Subverting the Constitution to win elections harms, not helps, democracy.
The Electoral College can seem like a convoluted way to pick a president, but that’s by design. The Constitution’s Framers rightly feared the tendency of democracy to descend into tribalism, mob rule, and the tyranny of the majority. So, they crafted a constitutional framework with protections against these historical weaknesses, one of which was the deliberate decision not to select the president based on the popular vote. Instead, states get the same number of electoral votes as they do representation in Congress, and whoever wins at least 270 electoral votes wins the presidency. In almost every election, the winner carries both the popular and the electoral vote, but five times in American history the White House has gone to a president who won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote.
That, of course, happened in 2016. Now, activists and politicians are renewing their push to supplant the Electoral College altogether. But they aren’t proposing a Constitutional amendment; they are pushing to bypass the Constitution altogether and instead get states to pass a National Popular Vote compact. The pact would compel states to award their electoral votes to whoever wins the national vote, even if that candidate lost that state. Already, 15 states with 196 electoral votes have signed on.
The compact is not an amendment, and it’s clear why. The Constitution requires two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states to approve any amendment, and supporters know their plan would never get that level of support. After all, the National Popular Vote plan would reshape the political landscape, shifting power away from smaller states, rural areas, and the ever-shifting set of swing states, permanently concentrating it in the largest states and cities. Why should any state agree to marginalize the voices of its people in the name of boosting the already-outsize influence of California and New York?
Avoiding that concentration of power is one of the hallmarks of the Electoral College, and one of the reasons we should preserve it. It encourages candidates to assemble broad coalitions that span diverse regions and interests, and helps to ensure that our nation’s government reflects the interests of a broad cross-section of the people, not just the narrow interests of a few regions.
The National Popular Vote plan is an unconstitutional effort designed to manipulate election rules for partisan gain. Embracing it will undermine the legitimacy of elections.