Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How to Dump the Electoral College Without Changing the Constitution

A good article from Washington Monthly -- on a topic I highly agree with.
Majority Rule at Last
How to dump the Electoral College without changing the Constitution
By Michael Waldman

It was the end of a long, sweltering summer at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Delegates were anxious to finish, but a looming question remained: How would the new office of president be filled? Some delegates wanted Congress to choose. Others wanted popular election. That idea was overwhelmingly voted down—it would be "unnatural," warned one foe. Southern states had extra representation in Congress because slaves were counted in the population, under the grand compromise that allowed the Constitution to move forward; a popular vote would wipe out that advantage, since slaves didn't vote.

The delegates referred the mess to the Committee on Detail, which wrote a draft of the Constitution with the Electoral College as a rather convoluted solution. The states would each choose electors, with one electoral vote per senator and House member. That way small states, especially slave states, would have extra clout. If no one got an electoral vote majority, the House of Representatives would decide. Anyway, everyone knew George Washington would be the first president. With a shrug, the Founding Fathers moved on to other matters.

The Electoral College is the exploding cigar of American politics. For long periods of time, it has seemed to work well enough, and so we have treated it like a quaint anachronism with little real impact, little more than a question on the citizenship test and a subject for political thriller novels. Then, every so often, it blows up in our faces, throwing whole elections in doubt and making a mockery of the popular will. On these occasions, most recently the 2000 elections, the foolishness of the system becomes apparent, and demands for reform sweep the land. But the demands always peter out, because the Electoral College is written into the Constitution, and trying to amend the Constitution is just too daunting, and perhaps not even advisable. And so we live with the thing, like an old soldier with a bullet lodged in his spine. It's too dangerous to remove, the experts say, but it's capable, under the right circumstances, of crippling us.

Fortunately, politics advances just as medicine does, and there is now a new procedure that could remove the Electoral College without having to amend the Constitution. It's called the National Popular Vote. It's a clever, subtle, and nonpartisan fix, one that's beginning to catch on in a number of states. But before I explain the solution in detail, it's important to understand just how big a problem the Electoral College really is.

Read the rest.

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