Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Drop Out of the College

In an editorial on Tuesday, the New York Times endorses a plan to bypass the electoral college for presidential elections. The plan, proposed by a group called National Popular Vote, does not propose a consitutional amendment to eliminate the electoral college, but instead suggests a cooperative mechanism by which the states can eviscerate it.

I have long called for the elimination of the unfair and anachronistic electoral college system, for all the reasons that the New York Times cites in its editorial, and I strongly support this ingenious plan. Here's how it works:

According to the consitution, the states decide, in any manner they want, how their electors are chosen. The electors then place their votes, and a candidate who gets at least (currently) 270 electoral votes wins the presidency. To change any of that requires a constitutional amendment, which means ratification by 3/4 of the states — that means that 38 states have to agree to it.

The way each state except Maine and Nebraska allocates its electoral votes is by the popular majority of votes cast in that state. What that effectively means is that I could vote for the Democrat, the Republican, the Libertarian, the Green Party candidate, or the North American Silly Party candidate, and it would make no difference — New York would give 31 electoral votes to the Democratic candidate, because that's who will win the popular vote in New York.

Under this proposal, states would agree to change how the electors are chosen, such that instead of pledging to cast their votes for the winner of the popular majority in their states, they would pledge to cast their votes for the winner of the nationwide popular majority. The states would still have to "ratify" this, of course, by changing their laws, but it would not require 3/4 of the states to go along — only enough electoral votes to reach the 270 mark. That could come in any combination, and could be arrived at with as few as eleven states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, New Jersey, and North Carolina, which together represent 271 electoral votes).

The beauty of this is that it benefits everyone, even those in the states that don't go along with it. If those eleven states (or some other suitable combination) change their rules, then the Democratic voter in Wyoming and the Republican voter in Connecticut get their equal say in the outcome — each equal to every other voter in the country.

That would be a fair situation.

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