The Public Policy

Electoral Blues

The left continues its move to abolish the Electoral College and thus amend the U.S. Constitution by stealth.

By 5.22.09

Send to Kindle

If you like the way President Goodwrench is running the automobile industry and the way Congress gave out millions in staff bonuses last year while lambasting Wall Street, you'll love what their supporters are up to right now: ditching the Electoral College. 

That not-large-but-highly-vocal cohort of people who can never forgive George W. Bush for being president has hatched the idea of turning the entire nation blue by making the Electoral College irrelevant -- and they are making headway. 

The plan is a model of simplicity: Persuade lobby friendly state legislatures and governors to pass bills to require that state's electors every fourth December to cast their electoral votes for whoever had the most popular votes nationwide. Thus, the electors in State A would ignore the votes in their state if Candidate B lost it to Candidate C, and would vote for "B" if "B" had won the overall national vote at the ballot box .

The effort, dubbed the National Popular Vote initiative, seems to be funded largely by one John Koza, a Stanford engineering professor. Four "blue" states have so far adopted the plan: Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland. Currently, the scheme's supporters are working on Colorado.

Since the beginning of the republic, each state's electors have cast their votes (with occasional isolated exceptions) for the candidate who won the majority of votes in the state. This guaranteed that states with smaller populations would not be overwhelmed by the big urban votes in a few other states.

The nation was founded as a collection of states united, not a unitary state with administrative subdivisions. This measure if adopted by enough states to aggregate 270 (the minimum number of electoral votes needed to win) would, in effect, amend the U.S. Constitution by stealth. 

Supporters, whose objective seems to be to make the entire nation "blue," don't much care about the carefully crafted checks and balances of the Constitution. Nor do they pay much attention to the practical consequences if their campaign succeeds.

For example, under the present Electoral College system, it doesn't much matter whether a candidate wins a state by 51 percent or 70 percent. The precise vote count would assume much greater importance in a system where the national winner would automatically be the candidate with the most national votes. Imagine a case where in several states there were very close vote counts separating "A" from "B." Think Florida in 2000. This could easily bring on fierce recount fights and lawsuits galore. The battle might continue for months before a president was inaugurated. 

Even if there weren't razor-close results in some key states, a major consequence of such a nationalized system could be that a president would be chosen by the populations of a handful of states with very large cities. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles rather than 50 states could very well determine who will preside over all.

Will there be a "Stealth Amendment"? There will if the left has enough persistence to wear down the other side (that is, those who favor the Constitution). There won't be one if enough legislatures in enough states think this through and decide that the present system "ain't broke" and therefore there is nothing to "fix."

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”