We're not getting rid of the Electoral College just yet

An initiative to change state laws and elect the president by popular vote doesn't appear to have the momentum it needs, at least for now.

Published March 30, 2009 8:45PM (EDT)

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal raised a pretty important question -- are we on our way to essentially getting rid of the Electoral College and electing our presidents by popular vote? The Journal ran an article about the National Popular Vote Project, which asks states to pass legislation that pledges their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, no matter who won the state in question.

These laws don't actually kick in until enough states to form a majority of 270 Electoral College votes have signed on. But, the Journal's Stephanie Simon wrote, the initiative "is making slow but steady progress across the country, inflaming passions in state after state as lawmakers debate the best way to elect a president."

Unfortunately for the supporters of the project, FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver is throwing a bit of cold water on the notion that there really is steady progress; he says he sees little chance of success in the near future.

"The idea of the Compact has been around since 2001, but the states that have had even one of their houses approve the bill at any point in time total 198 electoral votes, a fair bit shy of the 270 threshold," Silver writes. "What would it take for there to be a real chance of abolishing (or end-arounding, as the Compact seeks to do) the Electoral College? I think it would take two elections in relatively rapid succession in which there's a popular:electoral split, particularly if these two elections are won by candidates of opposite parties... Until and unless that occurs, however, my guess is that at least one of the two parties will see the Electoral College as being advantageous to them at any given time, as will most or all of the swing states. This will make it difficult for the Compact to garner a majority."

Our (somewhat joking, but mostly serious) saying about Silver around here is that he's always right, and this doesn't seem like an exception to that rule.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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