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DIY Project: Reform the Electoral College

Apparent problems with the Electoral College system in the United States are only outnumbered by strategies to reform it. Reform strategies include proportional allocation of delegates by state, direct election with instant runoff voting, allocating delegates by congressional district, and a national bonus plan (in which a large additional number of delegates are awarded to the winner of the national popular vote). These plans range from unattainable at best to disastrous at worst. Despite their differences, they all require the same uphill battle: amending the constitution.

The U.S. Constitution has only been amended 27 times–10 of which comprise the Bill of Rights. In order to propose an amendment to the states, it must pass a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. After this, the proposed amendment must be passed by three-fourths of states. This process is arduous and inefficient, and is not the best means through which to pursue fast change.

One plan to reform the Electoral College system bypasses this process. The National Popular Vote bill is an interstate compact in which all of the participating states’ electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote. This bill takes effect only when identically enacted by states possessing a majority of electoral votes (270/538). This bill has several large perks:

  • The power is given back to the voters. It enrages me to think that my state, voting on my behalf, might be allocating its votes to a candidate I do not support. I’d like to think that we’re past the elitist point in our political history where everyday citizens couldn’t be trusted with a decision of this magnitude.
  • We all remember 2000–the winner of the electoral college vote (Bush) did not win the national popular vote. This mismatch also occurred in 1876 and 1868. Incidents like these, in my opinion, the most obvious flaw in the current system. The NPV interstate compact ensures that the will of the majority is preserved throughout the election process. However, the intent of the founding fathers was to ensure the inverse–if your view is that the majority ought not rule in this case, you won’t see this as a merit of the NPV plan.
  • The NVP plan levels the playing field amongst states by removing any influence discrepancy caused by size. Some argue that small states are favored in the current system because they have more electoral votes relative to their population size. Others hold that larger states benefit from the winner-takes-all system because a larger size means more electoral votes, and therefore more sway. Intuitively, the latter seems to me to be the larger issue. Regardless, the NVP plan takes away this bias and treats all voters equally in their clout.
  • The National Popular Vote bill further equalizes states by eliminating the swing state bias that we statistically and anecdotally know to exist in the current system. Virginia is getting more attention than, say, Washington. This is because VA could go red or blue, but no republican presidential candidate would chase votes in Seattle. My Tacoma-residing evil twin, then, has a vote which is less valuable and far less sought after than mine in Williamsburg. This bias impacts voter turnout in a very real way. CIRCLE (Committee for the Student of the American Electorate) research shows that turnout among voters under age 30 was 64.4% in the top 10 swing states, and was only 47.6 in the rest of the country. A 17% gap is nothing to scoff at. This becomes the point at which our current system absolutely impacts the civic engagement of the next generation. Voting is habitual–when newly minted voters at 18 realize that their vote doesn’t count for much, they’re not likely compelled to become further involved.

Think this fair voting procedure is but a dream of hopeless democratic romantics? After all, there’s no way larger states would vote to make their influence less important. Guess again. We’re about halfway there: Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, D.C, Vermont, and California have all signed on. This gives us 132 of the 270 electoral votes which would be required to constitute a majority. The plan is currently pending approval in New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The major roadblock is the swing states–these states are not likely to give up their influence. Swing states enjoy the attention they receive. More crucially, state and national leaders from swing states certainly enjoy the perks they receive, which often come in the form of political appointments, invitations to speak at conventions, and even convention placement. However, the group of swing states is a small one, and could be overcome with the proper organizational and grassroots structure.

It’s clear that it won’t be ready by 2012, but there IS hope that, in the not too distant future, U.S. citizens could vote and be counted equally.


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