Editorial: It’s time to end the Electoral College

Published: 3/24/2019 12:05:11 AM

The Electoral College, a slavery-era artifact that allows candidates to lose the popular vote yet still become president, is undemocratic and discourages participation in the political process.

It should, as at least three candidates for president in 2020 and New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan have called for, be abolished.

Twice in the last 20 years the Electoral College system has subverted the will of the people, as expressed by the popular vote, by making first George W. Bush and then Donald Trump president. The system, which gives small, disproportionately white states an outsized say in the process, heavily favors Republicans.

Four times since the end of the Civil War the candidate who lost the popular vote became president thanks to the Electoral College. In each case, the loser was a Democrat, the latest being Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton, who received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.

It would take a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College or reform it. Passage would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and ratification by 38 of the 50 states, an impossible task given near-universal opposition to the change by Republicans. But a fairer system is within reach, one New Hampshire should embrace.

To date, every New England state save Maine and New Hampshire has joined with California, New York and a half-dozen other states in the National Popular Vote compact. The compact requires that the electors of member states cast their ballots for the winner of the national popular vote. The compact will become effective when enough states join to bring the total of pledged votes to 270 of a possible 538, the margin needed to claim victory.

New Hampshire’s Legislature has before it House Bill 541, which would make the Granite State a member of the compact. Given that nearly two-thirds of the American public supports the abolition of the Electoral College system, passage in the Democratically controlled Legislature seems assured. So does a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

The Electoral College system does give small, rural states a louder voice in the election process, but as more people move to urban areas and the nation’s coasts, that voice has become a shout that drowns out the voices of millions of others.

Wyoming, population 586,000 and change, has three electoral votes. California, with a population of 39 million, has 55 electoral votes. Every vote for president in Wyoming carries the weight of 3.6 votes in California, a clear violation of the one-person, one-vote principal.

The Electoral College system leads candidates to ignore states that they consider sure winners or losers and focus on swing states like Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire. It leads presidents, as can be seen by Trump’s 10 visits to Ohio since he took office, to curry favor with swing states while in office and ignore states they don’t believe will support their re-election.

Replacing the Electoral College with a system that rewards the winner of the popular vote would give candidates an incentive to compete in every state. As in other elections, the person who wins the most votes should become president, not the candidate who, with a minority of votes in winner-take-all system, is declared the winner by the Electoral College.

The National Popular Vote compact is a way to restore fairness to the system without amending the Constitution. It would make future presidents more legitimate rather than accidents of an outdated and flawed system.

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