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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Time to abolish Electoral College

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: November 1, 2020, 6:02am

We have a problem. Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election, we have a problem.

There is little question that Joe Biden will win the popular vote. Donald Trump won the presidency by minus-3 million votes, and there doesn’t seem to be a groundswell of new support for him since then. But whether Biden will win the Electoral College and the presidency remains in doubt.

That is a problem. The United States is lurching toward a state of perpetual minority rule — if we aren’t already there — and that is a virus that undermines the very foundation of our nation. In other words, for the sake of democracy, it is time to abolish the Electoral College.

For years, I have defended the Electoral College system for choosing a president. The argument, as I saw it, was that we are better off having a two-party system than having a president elected with, say, 30 percent of the vote in a multi-party format. Because candidates must win a state to earn electoral votes, the major parties need to build coalitions of disparate ideas and voters, entrenching the two-party system.

I was wrong. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “There’s a first time for everything.” But I might have been wrong before; I’ll need to check my records.

Instead, the shortcomings of the Electoral College — and the shortcomings of the U.S. Senate — have become more evident. And more problematic.

Consider the recent Senate vote confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. In the 52-48 tally, senators who opposed Barrett represented 13 million more people than the ones who approved her. Or consider the fact that two of the past five presidential elections were “won” by candidates who lost the popular vote. Or consider that Washington has one electoral vote for every 635,000 residents, while Wyoming has one for every 193,000 residents. And if you feel disenfranchised by that, be thankful you don’t live in California, where there is one electoral vote for every 718,000 residents.

Electoral math should not be complicated. Instead we embrace a system that required some mental gymnastics to explain to my 11-year-old the other day. Which is a pretty good exercise: See if you can explain the Electoral College to somebody and explain how the candidate with the most votes doesn’t necessarily win the election. You might as well be explaining cold fusion.

If elections for student body officers or school boards or cemetery districts were run this way, we wouldn’t stand for it. Why do we accept it for the highest office in the land?

Wait, I know the answer to that. It’s in the U.S. Constitution. And it is in the Constitution because 231 years ago the large states needed something to get the small states on board in order to form a more perfect union. That’s the same reasoning that will make it practically impossible to remove these days; at least 38 states would have to agree to amend the Constitution, and the good people of Alaska, Montana, Maine and other sparsely populated states would never relinquish their inordinate power over national politics.

Some people, of course, like it this way. A while back, I heard a conservative radio host say something like, “If you did away with the Electoral College, the candidates would just campaign in large states and promote policies that pander to those voters.”

Is that a bad thing? Is promoting policies that appeal to the greatest number of people supposed to be a negative? Is there any country where appealing to a majority of voters can lose you an election? Promoting policies that voters like and getting them to support you sounds like democracy. And it sounds preferable to having candidates pander solely to swing states that decide the presidential election.

Instead, our presidential elections are bound by an outdated system that gives disproportionate power to small states by dint of them having just as many senators as large states. And for a country that professes to believe in democracy, that is a problem.