The push to abolish the electoral college is continuing to gain steam, with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) announcing this past Friday that he would be introducing a bill to propose a Constitutional amendment to get rid of the institution.
As he put it, capping off an effort to translate proposals from earlier this year into legislative reality:
‘We need real, equal representation if we want a government that responds to the big issues impacting working families’ lives, like health care, housing, education, living-wage jobs, and climate chaos. It’s time to end the undemocratic Electoral College, and to ensure a pathway to full voting representation for all American citizens, regardless of whether they live in Portland or Puerto Rico.’
As it stands, the electoral college system gives some areas more weight in presidential elections than others. Votes get pooled on a state-level before moving on to the nationally operating institution, wherein each state’s “electors” cast their own, separate ballots according to whoever won their home turf. The number of electors per state gets determined by its population density — so, if overall, one candidate wins more support but the other wins more individual states, the latter candidate wins the election.
That has occurred twice recently, including in 2016 when Trump sailed to the White House with some 3 million less votes than Hillary Clinton but plenty more electoral votes.
Merkley is not at all alone in reacting to the miscarriage of election results by proposing getting rid of the hundreds-of-years old mechanism that sent Donald Trump to D.C. — although unsurprisingly, Trump has turned his position around from what he held to in the past and spoken out in defense of the electoral college. He claimed that in the absence of the institution, cities and large states would run the country — although that takes a number of assumptions for granted, like that people around big cities all vote the same. Considering trends that are in place, the president’s argument is essentially a rehashing of past GOP arguments that… for some reason… collections of Democratic votes in places like California shouldn’t count as much as Republican votes spread elsewhere across the United States.
Besides that political argument, Trump also just likes to hold onto the electoral college as an ego boost. Just in recent days, years after the final results, he touted his victory over Clinton in arguing why he should be free from the burden of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the final report of his Russia investigation — because to him, popularity means freedom from consequences or something, apparently.
Meanwhile, prominent Democratic presidential candidates including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Kamala Harris (Calif.) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have all voiced either openness to the future idea or active present calls for the abolition of the electoral college.
Considering the two-thirds and three-fourths majorities Merkley’s effort would need in both Congress and across the country, respectively, it’s definitely a lofty goal — but their efforts have apparent broad nationwide support anyway. Just this past week, Delaware signed onto the interstate compact that would give members’ electoral votes to the national popular vote winner if they can pool 270 between them. Currently, compact members boast 184 electoral votes between them.
Merkley is also proposing electoral reforms that are at least somewhat more doable, including providing voting representation for the people of U.S. territories, preventing lengthy wait times at polling stations, and even protecting voters from repeated GOP state efforts to “clean out” their state’s voter rolls.
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