Written By: Anton Sawyer
Being disenfranchised for doing what you’ve been told to do since birth seems counterintuitive to most. If you are a reader from outside of America: we welcome you! This dichotomy plagues every part of American life and is the specific topic we’re going to dissect today as we look at The United States Electoral College.
With the seeds for the 2022 state legislative sessions being planted, it seems some places are going to tackle the removal of the college from the election equation head-on through legal means. This article is going to look at the nationwide movement supporting the removal of the electoral college, what’s being done to fight the removal, and what the constitution actually says can and cannot be done.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for this article, and all articles, can be found at our site's bibliography linked here.
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In the fall of 2021, 57 members of the Michigan House and Senate, including Republican leadership in each chamber, signed a joint letter to express opposition to the National Popular Vote initiative. If you have not heard of these initiatives, you are not alone.
The call for the removal of the college has been a hot topic ever since I voted in my first Presidential Election in 2000. As someone who made the mistake of putting their support behind Ralph Nader (my heart goes out to those youth who voted for Jill Stein in 2016), the electoral college has been a source of fascination for me ever since. As a fanboy of provable numbers and statistics, I have to agree with the framers of the constitution: I don’t like it. Even in modern times, it seems the electoral college is being treated with the same level of confusion the founding fathers had when it came to any kind of “vote-by-proxy” ideals. With the population of America being what it is, and the incongruent levels of growth between certain states and cities (each leaning their own direction politically), having designated voters for the voters seems antiquated at best.
This sentiment has spread and in 2008, a group of states came together and started the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV). As of summer 2021, it has been adopted by 15 states and the District of Colombia. At its essence, the agreement states whichever presidential candidate gets the nationwide popular vote, that the state who has agreed will give over their electoral college votes to said candidate. The huge negative to this agreement comes from the fact that if a state overwhelmingly votes for one candidate, but that candidate loses the popular vote, then the voters of that state have not been heard and their college votes go to the opposition. An important thing to keep in mind; since its enactment, every state who has signed on to the agreement has complied and given their electoral college votes to the nationwide popular vote winner—more on this later.
Because of the growing popularity in the thought of removing the electoral college, Michigan felt they needed to step up. Well, a bunch of state GOP political leaders anyway.
In October 2021, 57 members of the Michigan House and Senate, including Republican leadership in each chamber, signed a joint letter to express opposition to the National Popular Vote initiative when an effort to add Michigan to the list by former Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis and former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer was brought about. Their reasoning for bringing the initiative about was they both say tying the country’s electoral votes to the popular vote would allow every state to be relevant during the election cycle. Should the “Yes on National Popular Vote” initiative succeed, Michigan’s 15 electoral votes would be committed to the presidential candidate who won the majority of votes nationwide if enough states representing at least 270 electoral votes agree to participate. “The practical matter today is, we basically elect the president of the battleground states of America,” Anuzis said in September. “That’s not good for the process and that’s not why the electoral college was designed.” He continued, “As a proud Republican, I’m confident that our ideas can prevail, and republicans can win elections under a National Popular Vote model. It also means every vote in every election counts, and that every voter, whether republican or democrat, would have their vote directly counted towards their preferred candidate for president.”
The overall conservative reaction to NPV has not been on the side of Anuzis.
Since its inception in 2008, both religious and political leaders have done their best to discredit both the moral and constitutional idea of the NPV. In a 2012 paper published in the BYU Law Review it was written, "As such, if opponents wish to abolish the Electoral College, the sole constitutionally proper mechanism for doing so is a federal constitutional amendment, not an interstate compact negotiated by a handful of states."
There are two fatal flaws in this thought process.
The first is that by these states agreeing, it’s not going to change the constitution or force the hands of any states. It’s an agreement, a compact. Though each state that has agreed thus far has upheld this notion in each election since 2008, they aren’t doing so through constitutional means.
