GOP May Benefit from Democrats' Push to Change Electoral College

Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/AP/Shutterstock
April 1, 2019

By Carlo Versano

Senate Republicans may want to reconsider their opposition to a Democratic proposal to abolish the electoral college.

Though President Trump would have lost the 2016 election if it were decided by popular vote, a Harvard professor said the conventional wisdom that the popular vote would always favor Democrats is "mistaken."

Two of the last five presidential elections were won by candidates ー both Republicans ー who didn't win the popular vote. But Alex Keyssar, a professor of history and social policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, notes that the 2004 election came within about 100,000 votes of the opposite outcome. Had the Democratic candidate John Kerry won Ohio's 20 electoral votes that year, he would have become president despite President George W. Bush handily winning the popular vote.

"It's a serious mistake for Republicans to be defending the electoral college on the ground that it advantages them," Keyssar said.

The professor agrees with a growing number of Americans who say that the electoral college is outdated and fails to live up to the "one person, one vote" concept on which democratic representation is built. The system is "seriously flawed," Keyssar said, and Republicans and Democrats should debate whether to keep, revise, or replace it.

Recent polls show half of voters now support a popular-vote system over the electoral college prescribed by the Constitution. Under the law, each state receives a certain number of votes to select the president based on the state's congressional representation. Successful candidates must collect 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Defenders of the electoral college, which now include President Trump, despite his past enthusiasm the popular vote, argue that the system is a way to protect the voice of rural Americans. Though, in practice, the system encourages candidates to only campaign in a handful of swing states.

Sam Wang, a Princeton professor who runs the Princeton Election Consortium, calculated that in 2016, nearly 70 percent of post-convention campaign events took place in just six states with only 23 percent of the population.

If you're a voter who doesn't live in one of those states, "nobody pays any attention to you," Keyssar said.

The movement to abolish the electoral college is not new. A 1970 amendment passed the House only to die by filibuster in the Senate, where a bipartisan group of senators from small states opposed the measure. It was supported by President Nixon.

"This has not always been some unusual or fringe ideal at all," said Keyssar. Though he recognized that an amendment has virtually no chance of passing a divided Congress. Any effort to amend the Constitution would also require support of two-thirds of the states.

For full interview click here.