By Trent England, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
The American Founders designed an ingenious, state-by-state method to elect the President of the United States. Today, we call it the Electoral College. While often misunderstood, it serves to keep states in control of elections and forces candidates to draw support from across the country just to have a chance at winning the presidency.
Even the Constitution’s original critics, the Anti-Federalists, generally supported the Electoral College. This allowed Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist No. 68, to remark that “if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”
Today, the Constitution’s state-by-state election system is under attack. A group called National Popular Vote (NPV) wants to manipulate the Founders’ system to get around the difficult process of changing the Constitution. NPV lobbyists are at work in state capitals across the country, including in Jefferson City.
Part of their argument is that conservatives are disadvantaged in presidential elections. This is odd, since the founder and funders of NPV are liberals. The very impetus for NPV’s campaign was that Al Gore, because his coalition of supporters was too focused in big cities, won the popular vote but lost the presidency. Directly rebutting NPV lobbyist claims, election analyst Nate Silver has shown that Democrats do not enjoy any systemic advantage under the current system. As he writes, “There is no ‘Blue Wall’.”
The Electoral College works so well most Americans never really think about it. Because of the Electoral College, elections are contained within individual states. No presidential appointee in Washington, D.C is responsible for administering presidential elections. States can learn from other states experiences with measures like voter identification and different laws for ballot access or absentee voting.
NPV would take all those different systems and mash them together. It promises a “national vote,” but cannot deliver. Instead, it would render presidential elections subject to massive litigation and gaming by individual states. It would most likely fall to court challenges or lead to the nationalization of election administration–a goal of many NPV supporters.
Since George Washington, every presidential election has happened state-by-state. The Electoral College is a part of the constitutional fabric and the historical record of the exceptional success of the United States. Altering that fabric, especially in pursuit of short-term political advantage, would put the republic at risk.