Reform Week: The Electoral College
The fact that America elects its presidents by a two step process-voting to select state electors, who then gather to formally elect a President- attracted little modern passion until the closely contested election of 2000. But that election, which produced (like 1876) a tiny majority in the Electoral College for a candidate who narrowly lost the popular vote, reopened a debate about a system that has creaked along since the Founding Fathers created it.
In this brief post, I do not wish to review all of the arguments for direct popular election of Presidents as an alternative to the Electoral College. The direct vote for President of the United States is an approach that appeals to many as more fair; although with uneven national administration of the francise , direct popular elections create their own issues.
My feeling is that there are two key elements I want our Presidential Election system to emphasize: legitimacy and stability. We want outcomes that reflect the will of the majority of the American People. We also want elections that produce results that can be implemented in the face of unforeseen circumstances, or with the backdrop of deep electoral division.
We tend to overlook the fact that most of us have experienced multiple governments elected with a minority of the popular vote, including both Clinton Administrations and the first Nixon Administration. With the decline in political support for the two major parties, we are likely to see fewer future candidates winning an actual popular majority on Election Day.
In the future we can anticipate more national elections in which the political system is stressed and the process is challenged. I believe these will take the form of presidential races which are multi-polar, with real competition for the two major parties, such as occurred in 1912, 1824, and 1860. With modern campaigns and voting technology, it is important that we move now to reform the Electoral College in a manner that allows future close and divided elections to be resolved fairly and without challenge.
My solution would be to provide a bonus of 100 electors to any candidate who wins a pluality of the popular vote in excess of 40% of the total votes cast. This would preserve the Electoral College, but create a normal preponderance of support for the popular vote winner. It would also be easier to amend into the Constitution than a variety of other alternatives, and as such is more practical.