Replace the electoral college with a ranked-choice national popular vote for president
Democratic principles demand that the president should be elected by the people on the basis of one-person, one-vote. But today the Electoral College will elect the president based on an anachronistic anti-democratic 18th century system where some people’s votes count a lot more than others.
For example, Wyoming has a population of 579,759 and three electoral votes. California has a population of 39,512,223 and 55 electoral votes. Do the math and you find that a vote in Wyoming counts 3.6 times more than a vote in California in the Electoral College.
The Electoral College originated in the racist three-fifths compromise in the US Constitution that added enslaved people who couldn’t vote to the population of the slave states, which gave the slave states disproportionate representation and power in the federal government. This distortion continued for another century after slavery during the years of Jim Crow disenfranchisement of black voters. The racial bias of the Electoral College continues to this day by giving extra power to the smaller states that tend to have disproportionately white electorates.
It is time to end this insult to the democratic principle of political equality. Every citizen should get one equally-weighted vote.
Both Republican presidents in the 21st century were first elected after losing the popular vote in 2000 and 2016. In 2020, Trump, the loser again of the popular vote by 7.1 million, almost got installed in the presidency again by the Electoral College. If just 21,462 votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin had gone to Trump instead of Biden, it would have resulted in a 269-269 Electoral College tie, kicking the election to the House of Representatives for a one state, one vote decision where Republicans are the majority in 26 state delegations.
One would think that by now the Democrats would have embraced abolition of the Electoral College in order to eliminate the problem that cost them two presidencies and nearly another in the last 20 years. But instead the Democrats are obsessed with the Green Party. They whine that the Greens are “spoilers.” They fight Green candidates’ access to the ballot. Party suppression is as authoritarian as it gets. Running for office is the fullest expression of the 1st Amendment rights of free speech, peaceable assembly, and petitioning government for redress of grievances.
The Democrats are not addressing the real problem. It is the Electoral College, not the Green Party, that installed losers like Donald Trump and George W. Bush in the White House.
For 20 years since they ran Ralph Nader for president in 2000, the Greens have been proposing ranked-choice voting as a proven nonpartisan solution to the spoiler problem. In ranked-choice voting, voters rank their choices in order of preference – 1, 2, 3, etc. If no candidate wins a majority in the first count, the last place candidate is eliminated and their voters’ votes are transferred to their second choices. This “instant runoff” process continues until a candidate receives of a majority of votes.
Ranked-choice voting eliminates the spoiler problem. Under our current system of plurality winner elections, when there are three or more candidates, the candidate who gets the most votes is elected even if that vote is less than a majority. The plurality winner may actually be the candidate who is most opposed by the majority of voters. That is a spoiled and undemocratic result. In plurality winner elections, people feel forced to vote strategically for a lesser-evil major party candidate instead of a third-party candidate they most prefer. With ranked-choice voting, a voter can rank their first-choice candidate number one without worrying that it could help the candidate they prefer least. If their first-choice candidate is eliminated in the instant runoff process, their vote is transferred to their second choice and is still against the candidate they prefer the least. Ranked-choice voting ensures that the majority winner is the candidate with the most overall support.
Electing the president by a ranked-choice national popular vote would solve both of the anti-democratic problems embedded in the Electoral College: the political inequality problem and the spoiler problem.
It is going to take a sustained mass movement to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a ranked-choice national popular vote for president. But we have as much reason now as ever to campaign for it. We almost had the 7.1 million popular vote loser, Donald Trump, installed in the presidency by the Electoral College again this year. Meanwhile, five more cities and one state adopted ranked-choice voting in the 2020 elections, bringing the total to 38 cities and two states. The Electoral College must go and ranked-choice voting is an idea whose time has come.
By Howie Hawkins
December 14, 2020