When the Electoral College was established in the 18th century, the president of the United States was to be elected by a majority of electors, not by Congress, states or a popular vote.
Robert Amyot, professor of political science at Hastings College, spoke Friday about the Electoral College during a Zoom presentation for the Hastings League of Women Voters looking at whether the Electoral College is a dysfunctional relic or stabilizing framework.
When it was established, the system gave extra influence to small states and an inflated population of slave states, needed for ratification.
Electors were to be chosen by a method determined by state legislatures. They would meet only to elect the president, and could not have another role in government.
Electors could choose two candidates, only one of whom could be from the elector’s home state — one for president, the other for vice president.
In the Electoral College today, a plurality winner of a state takes all elector slots for that state, except in Nebraska and Maine.
The largest states are California with 54 electoral votes, Texas with 40, Florida with 30 and New York with 28.
Seven states and the District of Columbus have the minimum of three.
There are 538 electors. It takes 270 electoral votes — half of the Electoral College plus one — to win the presidency.
If one candidate doesn’t win a majority, the election goes to the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote.
Among criticism of the Electoral College: the Electoral College was hastily pulled together at the end of the Constitutional Convention and included compromises required to keep small states’ and slaveholding states’ support.
The process eschewed direct election, passing responsibility on to electors, who would be presumably better informed.
The Electoral College system has led to less-than-ideal results.
Sometimes the Electoral College winner isn’t the popular vote winner.
Presidential candidates concentrate on “battleground” states where the outcome is in doubt.
Citizens in electorally-valuable states benefit from more responsiveness, favorable policies and higher levels of funding.
One possible solution would be to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Because of the current state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Battleground states receive 7% more federal grants than spectator states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions. (The federal education law by that name was replaced in 2015.)
Five of the 45 U.S. presidents have come into office without having won the most popular votes nationwide. The 2000 and 2016 elections are the most recent examples of elections in which a second-place candidate won the White House.
NPV starts with a national counting of all votes to decide who the winner “should” be.
The problem is that voting rules differ immensely between states.
“What I’ve also learned is that short of a constitutional amendment it is unlikely that the states alone can significantly change the system in a way that would make a big difference,” Amyot said. “Even if NVP goes through with enough states, it’s highly likely that it would be successfully challenged in the courts. So we’re decades away, probably, from fixing it, either through states adopting laws that will make our voting system uniform enough to qualify to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court or until we’re ready to pass a real amendment.”