If Donald Trump hasn’t done anything else, he’s at least accomplished one thing – he’s made liberals crazy. As Exhibit A of this, I’ll offer the editorial page of The New York Times for last Wednesday, November 8. Generally, I swear by the Times. But my favorite paper is faithfully liberal, and shares in the (I hope temporary) insanity that our so-called President has provoked on the left.
The Times editorial on the above date concerns the manifold evils of the Electoral College, and the need to replace it with a popular vote for President. I won’t quote the editorial – you can read it here – but there was never a greater waste of ink and paper. It’s easy to see why liberals should hate the Electoral College, since it gave us President Trump, but there’s no chance it’ll go away any time soon, and the editorial’s suggestion for concrete action would only open a can of worms.
The fact that liberals are harping on this issue chiefly illustrates the limitations of their world-view, in my opinion. I’ll discuss that subject in my next blog posting. This time, I’ll simply focus on why it’s absurd – even perilous – to try to dispense with the Electoral College before 2020. I hope I’ve room for everything.
I’m not, by the way, especially a fan of this ancient institution. I’d shed no tears if it fell by the wayside. Yet – for the record – we should note that the Electoral College isn’t a mere anachronism; it actually has a contemporary significance. It’s an expression of the fact that the United States isn’t a consolidated national government, but a federal union of semi-sovereign states, each making its Presidential choice autonomously. The Electoral College reinforces the relevance of state identity. Californians are learning the virtues of federalism in the Age of Trump.
There are serious practical problems involved with a popular vote for President. A nationalized election implies a uniform national standard for voting, and the country is currently far from that. Each state now makes its own rules, and any inequities affect only itself. But with popular votes being tallied nationwide, states with restrictive voter ID laws might be tempted to make them more restrictive. California may be tempted to lower the voting age to 16. Obviously, these small details would have to be worked out beforehand, and I’m not holding my breath for that.
The Times editorial acknowledges that a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College isn’t possible at this time. But there’s an alternative, it says: states can agree to the National Popular Vote compact, wherein they commit to cast their Electoral Votes for the nation-wide winner of the popular vote. The compact will take effect only if states making up a majority of all the Electoral Votes agree to it. So far, ten states (and DC) have done so. Other states should join, the editorial proclaims.
This is more than futile; it’s dangerous.
First of all, I don’t see that the prospects for the National Popular Vote compact are much better than for a Constitutional amendment. No Republican state legislature would agree to either right now. And the National Voter compact has an even bigger flaw – it could plunge our election process into chaos.
How? A state could agree to it, and then renege.
The Constitution says that a state’s Electors shall be appointed “as the legislature thereof shall direct.” But there’s a month between election day in November and when the state Electors meet in December. That’s plenty of time for a state legislature to meet in emergency session and repeal the state’s agreement to the Popular Vote compact – if the switch benefits that state’s favored candidate.
No state would do that, you say? What if Texas agreed to the compact, but then became convinced that the Democratic candidate’s small national majority was due to all those undocumented people voting in California? You think they’d never consider going back on their word? What if California was convinced that a small majority for a Republican was due to all the voter suppression in the red states? In that case, I’d want my state to renege. And since the only basis for the compact is the voluntary agreement of the legislatures, there’s no way to hold them to it.
The uncertainty this scheme entails is reason enough not to go there.
I can imagine a more ironic scenario. The National Popular Vote compact isn’t agreed to, and the 2020 campaign occurs on the basis of the Electoral College. Donald Trump edges Elizabeth Warren in the popular vote, but Warren retakes the “Blue Wall” and wins in the Electoral College. Then the Republican state legislatures start meeting and ratifying the National Popular Vote compact, and enough of them do it in time, to force the Democratic states to vote for Trump. The Roberts Court is helpfully on hand to decide any legal disputes involved.
Nothing like that could ever happen in this country, could it?
Our voting system, like it or not, must be specified in the Constitution, so we all know where we stand. The National Popular Vote compact should be a non-starter. The fact that it’s gotten as far as it has, shows liberals aren’t thinking clearly these days. I’ll say more on that next time.
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