Omdahl: States Joining Plot to Bypass Electoral College

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a national movement to bypass the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the president.

LLOYD OMDAHL
Guest Columnist

A compact has been drawn for states to agree to cast their electoral votes for the presidential candidate garnering the most votes in the general election regardless of party. The compact would become binding when states with a total of 270 votes sign on.

In February, Colorado became the 12th state to join the compact, bringing the total electoral count to 181 – just 90 shy of the 270 needed.  Other states already committed include Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Vermont, California, Rhode Island and New York.

Popular election of the president would continue an impulse to move the republic created by the Founders closer to a democracy.  First, the state legislatures surrendered selection of Presidential Electors to the people. Then the Seventeenth Amendment took election of U. S. Senators from the legislatures for direct election.

Hundreds of proposals to abolish or restructure the Electoral College have poured into the Congressional hoppers over the past 200 years but nothing has happened. However, when the candidate with the most votes loses in the Electoral College, new interest in the subject blooms.

It happened in the Bush-Gore election of 2000 and again in the Trump-Clinton race in 2016.

But it is ideology more than political advantage that drives interest in abolishing the College.  Supporters of direct election tend to be folks who believe strongly in one-person, one vote. On the other hand are those who see the College as benefiting small states and saving the federal system.

In the middle is a muddle caused by both sides trying to decide what a change would really do.  Nobody knows for sure.

First, how would this affect political campaigns?  In 2016, the vast majority of public appearances were made in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  There is no doubt that direct election would spread campaigns more generally throughout the country. Every vote would count, no matter where the candidate got it.

Then there is the power issue. Small states are convinced that the electoral college benefits them most  because they can choose electors with fewer votes than larger states because the two senators in the formula looms large in  small states.

But do the small states really have an advantage?  Professor John Banzhaf did the math and concluded that voters in “states like New York and California have over  two and one-half times as much chance to affect the election of the president as residents of some of the smaller states…”

 Proponents of direct election recognize that direct election would liberate their conservative presidential candidates from pandering to attract urbanites or minorities, something that is getting to be more and more necessary as the number of minority voters grows. They could write off minorities and still get a good vote.

(In 2016, the mechanics of the Electoral College elected Trump even though he had fewer votes than Clinton. During the campaign, he denounced the Electoral College as a rigged system. A poll after the election found a significant rise in support for the Electoral College among Republicans.  It is a temporary love.)

While more liberals than conservatives favor direct election, they are not unanimous.  William Daley, Al Gore’s campaign chairman, thinks direct election is a bad idea.  He, like everyone aware of the Electoral College, has 14 opinions about the Electoral College.

Because of the confusion over ultimate impact of a change, there is not enough consensus to make the change by amending the U. S. Constitution.  It looks like the states are taking charge.