By Mike Masterson
Some Democrats are floating the idea of trying to change the way we elect presidents by substituting our constitutionally protected electoral college with the popular-vote total.
It would be an unnecessary and destructive move that seeks to allow a handful of the most densely populated states to dictate national leadership to the majority. Most of the nation might as well stay home on election day.
This is yet another obvious scheme borne of Hillary Clinton's 2016 defeat, but also an effort, if successful, that could edge our already harshly divided nation toward a second Civil War.
Extreme thoughts, perhaps. Yet there were extreme yet logical reasons our forefathers incorporated such a fair-minded election process into the Constitution.
They wanted to ensure this country didn't fall prey to being ruled by the so-called tyranny of the majority, rather than logical and fair participation from every state in selecting the nation's leader.
I can't help but wonder if Democrats would be considering such a stunningly bad idea (along with dropping the voting age to 16, or allowing prisoners and illegals to vote) had Clinton won the presidency.
The best justification I've read of late for having the electoral college comes from Dr. Merrill Matthews.
He's a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, a free-market nonprofit think tank founded in 1987. Matthews also is given to adult, informed thought on the way we elect our president.
In an essay recently published by the Los Angeles Times, he said the electoral college, which assigns a state electors based on the number of U.S. House seats it holds plus its two Senate seats, is fair and reasonable. It's a crucial institution created by the framers of the Constitution to sustain a stable and representative government. The move to assign two senators to each state was an equally brilliant decision that allows each state an equal voice.
"Eliminating or effectively neutering the electoral college--the two options being proposed by many Democrats--would fundamentally alter the country, which, of course, is exactly what progressives are hoping to do. This would be grievously wrong," Matthews wrote.
He explained that our system is designed like no other for a reason. "States, not individuals, are the original source of power. The states--13 of them, anyway--created the federal government." States with less population were concerned they'd be outweighed by more densely populated states, and asked for constitutional protection.
That makes perfect sense to me.
Matthews said the Electoral College and dual senators were intended to protect the minority against the oft-cited "tyranny of the majority," defined as the legitimate concern that in a pure democracy, the majority can do whatever it wants and to heck with the minority.
Imagine how many Americans would be disenfranchised by popular vote alone if 100 votes in California, Florida, New York and Texas dictated the election outcome in this diverse nation of more than 300 million souls. By my feeble math skills, that could leave over 150 million Americans living in more than half these United States virtually unrepresented and at the mercy of election results in states with wildly disparate values and economies.
Matthews continued: "The framers did their best to create a representative political system that minimized the potential for a tyranny of the majority. They largely achieved their goal, though progressives have been successfully chipping away at those protections for decades.
"Because the states created the federal government, the Constitution gives the states, not individuals, the right to choose the president. Thus the states decide how their electors are chosen and function."
In plainest terms, Matthews continued, the electoral college is a crucial feature, not an error, because it helps ensure that every state has input in the voting process.
As an example, he cited California, with 55 electoral votes, which has a greater population than the 21 smallest states combined.
"Yet those 21 states have a combined total of 92 electoral votes--more than a third of the total votes needed to win. Under a majority-wins election, candidates would spend most of their time in and catering to the most-populated states and largest cities, rather than traveling to thinly populated rural areas," he wrote.
As to whether the electoral college distorts the will of the people, Matthews said it doesn't, really. "Since 1900 there have only been two presidential elections, 2000 and 2016, in which the loser had slightly more votes than the winner.
"Democrats lost in both instances, which is why ... they want presidential elections based on the popular vote, but that sometimes isn't the majority. Several presidential candidates won with a plurality of votes rather than a majority, including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton--twice. It was the electoral college vote that legitimized their victories, even though they didn't win a majority of votes.
"Fortunately, only a constitutional amendment can change the electoral college. And the framers made that process very difficult, again in an effort to limit the majority's ability to ride roughshod over the minority.
"So Democrats are pushing a workaround known as the National Popular Vote Compact [NPVC]," Matthews wrote. "NPVC legislation requires a state's electors to vote for whoever wins the national popular vote. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 13 states plus the District of Columbia--all of which currently are blue--with a total of 184 electoral votes, have passed NPVC legislation."
Thankfully, that bad idea would not become effective until states adding up to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency have signed on.
"As for me," he continued, "if my state of Texas votes overwhelmingly for a particular candidate, I want my state's electors supporting that candidate, not someone who won in another state."
Matthews summarized the need for our electoral college by saying that our Constitution and the form of government it creates "have served as a model for stability and representative government. Do we really want to undermine that success story just so Democrats can win a presidential election?"
My non-electoral vote says no way. How about yours, valued readers?
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.