Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Constitutional Ignorance, the Electoral College, and the Popular Vote

Every four years, and sporadically in between, many educated people (as well as many less-schooled people) will suggest, "We need to do away with the electoral college and elect our president by popular vote." They speak this as if it were a mere matter of Congress passing a law and making it so, and imply that our government is kind of stupid for not having already done so.

Let me make this abundantly clear: THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

There are two facts, both related to the Constitution, that should make this obvious:

  • Article 2, Section 1, later superseded by the 12th Amendment, dictates how the electoral college will function, and how the electors are delegated to the states.
  • Article 5 of the Constitution demands that any amendment to the Constitution be ratified by 3/4 of the states (currently, that would mean 38) before it becomes the law of the land. A change in the electoral college system would require such an amendment.
And then there is the mathematics of the situation:
  • Let's take Wyoming as an illustration. In the 2008 presidential election, approximately 125 million votes were cast. Wyoming cast a little less than 250,000 of those, which is almost 0.2 percent of the national total. However, Wyoming gets 3 electoral votes, which is about 0.56 percent of the national electoral vote total. To summarize: Wyoming's electoral vote percentage is roughly triple the percentage of the national vote which they cast; in essence, 1 Wyoming voter carries the voting influence of 3 voters in a larger state. Consequently, the smaller population states, like Wyoming, will NEVER support such a constitutional amendment.
  • In order to pass such a constitutional amendment, the legislatures of 38 states would need to ratify it. While the largest states would likely be amenable to the idea, the 13 smallest states would never agree to it—and they don't have to. There are seventeen states which have 5 or fewer electoral votes, and they know their influence in presidential elections would substantially diminish.
I also think that a national popular vote would keep presidential candidates focused on the cities and more likely to therefore ignore (or pay token homage to) the concerns of those of us who don't live in major metropolitan areas. The electoral college keeps presidential candidates looking in fifty directions—and that's a good thing.

2 comments: said...

The Constitution... bah. What does THAT matter any more?

Just get another liberal or two on the Supreme Court and then get them to "interpret" that statute right out of existence.

So much easier that way.


michelles2cents said...

Well said...thanks for clearing that up for those of us with the constitutional ignorance...yep, i admit to it but at least I'm learning.