I have to say this much: I underestimated the Democrats.
When the party of Hillary Clinton got all in a huff about the fact that Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College in 2016, one of their first foot-stamping tantrums was a demand to cast aside the Electoral College on the basis that it deprived She that Is Good and Holy of the office that was rightfully hers.
Then, they moved on to electoral fraud and recounts. Then there was a week or two where “fake news” sites run by random people out of their bedrooms, mostly from Balkan states that were once part of the Soviet bloc, were responsible for the whole mess. (They’ve since evinced a bit of regret at introducing the term “fake news” into the American lexicon.)
Then they finally alighted on Russian interference as the real culprit, where they’ve more or less stayed ever since.
Silly me, I assumed this was the end of our talk about the Electoral College. Democrats didn’t have nearly enough votes to change the Constitution, after all.
I just figured everyone on the left would be distracted about how special counsel Robert Mueller was going to take down the president and his Putin-backed cartel. (That strategy, by the way, doesn’t seem to have worked out spectacularly.)
Quietly, however, I watched the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact gather steam. In case you haven’t heard of it yet, well, that almost seems to be what its proponents want.
Bottom line, states pass a bill to give their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner no matter who won the state.
The compact requires 270 electoral votes — the amount that would elect the president — to take effect. If you think that’s a long shot, they’re less than 100 away; Colorado made 181 when Democrat Gov. Jared Polis signed it into law.
Democrats, of course, love the idea. This is mostly because they’ve lost two elections in the past 20 years where their candidate has won the popular vote, although the language that they use is somewhat different.
“Why should a handful of states get all the attention from candidates?” they ask. (Let’s let a handful of major population centers get the attention, instead.)
However, they should probably take a bit of advice from one of their most beloved figures: former President John F. Kennedy.
In 1956, while Kennedy was still a senator from Massachusetts, a bill came up that would essentially have amended the Constitution to allow for a national popular vote.
The bill, he said, “which there has been little, if any, public interest or knowledge, constitutes one of the most far-reaching, and I believe mistaken-schemes ever proposed to alter the American constitutional system.”
“Today, we have a clearly federal system of electing our president, under which the states act as units. Today, we have the two-party system, under which third parties and splinter parties are effectively discouraged from playing more than a negligible role. Today, we have a system which in all but one instance throughout our history has given us presidents elected by a plurality of the popular vote,” he continued.
“And today we have an electoral vote system which gives both large states and small states certain advantages and disadvantages that offset each other.”
“Now it is proposed that we change all this. What the effects of these various changes will be on the federal system, the two-party system, the popular plurality system and the large-state-small-state checks and balances system, no one knows,” he said.
The Electoral College hasn’t just been a check against large states or population centers dominating the political landscape. It’s also been a check against a handful of those large states, mostly on the coasts, politically dominating the rest of our vast country.
Yes, there have been two more instances of popular vote winners losing the Electoral College since Kennedy gave this speech. In both cases, the divide was a regional one.
This can be seen most clearly in 2016. Take a look at this map. In red are the counties Donald Trump won, in blue are the counties that Clinton won:
Massachusetts and Hawaii were the *only* two states to have every single county vote for Clinton 8n 2016. Even Vermont had a Trump county. Would love to see a map of current approval rating polling by county for today. pic.twitter.com/obko2Lwn8j
— J. P. Gownder (@jgownder) May 20, 2018
Is this the America we want? An America where a wide geographical swath of the country is ignored while major population centers decide who gets elected?
Kennedy was right: ditching the Electoral College would be a far-reaching and mistaken scheme, no matter whether it’s done by constitutional amendment or by the workaround that is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
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