NYT Editorial Board: Fix the Electoral College—Or Scrap It

Following the federal appeals court ruling allowing electors to vote for whomever they please, the New York Times editorial board notes that the Electoral College is not working anything like the way the Founders intended:

“[E]lectors aren’t distinguished citizens weighing whether the people have made a wise decision on their presidential ballot; they are men and women chosen because of their partisan loyalty. So it’s understandable that after years of tightly contested elections, Americans are aghast that an elector would dare to substitute his judgment for the will of the people.”

The piece also notes that “faithless electors” have been, and will continue to be rare, and are merely a symptom of larger problems within the system:

“The point is that faithless electors are not the real problem. What really disregards the will of the people is the winner-take-all rule currently used by every state but Maine and Nebraska. Giving all electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote erases the votes of citizens in the political minority — say, the 4.5 million people who voted for Donald Trump in California, or the 3.9 million who voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. Nationwide, this was the fate of 55 million people in 2016, or 42 percent of the country’s electorate.

The winner-take-all rule encourages campaigns to focus on closely divided battleground states, where a swing of even a few hundred votes can move a huge bloc of electors — creating presidents out of popular-vote losers, like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. This violates the central democratic (or, if you prefer, republican) premises of political equality and majority rule.”

The Editorial Board gives several alternatives to the winner-take-all rule: splitting electoral votes by congressional district, splitting electoral votes proportionally, or the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  We have discussed the problems with splitting electoral votes here and here.  The Compact, on the other hand, is an “elegant solution” that would make votes outside of swing states actually count.  As the Times concludes:

“Critics say that relying on the popular vote would allow the presidency to be decided by the big cities on the coasts, but big cities don’t come close to having enough votes to swing a national election. At the same time, the Electoral College doesn’t do any of the things its defenders claim it does. For example, it doesn’t force candidates to win nationwide support, and it doesn’t protect smaller states, since winner-take-all rules give far more influence to larger states, especially battlegrounds.”