For many years, I was a relatively strong believer in the wisdom of the Electoral College as our method of choosing a president. Foolishly, I thought the intent of the Constitution's framers was a smart one -- specifically Alexander Hamilton’s express intent to build a procedural roadblock in the path of would-be villains and populists.
In fact, Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68 that the Electoral College was intended to obstruct presidential candidates with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” a pair of traits that ought to sound familiar to anyone who followed Donald Trump’s despotic rise to power.
Of course the Electoral College has never functioned as intended at any point in American history. It utterly failed to live up to this mandate in 2016, allowing Trump to ooze through the cracks despite his obvious treachery and criminality -- and despite the fact that he lost the national popular vote by nearly three million.
In the face of history and our founding documents, the Electoral College was yet again revealed to be nothing more than a pointless technicality -- a turnkey rather than a last line of defense against Trump and his “talents for low intrigue.” Consequently, I’ve changed my mind. It’s time for the Electoral College to die, and I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren is absolutely right to put this issue front and center in her campaign. Now, a growing list of states are busily plunging knives into this 18th-century anachronism.
The latest state to join the process of killing the Electoral College is Delaware, where the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact passed the state legislature and is on its way to the governor’s desk.
This legislation would create an ingenious end-around that does not require amending the U.S. Constitution. It would assign each state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, thus diminishing the existing role of the Electoral College -- but without disbanding it. It’ll still exist and, at least hypothetically, could still serve to block another despot rising to power. With 2016 as precedent I’m not holding my breath, but this is all to say that under this proposed law, electors will still pick the president, but electoral votes will be distributed based on the national popular vote rather than each individual state's popular vote. The best of both worlds, in a sense.
From a campaigning point of view, the compact will deliberately scramble the way candidates target voters -- and maybe that’s a good thing. Contrary to what supporters of the Electoral College claim (again, I used to be one), the existing process does not serve to drag the candidates into every state. In 2012, Mitt Romney only campaigned in 10 states. During that same campaign, only three of the two dozen smallest states were visited by either Romney or Barack Obama. By granting electoral votes based on the national popular vote, candidates would have to strategically consider states that have been otherwise ignored in recent decades.
Better yet, candidates will be encouraged by the compact to campaign in more populated areas that also happen to also feature greater demographic variety, encouraging more diversity. Trump’s singular appeal to non-college-educated white men wouldn’t be enough to win. Not any more.
Meanwhile, Delaware is in the midst of a process already approved by 13 other states and the District of Columbia. The only catch so far is admittedly a large one: Enough states have to pass the compact to add up to 270 electoral votes, a majority of the 538 votes available. Right now, the 13 states that have passed the compact add up to a total of 181 electoral votes. Once enough additional states pass the compact to get past the 270 threshold, it will go into effect in all the states where it was passed.
Is it possible? Sure. At present, another 16 states with 155 electoral votes up for grabs are considering the compact in committee, or have passed it through at least one chamber of their respective state legislatures. It’s worth noting that none of the states that have fully passed the compact are “red states,” likely because the Electoral College is the only reason why Trump and George W. Bush, the last two Republican presidents, were elected in the first place.
That said, nine states carried by Trump in 2016 are among those where the compact is making its way through the legislative process: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina.
It’s very likely Trump doesn’t know about the popular vote compact, and if he did, he’d definitely explode in a series of tweets and Momo-faced rants, lashing out at Democrats who he’d insist are rigging the election against him. Naturally, he would ignore the fact that the compact is under consideration in the aforementioned Trump-friendly states. Based on his antagonistic treatment of both Puerto Rico and California, he’d also punish any approving state by withholding FEMA deployment and disaster relief to those jurisdictions. Just the usual petty vengeance that’s been all but normalized by this ungainly and incompetent crackpot.
Trump might also use the compact as a pretext in an attempt to invalidate the election if he loses in 2020. He would fail, of course, but if Michael Cohen was correct in his forecast that Trump will not allow a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, the compact could be one of his justifications. But, hell, he’s going to claim that the 2020 election is rigged anyway, no matter how the actual electoral votes are allocated. We know that Trump doesn’t need actual real-life reasons to do terrible things. His Red Hat loyalists have proved they’ll go along with any Mad Lib gibberish he concocts, so he’ll find a pretext whether it’s real or not.
For some time now, I’ve been calling for the passage of a series of electoral and presidential reforms designed to prevent another catastrophe like the hamberder-hoarding one we’re dealing with today. The popular-vote compact goes a long way toward that goal, but more needs to be done. Similarly, legislation in various states is being passed that requires presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns in order to appear on the ballot -- another state law Trump would despise if he was aware of it, but a deeply necessary one.
The only real upside to Trump’s existence as president is that he’s exposing these and other loopholes -- and they are slowly being welded shut, thankfully. Trump can’t win without the existing electoral-vote allocation, knowing that his popular support continues to hover in the low 40s or worse. I believe he won’t win in 2020 anyway, compact or no. But these reforms aren’t just about him. They're about sealing the breach once and for all before the next Trump steps through it, and so on and so on -- until we’re spraying the crops with Brawndo.