Almost every thoughtful citizen has realized by now that the current structure of the Electoral College is no longer really necessary or functional. Sadly, most of the proposals to correct the problem would require constitutional amendments or would be easy to defeat on constitutional grounds. They would either abolish the college or render it irrelevant—a good lawyer would simply argue that both approaches come to the same thing. It is time for a different approach.
Before giving all my arguments, let me simply state my simple solution. I am not an expert on constitutional law, but I believe it has serious merit.
Instead of removing the college, simply expand it in a fair and simple way: each of the 50 states, and DC, and each of the five official territories (now not represented at all), would be assigned a single additional electoral vote. That would create a total of 56 new electoral votes (currently more than any single state) as part of recognizing that our nation is greater than the sum of its parts. These votes would go to the winner of the national popular vote. They would be a significant counterweight to the unfairness that now exists, however, they would not necessarily pre-determine an outcome—any solution that did that would be unfair.
For example, under the system I propose, Gore would have defeated Bush in 2000, while in 2016, Trump would still have narrowly prevailed over Clinton. My proposed fix would remedy narrow electoral college wins that were contrary to the popular vote when there are relatively small electoral vote advantages. It would let the national popular vote decide the winner in these cases.
My rationale for this approach is simple. When our nation gained independence, we were governed by the “Articles of Confederation.” This treated the US as a mere collection of equal states: a vague coalition rather than a nation. This system proved unwieldy and unworkable. In response the US constitution was written. The very writing of the constitution proved a simple point that is crucial to my argument—a nation is more than the sum of its parts.
It is worth repeating this simple fact: It is the core of my argument. A nation is more than the sum of its parts—and yet the electoral college doesn’t recognize this at all. The vote of the college is the total votes of individual states. That is a very serious injustice and problem. The idea of the nation transcends the idea of a collection of states and should be recognized by the balance of the electoral college.
To understand this, we need to revisit the founders rational for the electoral college—it was to protect states with small populations from the tyranny of states with big populations. To a large extent, the Senate itself (two votes for every state regardless of population) already does that.
Think about this fact: the seven smallest states (total population of about 5.6 million people) have 14 senators. That is one senator for each 401,000 people. California alone has about 41 million people but only 2 senators. That is 1 senator for every 20.5 million people. In other words, the small states are already vastly overrepresented.
But in these times, the electoral college overdoes the protection for small states even further. The Founders were sensitive to the idea that a majority could tyrannize a minority. But since they recognized that danger, they certainly didn’t intend that a minority could likewise tyrannize the majority. That is essentially what happens today. The state of Wyoming, with a population of about 550,000 people has three electoral votes, while California, with a population of over 39 million has 55 electoral votes. In other word, every elector in Wyoming represents 183,304 people, while and elector in California represents 726,136 people. Count up more small states and compare them to big states and the imbalance just gets worse
My proposal (a single new electoral vote to each state—and the territories) can hardly be described as unfair. It can’t seriously be argued that this unfairly disadvantages any given state in any way. It would, however, have several positive effects. First, it gives some representation to territories with US citizens who otherwise are not represented at all. Second, it helps relieve the imbalance (that has developed over the time since the founders did their work) between large and small states. Third, small states still get more representation proportionally than any large state. Fourth, in the case of the state voting with the winner of the national popular vote, there is no harm done, while in the case of the small state voting against the national vote winner, it gives representation to citizens of that state who were in the minority.
Elections like Gore v. Bush in 2000 cause enormous national division. It is easy to see why. After the necessary recount was called off, Bush won the state by a little more than 500 votes. That meant he was given all 29 of Florida’s electoral votes, which gave him a winning margin of just 5 electoral votes. Under my system, Gore would have won by some 50 electoral votes—a margin that would have lent credibility to his presidency which Bush forever lacked. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the change I propose would help mitigate the tendency for candidates to narrowly target “swing states” while their campaign effectively ignores the rest of the country. Few candidates could ignore the temptation of over 55 electoral votes. All these effects would make our elections fairer and more representative.
The beauty of the plan lies in this. The number of electors per state is not set in stone. It varies with population already. So, assigning an extra electors per state (with the stipulation that they vote for the winner of the national popular vote) doesn’t violate any obvious constitutional principle. The 23rd amendment gave electoral votes the District of Columbia (even though it is not a state) and the very existence of the constitution itself suggests that the will of the nation, as reflected in the national popular vote, should be given serious weight as we choose the leader of our nation.
While not perfect, my proposal would help eliminate situations where a few electoral college votes cancel out the will of many millions of popular votes. It would help create a deeper sense of national unity, and the deciding factor in very close elections would reflect the will of the majority of voters—not be handed to the courts to decide. At the same time, the purpose of the electoral college would not be totally cast aside.
Further, my proposed fix would help create a buffer against sinister forces (both internal and external) who micro-target narrow groups of voters in key states in order to garner a very narrow electoral college majority for a candidate who lacks broad national support. As malicious foreign actors increasingly try to meddle in our elections, and social media gives them increasing leverage, this is a vital point. In the end, my proposal would make our electoral system more fair and truly representative. That is something our nation’s founders always strove for.
Even if my proposal did require a constitutional amendment, it seems such an amendment would be much easier to achieve than any attempt to abolish the Electoral College or nullify it by requiring electors in all states to vote for the winner of the national popular vote.
Finally, given Trump’s current attempts to coerce GOP controlled state legislatures into changing how they certify their states’ electoral votes, a standard national process should be created to make sure all states play by the same rules in a national election.