Bricks and Mortars

Democracy is dead! Long live democracy!

By Lawrence Reichard | Jan 05, 2017

“I'm sorry I ever invented the Electoral College.” — Al Gore

I have written about the Electoral College before, but some new aspects of it have come to my attention, aspects that make the case against it even stronger, and the issue has become even more pressing with Hillary Clinton's ever-expanding popular vote margin over Donald Trump, which now stands at 2.86 million. So I think it deserves another look.

First let's take a look at that margin of victory. It is a margin of more than 2.1 percent over Trump. That a reasonable, decent, solid margin. In fact it's bigger than the margin in no fewer than 10 other presidential elections, and Trump lost by the widest margin of any popular vote loser to win the Electoral College.

That alone lays bare the inherently undemocratic nature of the Electoral College. But it gets worse, and here's what I haven't written about before.

The Electoral College is based on a state's representation in Congress — one elector for every member of Congress — House and Senate. Because every state has the same number of senators, states with small populations have disproportionately large representation in Congress — and in the Electoral College. Thus Wyoming's population of 585,000 merits only one House seat, but the state still has two senators, so it has three electors.

Meanwhile California's 39.5 million citizens have 55 electors. That sounds more than fair ... until you do the math. That's one elector per 195,000 people in Wyoming, and one per 718,000 in California. Wyoming has 3.7 times as many electors per capita. That is not democracy. It tilts the playing field in favor of rural voters, who tend to be more conservative.

If you're a conservative, that might not concern you. You might even applaud it. But you shouldn't. The notion of political victory at any cost, at the cost of democracy, and at the cost of the truth, seems to be gaining in popularity on the right, and it is destroying the body politic, the political fabric of the United States, and is making the United States ripe for fascism. To true conservatives, as opposed to the radical right, that is surely less desirable than a victory of the Democrats, a largely neoliberal party that poses no real threat to the scions of industry and the ruling class.

A case in point this fall is Trump's assertion that he won the popular vote, a complete falsehood believed by a staggering 52 percent of Republicans. That may seem harmless enough right now, but what might happen in the future if a candidate who incites his supporters to violence actually does win the popular vote but loses the Electoral College? Things could get very ugly very fast.

But there is a solution to all this. It's called the National Popular Vote interstate compact. Under the Constitution, states can decide how their electors will vote and can make that legally binding. With the National Popular Vote compact, states would obligate their electors to vote according to the national popular vote, regardless of their state tally, thus rendering the Electoral College moot.

Under the terms of the compact, it does not become effective until states representing 270 electoral votes, enough to decide the election, sign on. So far 11 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the compact, representing a total of 165 electoral votes. That's more than half of what's needed — only 105 electoral votes to go. In another 12 states, representing another 96 electoral votes, one chamber of the legislature has passed the measure. In other words, this is doable, eminently doable.

Maine should do its part for democracy and do its part to get rid of the anti-democratic Electoral College. Seventy percent of Americans want a direct vote for president, and according to a 2009 poll by Public Policy Polling, 77 percent of Mainers want it. A bill to join the compact has been introduced in the Maine Legislature three times, and once it passed the House, but it has never been approved by both chambers. It's time to re-introduce the bill, to pass it, and to take a first step in resurrecting the tattered wreckage of this country's democracy.

But this won't happen on its own, especially with the Maine Senate and governor's office controlled by the Republicans, who have twice in the last 16 years won the Electoral College while coming up well short in the popular vote. With its handling — or lack thereof — of an out-of-control governor, the Legislature has shown time and time again that it has no stomach for tough issues, and make no mistake about it, this will only happen, Maine will only join the National Popular Vote compact, if Maine citizens who care about democracy stand up and demand it.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist. He lives in Belfast.


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