I am having COVID-19 fatigue. It’s appropriate that the first three letters and the last two letters of the word pandemic spell panic, because it seems that every action and reaction to the virus is knee jerk. On virtually every level, our leaders – medical experts, modelers, politicians, academics and pundits – all give the impression that no one knows what they are doing. That is why I have decided on taking a leave of absence from the COVID-19 panic and opine on another subject entirely: the Electoral College.
There is a name for those who are saying that we should eliminate the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote: losers. It is doubtful if those whiners have thought through their proposal. The beauty of the Electoral College is that in virtually all elections, we know very quickly who won. Of course, there was the Al Gore vs. George W. Bush election with the decision coming down to hanging chads in Florida. But that was the exception.
Abolishing the Electoral College would result in not knowing who won in almost every election. Consider how many messes there are annually in local and statewide elections. This would be magnified by 175,000 as the accuracy of every polling place could be challenged. Since states determine who, where and how their residents vote, are state laws to be overturned with the federal government setting the rules for national elections? Do we have voter IDs, voting by noncitizens, paper ballots, voting by mail, uniform voting machines, voting offsite, early voting and/or electronic voting? Bet on a recount at every level for every election. It would be a chaotic mess.
Abolishing the Electoral College would also lead to more and more candidates appearing on the national ballot. As a result, expect strong regional candidates running in the national election, guaranteeing that no one candidate receives a majority of the votes. The next question would be whether the winner must have a majority or a plurality. If it is a majority, then a runoff would be assured between the top two candidates. A plurality would result in a minority candidate, which is what the whiners say they want to avoid. So let us assume that somehow we settle all the disputes and have a national runoff between the two top vote-getters. It doesn’t take much imagination to postulate total chaos regardless of who wins.
The gang in favor of abolishing the Electoral College has another alternative: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This is the bizarre idea that we keep the Electoral College, but the state’s electoral votes go to whoever receives the most popular votes nationally.
Every state that has approved this measure is a “blue” state with a Democratic legislature and governor reacting to the elections of George W. Bush and Donald Trump. This will prove to be shortsighted when in future elections they may have to give their votes to a Republican who wins the majority of votes. Yet they could renege because electors are not bound to vote for any particular candidate.
Thus far there have been 176 instances of “faithless” electors. In 1836 all Virginia electors refused to vote for the vice presidential nominee, causing an electoral vote one short of a majority, throwing the election into the U.S. Senate. Some states attempt to bind the electors, but the constitutionality of state binding laws has been challenged. The lower-court rulings are mixed, and the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in. Consider what happens if, because of faithless electors and multiple national candidates, no one receives a majority of electoral votes. The House of Representatives would vote for president while the U.S. Senate would vote for the vice president. In this case, each state has only one vote regardless of its number of representatives and senators. Do you think the national vote crowd would be happy with North Dakota having the same vote as California? Best to stick with what has worked since the founding of the republic: the Electoral College.
Dr. Harold A. Black is professor emeritus of finance at the University of Tennessee. He may be reached at [email protected].
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