Defending the Electoral College since 2009
“How dare you lie about our position!” As I exited a committee hearing into the middle of the Delaware State Capitol, I was confronted by two elderly women—one of them yelling in my face. They were representatives of the local League of Women Voters, and they wanted me (and everyone else) to know that they did not like my testimony against National Popular Vote (NPV) legislation being rushed through the state’s legislative process.
In my testimony, I had rebutted claims by some NPV advocates that the plan has nothing to do with abolishing the Electoral College. This is almost never asserted by ordinary people, or event pundits and academics, who push NPV. I respect them for their honesty. But NPV lobbyists often wink to the majority of their supporters who desire to eliminate the Electoral College outright while loudly insisting they would never do such a thing. It’s silly, except as a way to soothe cautious lawmakers and confuse the debate.
As evidence, I noted that many NPV allies had long been on record opposing the Electoral College. I mentioned one in particular: the League of Women Voters.
As the League’s representative berated me, I slipped in a few rational words about her organization’s opposition of the Electoral College going back to the 1970s. Finally, one of her friends managed to confirm on her smartphone my dastardly assertion—in fact, the League of Women Voters has long called for a constitutional amendment to end the Electoral College. When NPV first came on the scene, the group rejected it precisely because it does not change the Constitution. Yet they quickly realized that NPV could get them pretty much the same thing and changed their position.
Enter NPV’s Utah “organizer,” Bunnie Keen. In a recent opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune, she writes that “NPV just seeks to once more update laws concerning electoral votes…. Dog bites man.”
She claims that the NPV change is minor and simple, but also that it would transform the way presidential politics works. Which is it? In fact, NPV seeks to nullify the state-by-state process in favor of an ad hoc direct election—that’s the whole point. By doing that, it would empower splinter parties and spoiler candidates, allow candidates to win with smaller and smaller pluralities, and at some point require a national recount. It would change how political parties organize at the national level, which would reverberate through our entire political system. And it would open the door to a kind of regional politics that the Electoral College has always prevented—and a reason why major democracies like India and Germany use electoral college-like systems.
Those who want to change our system owe it to all of us—and to themselves—to be honest about what might happen. There are always unintended consequences. Pretending this is “no big deal” is a profound disservice to the country and to state legislators who must grapple with these issues. But this is NPV’s big lie, that their plan is a minor tweak that has nothing to do with opposition to the Electoral College. The American Founders rejected a national popular vote and created the Electoral College as a state-by-state way to choose the president and vice president. NPV would reject that design and the compromise that ratified it. NPV advocates like Bunnie Keen should be honest about what they are trying to do.
Time is running out
There is a real, immediate threat to the constitutional way we elect our president. National Popular Vote is 76% of the way to implementing their dangerous plan.