Electoral College: Keep, ditch or overhaul?

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Who, when and where: Several Democratic presidential candidates have questioned whether the Electoral College is still necessary. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for ending it at a March 18 town hall, saying “every vote counts.” Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., said in January that the system has “made our society less and less democratic” and Beto O’Rourke weighed in saying there’s “a lot of wisdom” in calls for change.

What: The U.S. Electoral College is a process by which designated electors meet to vote for president and vice president. There are 538 electors, and a majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the president. Each state’s allotment of electors depends on the number of members in its congressional delegation. Most states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate in the popular vote in that state.

Why it’s sparking debate: The Electoral College process has come under scrutiny, particularly in the wake of the 2000 and 2016 elections, where Democrats Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election because of the Electoral College allocations. The process has been criticized for giving some states outsize power and potentially disenfranchising millions of voters.

What’s next: Since the Electoral College is part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution, a constitutional amendment is needed to change this system. In January, Rep. Steve Cohen proposed a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College. To take effect, it would need to be passed by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Colorado is the latest state to join a group pledging to elect presidents based on popular vote. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would go into effect only once states with at least 270 electoral votes have signed on. While it is unlikely that enough states will join before the 2020 election, the move has drawn more attention to the issue.


The Electoral College is not representative, and the current format needs to go.

“Every Democrat should be talking about abandoning the Electoral College. Because a state’s Electoral Votes are the sum of its senators and representatives, it carries the Senate’s undemocratic makeup and amplifies it. We choose to select our presidents in complete disregard of who got more actual votes from Human Americans. Because almost every state dishes out its votes wholesale, and most states lean heavily blue or red, only a few Battleground or Swing States get any attention come general-election time. What about the real, live folks that live in every other corner of the country?” — Jack Holmes, Esquire

“Amending the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College — or simply upending the Electoral College with a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact agreement among states and the District of Columbia to award all electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide balloting — would change our politics for the better. It would force candidates of both parties to spend more time in more places.” — John Nichols, Nation

“People often defend the electoral college by arguing that without it, presidential candidates would pay attention to only a few states. But that’s already the case because of the electoral college … In a winner-take-all-electoral-votes system, candidates campaign only in the states that are a toss-up. But if we abolish the electoral college — either through a constitutional amendment or a national popular-vote compact — presidential candidates could earn votes anywhere, making them far more likely to campaign everywhere.” — Seth Moulton, a Democrat representing Massachusetts’ Sixth District in the House of Representatives, Washington Post

The Electoral College is the best way for all voters to be represented.

“No person with common sense wants nine states with large populations determining the presidential election. To ignore the voting power afforded by the Electoral College for the other 41 smaller states and 3,048 smaller counties would be discriminatory. … Densely populated Democratic and liberal-leaning cities (New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.) do not and should not speak for the rest of our country! The Electoral College is for all voters, counties and states to decide elections, not just the most popular person based on dense populations, where the candidates may live and/or make campaign promises that they do not pay for personally.” — Joe Wozniak, Reno Gazette Journal

The benefits of the Electoral College outweigh the drawbacks.

“For a nation like ours — ideologically quarrelsome, geographically vast, socially diverse — the advantages of the Electoral College far outweigh its drawbacks. It guarantees that no one can become president without demonstrating an appeal that crosses state, regional, and communal lines. It makes victory all but impossible for candidates who write off whole constituencies of Americans — Mitt Romney’s “47 percent,” Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” — even if those candidates are intensely popular in a few specific states or within a narrow demographic slice. Above all, it balances federalism with democracy: It preserves the central role of the states in American life without sacrificing the principle of one-person, one-vote.” — Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe

We can make the Electoral College better without abolishing it.

“States ought to adopt an alternative approach to reform that allocates electoral votes on a proportional basis. There is no constitutional requirement mandating the winner-take-all approach that most states use today. This Electoral College 2.0 would improve the legitimacy of our process by encouraging more Americans to participate and by incentivizing candidates to campaign more broadly across the country.” — Tom Wyler, former senior official in the Obama administration, CNN

The National Popular Vote Compact is the wrong way to fix things.

“Since the Republican Party has benefited from the Electoral College system in both the 2000 and 2016 elections, this has become a partisan issue. If a reform like this [National Popular Vote Compact] is pushed through by the Democrats acting alone, they would invite partisan blowback. … But defanging the Electoral College should be done only through a constitutional amendment that has bipartisan support. Until that can happen, both parties should expect to play under the rules we’ve got.” — Editorial, Portland Press Herald

The decline of close races hurts the case for the Electoral College.
“What’s really hurt the case for the Electoral College is that fewer states have been close in recent elections. In particular, big states and their major cities have tended to become less competitive. … That’s especially a problem because everyone agrees that the Senate rewards smaller, more rural states. Once upon a time, the big-city bias in the Electoral College could help balance that out; not these days.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

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