Town Square: The Electoral College must go
By The League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area
The League of Women Voters was created based on the belief that women should have the right to vote. Founded in Chicago in 1920, just six months before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, this nonpartisan organization continues to support voters’ rights.
In fact, during this most recent presidential election, the LWV stepped in and stepped up, bringing clarity to the 2020 election process. Through the work of thousands of members nationwide, voting facts were disseminated via websites full of videos, text and links, as well as in-person voter registration drives.
Now the LWV has a renewed goal: to educate and advocate for the abolition of the Electoral College. In other words, the LWV believes that future elections should be one person, one vote, and she or he with the greatest number of total votes wins.
The LWV took this position against the Electoral College in 1970. Later it was urgently reaffirmed during the 2018 convention of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
As a rule, steps to the LWV’s adopting a position on an issue include a nonpartisan, comprehensive study, debate and review, and the participation of all Leagues within the hierarchy of the LWV. And it was through that process that the League came to the conclusion that the Electoral College needs to be abolished.
The Electoral College process
Explaining the Electoral College can be complicated. That’s because Americans choose their president via a series of steps that have evolved from Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, through various amendments, federal and state laws, political party rules and traditions.
Furthermore, while the Constitution does authorize each state to appoint a number of electors equal to the number of representatives plus senators that the state has in Congress, the Constitution is silent on how a state is to choose its electors.
And yet the calculation continues: To this total of 435 plus 100, the 23rd Amendment adds three for the District of Columbia, thereby bringing the total of the Electoral College to 538 members.
Each state legislature determines how the electors are allocated to candidates. As of the last election, the District of Columbia and 48 states had a winner-take-all rule for the Electoral College. Maine and Nebraska are the only states that do not use a winner-take-all system.
If a vote is 49 percent for one candidate and 51 percent for the other candidate, all the state votes go to the latter candidate. That is what occurred this past Nov. 3.
Voters in each state went to the polls, casting a ballot for the slate of presidential electors. These slates had been selected by political parties, through conventions, committees or primaries. (Elections in some states have both candidates and electors identified. In other states, only the names of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates appear on the ballot, masking the fact that voters are choosing electors rather than voting directly for the candidates.)
The winning slate of electors meets in each state on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December (in 2020 that will be Dec. 14), a date set by federal statute.
Two ballots are taken, with each elector casting one vote for president and one for vice president. Electors almost always vote for the candidates to whom they have been pledged.
the Electoral College?
The road to taking a position against the Electoral College took years; the LWV does not act hastily. Therefore, as with all research of issues, the LWV presented opposing views. Supporters argued that the principle of one-person, one-vote should not pertain to the Electoral College, just as it does not pertain to the U.S. Senate. They also argued that it recognizes and embodies the delicate balance between the powers of the states and the powers of the central government.
Critics of the Electoral College charge that it allows a dangerous possibility: the election of a president who has not won the popular vote, thereby not allowing the majority to determine their leadership. And this is what happened in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and during the 2016 presidential election. The LWV determined that every citizen’s vote should count equally.
Getting it done
Following the establishment of the position of the LWV, the League testified and lobbied for legislation to amend the Constitution to replace the Electoral College with direct election of the president, including provisions for a national runoff election in the event no candidate (president or vice president) received 40 percent of the vote.
The measure, which passed the House and nearly passed the Senate in 1971, has been revived in each Congress, without success thus far.
The League of Women Voters of the United States continues to lobby. And other organizations such as National Popular Vote are doing the same. The movement towards the abolition of the Electoral College is growing, and every American should consider joining.