How Not To Think About The Electoral College

Voting MachineAn article in The Oregonian for March 12, 2009 has one of the most surreal headlines this author can recall.

“Oregon House votes to end the Electoral College” screams the headline. All efforts to find other gems like Oregon Senate Passes Bill Rescinding The Law of Gravity; Awaits Governor’s Signature With Austronaut Pen Designed For Weightlessness or Perpetual Motion Machines Now Possible As Oregon Legislature Repeals Laws of Thermodynamics came to nought. Apparently there is still at least some sense of the impossible in Oregon journalism.

Not to be too snarky, but the Oregon legislature has no more authority to end the Electoral College (EC) than it does to create the laws mentioned repealing basic laws of physics. Journalists (not to mention editors, a problem noted earlier in this series of articles) should have at least a general working knowledge of the basic design and operation of the Electoral College before being turned loose to distort the facts of stories and misinform the public on the subject.

What are the problems with the article exactly? Here’s a list-

  1. The Oregon House voted today to end the electoral college system in favor of the popular vote in electing a U.S. president-

    WRONG! The Oregon House voted to surrender it’s sovereign authority to choose electors pledged to a specific presidential candidate. Oregon already awards its EC votes on the basis of the popular vote- within Oregon. The proposed legislation would ignore the will of Oregon voters  and awards its states precious EC votes on the basis of the national popular vote winner.

  2. Four states have endorsed legislation to ban the current system, which awards all the electoral college votes in a state to one candidate-

    Where, oh where to start with this mish-mash of disinformation? First, states have no constitutional authority to “ban the current system.” What they can do is pass a law thumbing their collective noses at their own state’s popular vote to impose a tyrannical system that would hand over EC authority to choose a specific candidate to the the 10-15 largest cities in the United States. They can perform this supremely irresponsible act because states are guaranteed nearly unlimited constitutional authority to choose presidential electors in any way that suits the state. But, legally speaking, they must still appoint presidential electors. Thus, the claim that the legislature passed a bill to  “ban the system” is an egregious display of journalistic buffoonery.

    Second, not all states award their precious EC votes on the basis of the popular vote, at least not entirely. Maine and Nebraska award their share of EC votes representing their members of the Federal House of Representatives on the basis of the popular vote within that specific congressional district. The EC votes representing the 2 federal Senators are awarded on the basis of the popular vote statewide. This most fair and representative of  systems insures that the cities cannot overwhelm the vote of the countryside and a truly proportional result is achieved.

  3. “For Oregon to join this interstate compact would move the nation one step closer to making sure every vote counts in presidential elections,” said Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, who carried the bill-

    Except for the voters of Oregon whose explicit wishes may very well be completely ignored in favor of the combined votes cast in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, Atanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, etc. Rep. Cannon’s quote is possibly one of the most cynical and asinine utterances we’ve seen since…well…since the last presidential election cycle.

  4. The National Popular Vote would take effect when and if enough states equaling 270 electoral votes — a majority –approve the legislation to join the multi-state compact-

    How about some details here? What does this “multi-state compact” say exactly? What are the details of the agreement? Can states withdraw? If so- how? If not- why? What happens if, for instance, Oregon voters give presidential candidate “A” 60% of the popular vote but the rest of the country give presidential candidate “B” 50.01% of the popular vote in a squeaker with obvious fraud and Oregon then awards all of their electoral votes to candidate B on the basis of the compact? What if Oregon voters strenuously or even violently object to their electoral will being thwarted? Worse yet, what if the 50.01% of the vote was completely dependent on the votes cast in a single large state, the popular votes of the remaining states in the compact going to presidential candidate “A?” Has anyone asked these questions? How about it journalists?

Frankly, this effort appears to be one of the most poorly thought out attempts to circumvent the Constitution that has come along in some time. No one seems to be think through the possible scenarios and no one seems to be taking the time to examine the original intent of the EC, beyond talking in platitudes about its being “outmoded” (and stumbling badly or suddenly remembering an appointment when asked to be specific) and the like.

Last summer this author had the privilege of teaching a class on the EC at Camp American. They  will be posting some of the more relevant sections as class samples in the next few days and we will post some of them here to illustrate that while the EC is not perfect it is most certainly superior to the grossly  ill-considered and irrational reaction to the 2000 election outcome that is the National Popular Vote movement.

Series NavigationFederalism And The Electoral CollegeThe Return of “Divided Sovereignty”