, and, yes, tolerant of racism.

Here’s the bottom line: the Electoral College gives disproportionate influence to whiter, more rural states where white supremacy is on the upswing. It is inherently divisive. No, not all rural southerners are racist, but there is a reason President Trump will not condemn the white supremacists amongst his voters: it would alter his chances of an Electoral College win.

It is highly unlikely that a Constitutional Amendment will prevail any time soon to change the system. But there is a potential fix: The National Popular Vote Initiative is an interstate compact under which participating states pledge their Electoral College votes to the national vote winner. It will take effect only when states totaling the winning number of 270 electoral votes commit to the National Popular Vote initiative.

Although I would prefer a Constitutional Amendment that would eliminate the Electoral College, the National Popular Vote just might be the fix for an ailing, undemocratic system: when people peacefully agree to support democracy, it is a win for everyone.

Sue Hagan is retired and lives in rural Iron County. When not spelunking or birding, she pens political opinions.