by Richard Dawkins
Donald Trump was surely right when he said, in 2012, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy . . . A total sham and a travesty”. And he confirmed his sensible view on November 13th, 2016 (after winning the election by the Electoral College system, but losing the popular vote) “I would rather see it, where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes, and somebody else gets 90 million votes, and you win. There’s a reason for doing this. Because it brings all the states into play.”
His argument is illustrated by a revealing map (shown above) on the same website from which I took those quotes. It shows the number of campaign visits to various states during the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s sensible point is reinforced by recollection of the 2000 election when there was a dead-heat in Florida, and the Supreme Court was invited to decide, on what might as well have been the flip of a coin, which candidate should get all 25 of the state’s EC votes and hence the presidency.
Most thinking people agree with Donald Trump that the present Electoral College system needs to go. But it’s widely recognized that it is almost impossible to abolish outright, because a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Congress (or a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of state legislatures), and finally needs to be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Even given widespread goodwill, that’s a dauntingly high hurdle to clear. David Cameron might have done well to emulate it, at least to some degree, in his EU referendum which also, after all, concerned a major constitutional change.
The existing US constitution allows each state to choose its Electoral College delegates in its own way. Maine and Nebraska depart from the “winner take all” principle by allocating their (comparatively few) EC delegates by their own systems which approximate to a pro rata allocation. If all the states simultaneously followed suit it would work. But if only some states did, leaving the rest to persist with “winner take all”, it could be an undemocratic disaster. Imagine if California alone, or Texas alone, joined Nebraska and Maine! What is needed is a formula which doesn’t require all the states to adopt it simultaneously: a “gentle” departure from the status quo, such that things get slightly better (defined as closer to the popular vote) even if only some states adopt it, becoming progressively better as more and more states join in.
There is a formula which does exactly that. A state, any state, could unilaterally decide to allocate all its Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the country at large. If all the states adopted this formula, the Electoral College would vote unanimously for the winner of the popular vote. If states adopted the system one by one, the EC majority would progressively approach closer and closer to the popular vote. No constitutional amendment would be needed.