Four times in American history, the Electoral College has propelled a candidate to the highest office in the country at odds with the popular vote, and twice in just the last sixteen years. It’s disturbing to consider that the process by which a president is elected has crumbled like the decaying water mains that run beneath the streets of New York City. There was considerable debate in 1787 as to just how the election of the President and Vice President would be determined. Several proposals were presented and argued with the intent of having the most representative way of achieving such an election, one that would be free of contamination by undue influences.
Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 68 that the “sense of the people should operate in the choice”. Given this was written in 1788, one could appreciate his desire for the ultimate in fairness. He also suggested that those elected to the “college” would be “most likely to have the information and discernment” to make a selection that represented the best choice for the person to govern the country. No one in the late 1700s could have imagined the form of technology and communication that we have at our fingertips today. It clearly allows us to act on his desire for choice, but renders his concern for access to information and discernment moot.
In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College put George W. Bush in the White House. Under his watch, we experienced 9/11, the worst economic downturn in nearly a century, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and a call for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Now again, with Trump, the Electoral College has failed to deliver on its mandate to use its ability for information and discernment to avoid the election of someone “not in eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”. Instead, we have a president that is a domestic and international embarrassment.
The concept of the Electoral College is now as archaic as those NYC water mains. We no longer need a body of electors who have since 1824 given a winner-take-all (except for Maine and Nebraska) series of votes to a candidate who lacks the popular sentiment. What we need is a new constitutional amendment. We’ve done it twenty-seven times in the last 230 years. We need to make all that urging to exercise our civic duty to go out and vote mean something. What’s the point in voting if the ultimate outcome says thanks for your vote, but we’re going to ignore you anyway?
One can argue the fine points of constitutional law and Federalist essays all day long, but let’s cut through the garbage – in our day and age, with our ability to communicate to the world at large photos of our cats and pictures of our favorite recipes, we have the means to cast an informed vote by ourselves. It’s simple: one voice, one vote.