The second flaw comes from the way the constitution itself was written. Article II, section 1, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors …” These 17 words are the Constitution’s delegation of power to the states concerning how they may award their electoral votes. That’s it. There’s nothing that goes into what the states are required to do when it comes to their electoral votes, nor does it offer any kind of specific guidance. The reason it’s so vague is that it was too difficult to define. In 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention debated the method of electing the President on 22 separate days and held 30 separate votes on the topic. On four separate occasions, the Convention voted (and then reversed its decision) that Congress should choose the President—that is, the people would not be allowed to vote for President. On another occasion, the delegates voted that the state legislatures would choose the President. At one point, the delegates considered empowering state Governors to choose the President.
The main takeaway from all of this arguing is that the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the US Constitution. It was not debated at the Constitutional Convention. It was not discussed in the “Federalist Papers.” The winner-take-all rule was used by only three states in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789 (all of which abandoned it by 1800). In fact, the founders were dead for decades before the winner-take-all rule became the predominant method of awarding electoral votes came into fashion.
Though the constitutional objection may fall a little flat, the moral argument from the republicans is a little trickier.
Michigan Freedom Fund executive director Tori Sachs said, “The ‘National Popular Vote’ is an attempt by liberals in California and New York to disenfranchise and silence Michigan voters. It is imperative that the candidate who receives Michigan’s electoral votes is determined by Michiganders—and not by voters in other parts of the country.”
And that’s the double-edged argument being used by both sides. The liberals see the NPV as a way to validate the will of the people, ALL of the people. They have made the argument that with how divisive politics has been, it levels the playing field no matter where you live. It’s this same argument of division politics that has the GOP so utterly terrified at the thought of the NPV; they worry that larger (liberal) states like California and New York are going to turn America into a socialist utopia where rural values are seen as anathema to progress. Thereby being completely devalued as a citizen of the US.
What IS so morally interesting about this entire situation lies in the fact that in January 2021 before Biden was sworn in, a myriad of GOP leaders was more than willing to decimate the historical importance of the electoral college in an attempt to de-legitimize the 2020 presidential election results.
Since the 1990s, Republican presidential candidates have won the popular vote only once—in George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004. Even Trump relied heavily on the electoral college for his 2016 victory. When it came to saving Trump, the GOP was only concerned about the here and now. This was a fact met with backlash from more than one prominent republican leader who knew how the game was actually being played.
One of the points of opposition that is noteworthy came from a joint letter sent by a group of Republican representatives. “From a purely partisan perspective, Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the last 32 years,” read the statement from House Representatives Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Ken Buck of Colorado, Chip Roy of Texas, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Tom McClintock of California and Nancy Mace of South Carolina. “They have therefore depended on the electoral college for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation. If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes—based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election—we will be delegitimizing the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024.” It's always refreshing to see this level of self-awareness come from any political party. But it's also telling when that self-awareness openly admits that losing is the only guarantee if the playing field were leveled.
This letter also cripples the idea of a rigged election. Think about it for a moment. Most people who lack any kind of worldview are only able to draw from their surroundings what their thoughts and beliefs are, and never question the potential realities outside their own. If you live in an incredibly conservative state (let’s say, Arizona), and you have been raised in these values which permeate the landscape of your world through radio ads and billboards, it would be near impossible to believe that a liberal could win that state … unless it was rigged. The smaller the world, the easier it is to cement the idea of impenetrable like-mindedness within the given area. It’s basic psychology.
The founding fathers clearly had no idea what was best in terms of how the will of the people should be upheld during a presidential election, and just let the chips fall where they may. There are no clear answers to what is going to uphold the voice of literally every single American when it comes to electing the next leader of the free world. But I do feel that the NPV is currently the best option given the numbers. To have a “generation” of republican presidents gain office only through the flaws of the current system is definitely not upholding the voice of the people.
I wonder how many future generations are going to be subject to the wills of a leader that was effectively determined by four or five states?
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