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Time to scrap the electoral college


This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can compel their electoral college delegates to follow the popular vote results for that state. The decision is yet one more band-aid to keep this institutional relic alive for another election cycle.

While the framers of the U.S. Constitution back in 1789, had faith in the ideals of democracy and self determination, they were also terrified of “mob rule” and the risk of populism. Within the Constitution, they built safeguards such as state legislatures, choosing U.S. senators and the Electoral College, which put presidential voting on a state by state rather than national basis.

The idea in both cases, was that serious choices would be in the hands of picked men and not the unwashed masses. While the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, established the direct election of senators, the Electoral College has lingered as an anti-populist holdover.

This had clear impacts in recent elections with George W. Bush in 2000, and Donald Trump in 2016, gaining the presidency with electoral college victories, despite both having lost the popular vote in those elections.

While more populous states have more electors than smaller states, an inherent flaw in the system, is the inequality in the number of residents each elector represents. For example, according to the advocacy group FairVote, the average population to electoral votes is about one per 565,000 people. Wyoming has three electoral votes and only 532,668 citizens.

As a result, each of Wyoming’s three electoral votes corresponds to 177,556 people, meaning these people have 3.18 times as much clout in the Electoral College as an average American. The reverse holds true for larger states, with Wisconsin voters on the losing end of having votes here count, less than the national average.

Following the 2016 election, there was concern about electors going rogue and deciding to go against the popular vote in that state’s presidential election, and cast a ballot for someone else. Such a move would trigger a constitutional crisis in America. As a result, many states have laws in place to require the electors to follow the popular vote tally for that state.

The Supreme Court, in their recent decision, upheld the constitutionality of those laws, while at the same time giving life support to the failing Electoral College system.

At the time the Electoral College was created, it satisfied a need for the young republic. With broader education in the voting population and campaigns targeting individual voters regarding issues, that need is no longer in place. All voters have the opportunity to become educated about the issues facing the country and the concept of having “picked men” making decisions for others, is patently offensive.

It is time to consign the Electoral College to the dust bin of history and put the power in the hands of the people, to select leaders based on the tradition of one person, one vote. It is time for America to adopt the direct election of presidents.

Members of the Courier Sentinel editorial board include publisher Carol O’Leary, general manager Kris O’Leary and Star News editor Brian Wilson.