Don’t Abolish the Electoral College. Fix It.

The first time it happened was 1824, when John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson. The next time was 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes beat Samuel Tilden. The third time was 1888, when Benjamin Harrison beat Grover Cleveland. The fourth time was 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore. And the last time was 2016, when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton. So out of fifty-eight presidential elections, it has happened five times, almost ten percent. Of the five elections in this century, it has happened twice, or forty percent. In all five, it has happened quite legally, in accordance with the Constitution.

What is that “it”? In each of these elections, the person with fewer votes won. Yet the sine qua non of majority rule is that the individual with the most votes wins. The individual voter is the baseline of meaningful democracy, the most elemental characteristic of democratic government. The idea of one person, one vote was central to the civil rights movement; it is the fulcrum of our very sense of fairness. So why do we knowingly and willingly allow a system that potentially violates this most fundamental article of democracy to persist, especially when we have seen that violation actually occur five times in our history? At least in a country calling itself, above all, a democracy, are five times of the wrong person becoming president of the United States not enough?

We do not need a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college, a system of presidential election regarded—tellingly—by some founders including Madison and Hamilton as a means of holding in check the presumed dangers of the popular vote. Madison feared “factions,” and Hamilton, in The Federalist, number 68, feared that the popular vote might allow “foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” What an ironic concern given that the electoral college, not the popular vote, allowed Russia to focus its trolling in the 2016 election on a few “battleground” states. Many on both sides of the aisle were, and are, outraged by that Russian interference. But who in congress expressed even the mildest protest in 2000 or 2016 at the even greater outrage of giving the presidency to the person whom we know got fewer votes? We can combat Russian interference, but persisting in a system that has allowed the vote loser to win five times we do to ourselves.

No burdensome constitutional amendment is necessary, and lovers of the electoral college, with its element of representative rather than pure democracy, can rest content. Moreover, the issue is non-partisan: the electoral college does not inherently favor one party or the other. All that is necessary is a federal law making universal what Maine and Nebraska have already done, namely, dividing each state’s electoral votes in approximate proportion to its popular vote. No more winner-take-all victories. No more of all New York’s twenty-nine electoral votes quadrennially going to the Democratic candidate while all thirty-six of Texas’s votes inevitably go to the Republican. No more Mississippi Democrats knowing their presidential vote is a total waste, while California Republicans feel precisely the same. No more 78 thousand votes in three states trumping 2.86 million votes nationwide as in the 2016 election—making a mockery of one person, one vote in the process. No more “battleground” states and boring foregone conclusion states; they are all battleground states. No more of candidates ignoring voters in the foregone conclusion states and nearly taking up residence in the “battleground” states. No more of folks piously proclaiming that “the people” elected Candidate A when in fact “the people” actually voted for Candidate B, but Candidate A “wins” and is catapulted into the Oval Office by an enormous flaw in American democracy. And finally, and most importantly, no more of the simple debacle of the wrong person of either party living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How many elections do we need to figure out that giving the highest office in the land to the person who got fewer votes is openly and ostentatiously anti-democratic? We don’t need to have rigged elections like so many other countries in order to defy the will of the majority; we openly and unashamedly defy the will of the majority.

Let’s fix that.