The Electoral College: A Path Forward

It’s the last week in October, and the rioting and looting is already underway. Election Day is coming up, and we’re told there’s absolutely no way the votes will be counted that night.

This is going to get ugly.

Instead of a little local uncertainty, we’re looking at a dozen swing states this year, and eight of them will probably be unable to report the day after. There’s never any suspense in California and New York, but Pennsylvania may be key to the whole shebang, and they are very much not prepared. Wisconsin just saw the Supreme Court change their counting plans.

Exit polls will be fairly useless in the present age of absentee ballots; there will be significant age and class differences between those who vote in person and those voting by mail. Atlanta looks safe enough; Georgia has begun counting already — but Philadelphia is already on fire (thanks to yet another police shooting) and there’s little chance things there will calm down over the next week. New York and L.A. are reportedly following suit.

Thanks to California’s legendarily slow vote counting, it could take a week for us to know the results in the most populous state in the Union. Similarly, there are some precincts in almost every state that customarily take days. And there are always lawsuits — always.

Just imagine the chaos in store for us if we didn’t have an Electoral College.

Certainly the Electoral College has its detractors; it should. When it was first envisioned, the telephone was unimaginable, and having the votes counted and tallied within a week would have been inconceivable. There was a very good reason for the reporting procedures, the formal assemblies before the legislatures, and the certified counting before the new Congress. Today, the entire system is archaic.

More importantly, it’s no longer proportional. When the Constitution was originally drafted, the House had one Representative for every thirty thousand citizens or so. If that ratio were continued today, we’d have eleven thousand Members. Since the College has one member for each Rep and Senator, it would have eleven thousand one hundred votes. There would be no reasonable rounding imbalance for the smaller states.

Perhaps eleven thousand would be excessive. But is it really so unreasonable to have things set up so you’re represented by a neighbor, someone there’s a good chance you actually know? And yet, over the centuries, the House has been steadily restricted in numbers — presumably so that body can all fit in the same room they used two hundred years ago. Talk about mindless slavery to an anachronism! And yet — here we are.

The present trend is for states to award their Electors in a single winner-take-all block. And yet, Nebraska and Maine, two states that are largely rural yet have their politics skewed by small urban centers, both award Electoral votes by district. The advantage for them is a feeling that they’re being well-represented; perhaps more to the point, each state receives some attention from the candidates. It’s difficult to envision a Republican actively campaigning in California, even though thanks to their massive population it has the third largest number of Republicans of any state in the country.

It seems evident that we require either the Electoral College or an analogue, something to serve the purpose of being an independent body with authority to represent our votes before Congress. It is nevertheless equally certain that we’re harmed both by the excessively large granularity of representation — one member for half a million people — and that the populations of larger states that opt to dissent from the majority have no voice whatsoever in the final choice. It is no coincidence that, of the hundred million Americans who didn’t cast presidential ballots in 2016, one in five lived in California.

As such, I propose we revise the College such that every state is required to award votes proportionately by actual vote count, or by district, or in some other fashion that more directly represents the actual opinion of their citizens. Moreover, we desperately need to increase the size of the House of Representatives, and for the same reason.

(This latter would have the additional benefit of removing present obstacles to statehood for American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, each currently with too few citizens to qualify. While we’re at it, we can settle the questions of Puerto Rican statehood and the representative status of the seven hundred thousand citizens permanently resident in Washington D.C. — motto: “Taxation Without Representation”. Each of these is a shameful situation, and each needs to be addressed. -Editor)

The true benefit of these changes should be self-evident. The events of the next two weeks, unfortunately, appear likely only to make the need for structural change more obvious.


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