Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an icon of progressive democracy reformers, is throwing cold water one of their most ambitious wishes: Shuttering the Electoral College and electing presidents by national popular vote.
"It's largely a dream because our Constitution is … hard to amend," she told an audience Monday at the University of Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. "I know that from experience."
An alternative approach is to upend the system by having states commit their electors to supporting the national winner, not the winner of their states, but only once states controlling a majority of electoral votes (270) have done so. Such a compact has been joined by 15 states and Washington D.C., with 196 votes.
The 86-year-old justice, who revealed this summer she's been treated for pancreatic cancer, said this when asked how she'd encouraged those fighting to better democracy: "It's very hard to do anything as a loner, but if you get together with like-minded people, you can create a force for change. And if you look at things over the long haul, we have come a long way."
Speel is an associate professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University's Erie campus.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has also called for its abolition, while other Democratic presidential candidates, including former Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris, have said the Electoral College should be re-evaluated.
The Constitution's framers originally created the Electoral College as a way to filter the " passions" of the people through state-appointed presidential electors with better judgment. They assigned every state a number of electoral votes exactly equal to its number of members in Congress.
But back then, electors weren't pledged to candidates — so a state might have five votes for one candidate, and four for another. By the 1820s, the system had already evolved beyond what the framers intended. Each party chose pledged electors; if a party's candidate won the most votes in the state, that party's electors would get to cast all the votes.
This winner-take-all electoral vote system continues today in 48 states. In two — Maine and Nebraska — presidential candidates win one pledged elector from each U.S. House district they win, and win two pledged electors if the presidential candidate finishes first statewide.
In my class on American elections, we often discuss the flaws of the current version of the Electoral College. Since this issue has been injected into the 2020 presidential campaign, I've seen politicians, journalists and social media users advocate for the preservation of the Electoral College. They often repeat arguments that are misleading or outright false.
Here are four of the most common arguments I've noticed – and why they're wrong.
Johnson is executive director of Election Reformers Network, an organization of election experts advancing nonpartisan reforms to U.S. democratic institutions.
With all eyes on the threats outsiders pose to the next presidential election, it seems we have forgotten the self-made dysfunction at the center of our democracy. Another presidential election approaches, with another victory to the popular vote loser a distinct possibility. Campaigns will again focus exclusively on a handful of states, and voting will be an inconsequential civic gesture for the vast majority. Other pitfalls lurk that we largely ignore, like another Florida-style recount or the decision getting "thrown to the House," which could give final say to the minority party.
A verdict Wednesday from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver may add another Jack-in-the-box element: electors free to vote as they choose, regardless of the results in their state. If the Supreme Court agrees that Colorado's removal of a faithless elector in 2016 was unconstitutional, a new level of uncertainty will pervade our presidential elections.
A solution to these many problems, the National Popular Vote, has made considerable progress in blue states this year, but faces a long road. NPV needs to win enactment in purple states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and then survive this Supreme Court, where the majority seems to have little concern for the needs of our democracy, as the Rucho v. Common Cause decision illustrates. In the words of scholar Edward Foley, the majority "rejects the primacy of democracy as an organizing constitutional principle."
At least with stopping partisan gerrymandering, we have a fallback after the Supreme Court decided not to act: state level independent redistricting commissions. We have no such developed, viable alternative to NPV; Rucho makes clear it is time to start working on one.
This story has been revised after additional reporting.
Steadily if still softly, anxiety about the health of American democracy has become at least a secondary theme in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Proposals for restoring the public's faith in elections, and a sense of fairness in our governing system, have now earned a place on most of the candidates' platforms. And more and more of them have been including calls for democracy reform in their stump speeches.
To be sure, the topic has not come close to the top tier of issues driving the opening stages of the campaign. In the first round of candidate debates last month, for example, the contenders collectively spent less time talking about democracy's ills than eight other issues: health care, President Trump's record, immigration, social policy, economic inequality, gun control, foreign policy and the environment.