Monday, December 15, 2008

WSJ: It's Time to Junk the Electoral College

Jonathan Soros OpEd WSJ New York, N.Y.: Monday Dec 15, 2008.

(c) 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Reproduced with permission of copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

In his election-night victory speech, Barack Obama said he would be a president for all Americans, not just those who voted for him. But as a candidate he didn't campaign with equal vigor for every vote. Instead, he and John McCain devoted more than 98% of their television ad spending and campaign events to just 15 states which together make up about a third of the U.S. population. Today, as the Electoral College votes are cast and counted state-by-state, we will be reminded why. It is the peculiar mechanics of that institution, designed for a different age, that leave us divided into red states, blue states and swing states. That needs to change.

The Electoral College was created in 1787 by a constitutional convention whose delegates were unconvinced that the election of the president could be entrusted to an unfiltered vote of the people, and were concerned about the division of power among the 13 states. It was antidemocratic by design.

Under the system, each state receives votes equal to the number of representatives it has in the House plus one for each of its senators. Less populated states are thus overrepresented. While this formula hasn't changed, it no longer makes a difference for the majority of states. Wyoming, with its three electoral votes, has no more influence over the selection of the president or on the positions taken by candidates than it would with one vote.

We often forget that the power to appoint electors is given to state legislatures, and it is only because they choose to hold a vote that Election Day is at all relevant for us. Nowhere is a popular election constitutionally required. And, as the 2000 election reminded us, the winner of the popular vote is not guaranteed to become president.

The Constitution is no longer in line with our expectations regarding the role of the people in selecting the president. Yet several previous attempts to eliminate the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment have failed, scuttled by the difficulty of the process itself and the tyranny of small-state logic.

Fortunately, a constitutional amendment is not necessary. Rather than dismantling the Electoral College with an amendment, we can use the mechanisms of the Electoral College itself to guarantee popular election of the president.

To understand how the proposal works, one needs to understand two basic principles. First, that state legislatures are basically unfettered in how they choose to appoint electors. And second, that groups of states can enter into binding agreements with one another in the form of so-called interstate compacts. There are many examples of such compacts, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the interstate agreement that guarantees a driver points on a Virginia driver license when he or she speeds in Maryland.
Under the proposed National Popular Vote compact, state legislatures would agree to choose electors who promise to support the winner of the nationwide popular vote. For example, if a Republican were to win the overall national popular vote, even if New Yorkers favored the Democrat, New York's Electoral College votes would go to the Republican. The compact will go into force when states representing 271 Electoral College votes have entered into it to guarantee that the winner of the popular vote will become president.

It is ironic that the most common objection to the National Popular Vote compact is the suggestion that it is antifederalist. In fact, interstate compacts lie at the very core of federalism: individual states combining their powers to solve a problem. In this case, they would be joining forces to allow their citizens to act as one nation in the selection of their president.

The National Popular Vote compact has already been enacted by four trailblazing states -- Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii -- and has been introduced in 41 others. It's time that the rest of them got on board.

Mr. Soros is the deputy chairman of Soros Fund Management and a supporter of the National Popular Vote.

(See related letters: "Letters to the Editor: Consider Carefully Before Junking the Electoral College" -- WSJ December 26, 2008)

My response: "Time to jnk the Electoral College?"

Chicago Tuesday PM, December 16, 2008 Editors, Wall Street Journal


Jonathan Soros' Monday, December 15 Op-ed "It's Time to Junk the Electoral College" wants all states to agree to a 'National Popular Vote compact' where state presidential electors agree to cast their electoral votes for the national winner of the popular vote for president. I suppose that if in the recent election John McCain had won the national popular vote the 21 Illinois electors would have voted against Obama? I mean, if you can't trust our governor to take the naming of a senator seriously, how you gonna trust 21 Democratic political appointees to vote against their favorite guy?

Also, after all the arm waving in the 2000 election over chads (pregnant, hanging, whatever) in a single Florida precinct, what would have happened if the final national popular presidential vote in the recent election had been 52,456,123 for Obama, and 52,456,789 for McCain? Do you think even a single state would be satisfied with their first count?

Direct election is a wonderful tool, and the founders gave it to the most numerous federal house. And to that house they also gave the most important government functions: collecting and spending taxes. But the founders also recognized the country was not just a lot of people, but a group of sovereign states, so they added a second house, membership divided equally among the states, but more important, not responsible directly to the people, but elected by the people's state legislators.

But the 'direct election' fetish arose 125 years later with the passage of the 17th Amendment. This made the Senate nothing but a house of reps, with longer terms and more expensive suits. It also gave us our first Senate party leaders in 1920, a convenient three senate elections after the amendment passed (just think: we got along for 125 years without a Harry Reid in sight.)

But something certainly should be junked in a country that is replacing a president who had six years experience making executive decisions for the nation's second largest state with someone who has yet to make the first executive "buck stops here" decision of his life.

Arnold H Nelson 5056 North Marine Drive Chicago IL

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