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Another Voice: Popular vote and Electoral College can work together

By Ellen Banks

If you voted for president in New York State, whether you celebrated or mourned the result, each person’s vote in Wyoming was worth about three times as much as yours. Wyoming’s population is about 70 percent of Erie County’s.

In the states with largest populations, each electoral vote represents 600,000 to 700,000 people, while in the three smallest states and District of Columbia there is one electoral vote for about every 200,000 people.

“Popular vote” is sometimes reported as a footnote, but it means, literally, “the vote of the people.”

For the second time in 16 years, the winner of the popular vote – by a margin of more than a million votes – has lost the election.

The U.S. Constitution does not require states to award all their electoral votes to the candidate with the highest in-state vote; the assignment of electoral votes is each state government’s decision.

In our republic’s early days, voters – white male property owners – did not vote for president or the U.S. Senate; they were selected by state legislatures. In New York, as in most states, you actually vote for electors pledged to a candidate.

Abolition of the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment approved by three-fourths of the states, but there is a more feasible, and still constitutionally valid, option: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a plan with wide bipartisan support.

The State Legislature has already endorsed it, along with 10 other states and the District of Columbia. As soon as states that hold a total of 270 electoral votes (the majority to elect a president) approve it, it will be activated and each state that has approved it will award all its electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide vote, guaranteeing her or his victory.

The compact now covers states with 165 electoral votes and is gaining momentum with support in at least one state legislative body in 23 other states. Election by direct vote does not disenfranchise smaller states; it just makes each citizen’s vote equal.

While the red and blue areas of the map were filled in on TV on election night, inside every one of these red or blue patches a substantial proportion of people voted the other way. The national popular vote would give voices to Utah Democrats and Rhode Island Republicans.

It would very likely improve our disappointing voter turnout because all voters would know their votes mattered regardless of their state’s majorities, and campaigns would not be concentrated in the 10 battleground states.

Recounts would occur as they do now, when a state’s vote is very close. Our nation has moved, slowly and with occasional steps backward, toward greater equality and inclusiveness in elections. A national popular vote would be a strong step in this direction.

Ellen Banks is a professor emerita in psychology at Daemen College who has been active in environmental organizations.

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