Take a moment to step back from the latest debate, Trump’s tape debacle, and new WikiLeaks revelations to think about a larger institutional issue plaguing the election of our next president.
Foreigners observing the presidential campaign based on the travel schedules of Trump and Clinton could easily conclude that we are the Nine States of America encompassing only Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
And who could blame them?
After all, our quadrennial contest for commander in chief has reduced our nation to only two categories of states: “battleground” and “safe.” The former garner all the candidates’ time, attention, energy and resources while the latter are virtually ignored. (Except as campaign cash ATMs in the cases of California, Texas, and New York.)
There are 41 safe states, all politically color-coded either Republican “red” or Democrat “blue.” The color “purple” is reserved for the wobbly nine battleground states. That is until Election Day, when, after a state converts to “red” or “blue,” one of the candidates wins at least 270 electoral votes and is awarded the keys to the White House.
The red/blue distinction is a phenomenon introduced into the lexicon by the media during the contested 2000 election between then-Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Later the concept of “purple states” became prevalent.
One could point to the great ideological, cultural, and social schisms brewing since the late 1960s as the foundation of today’s extreme political polarization mirrored by this widely accepted and almost semi-official red/blue state divide. A divide that causes millions of voters tremendous dissatisfaction.
Just ask a Republican from “blue” Oregon, a Democrat who resides in “red” Nebraska or any permanently mismatched red/blue state voters. You will hear earfuls of complaints not only how presidential candidates in the general election by-pass their states but worse, the pervasive belief that “my vote does not count.”
The culprit of course is the Electoral College.
And not surprisingly, various polls show between 62% and 70% of Americans are in favor of shifting from indirect presidential voting to awarding the highest office in the land to whoever wins the majority of popular votes. (As Democrats fondly remember, Al Gore would have been president if not for the Electoral College.)
Meanwhile, why was this unpopular presidential voting system formed and is there any hope for change?
Americans can blame our Founding Fathers for concocting the Electoral College as spelled out in the Constitution in Article II, Section 1. But lost in U.S. history was how the Electoral College resulted from a compromise between northern and southern states over the divisive issue of slavery.
In a Washington Post opinion piece by George Edwards III written just days before the 2012 presidential election titled “Five myths about the Electoral College,” he explained:
The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had a variety of reasons for settling on the Electoral College format, but protecting smaller states was not among them. Some delegates feared direct democracy, but that was only one factor in the debate.
Remember what the country looked like in 1787: The important division was between states that relied on slavery and those that didn’t, not between large and small states. A direct election for president did not sit well with most delegates from the slave states, which had large populations but far fewer eligible voters. They gravitated toward the Electoral College as a compromise because it was based on population. The convention had agreed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating each state’s allotment of seats in Congress. For Virginia, which had the largest population among the original 13 states that meant more clout in choosing the president.
I am convinced that if Americans knew slavery was the issue behind the birth of the unpopular Electoral College, it would ignite a powerful political movement in support of direct presidential voting. However, such a change would require a Constitutional Amendment and with it, a long drawn-out process of ratification by three-fourths of the states. Such an effort is possible but not probable. Besides, the current Electoral College map tends to favor the Democratic nominee no matter how unpopular that candidate may be, so Democratic Party leaders will likely offer resistance to change.
Alternatively, there is an easier, faster, compromise solution that has already been passed by 11 states. It is an initiative called the National Popular Vote — a hybrid plan that creatively fills the gap between the Electoral College and a Constitutional Amendment.
It works like this: After state legislatures pass the required law, state “electors” agree to cast their electoral votes for the candidate who won the national popular vote NOT the winner of their state.
For more insight into this intriguing proposal, I reached out to Saul Anuzis, a consultant to the National Popular Vote movement and former Michigan Republican State Chairman. In my email, I asked Anuzis to comment about the National Popular Vote as an alternative to the Electoral College.
Anuzis replied with much clarity:
First, it’s NOT an alternative to the Electoral College — it’s an alternative method on how to allocate delegates to the Electoral College.
And this “alternative method” appears to have merit because state electors would only validate the winner of the national popular vote (and the will of the people at large.)
Anuzis offered more insight writing:
The National Popular Vote Compact ensures that every voter, in every state, would be relevant versus just the battleground voters.
We preserve the Electoral College and therefore state control of all elections, very important to conservatives.
Is the National Popular Vote gaining traction? Yes, according to the movement’s website, which states:
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire U.S. It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes and will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more. [Author’s note: Adding up to 270 electoral votes.]
A positive aspect of the National Popular Vote is that it negates the need for a Constitutional Amendment after the state legislatures vote to join the movement without federal intervention.
Will the National Popular Vote triumph over the Electoral College (as it stands now) if legalized by the required number of states? It could succeed as more Americans are fed up with being ignored by presidential candidates, and “my vote does not count” sentiment grows for red voters in blue states and vice versa.
If the Founding Fathers were alive, surely they would agree that the Electoral College is in need of an overhaul after seeing the red/blue state divide. Furthermore, they would be shocked upon learning that only two of the six largest electoral states, Florida and Pennsylvania are even considered “battlegrounds” resulting in presidential candidates practically ignoring the largest “safe” blue states of California, New York, Illinois and the red state of Texas. (For the record, and for that reason, California, New York, and Illinois have passed the National Popular Vote.)