“A dangerous virus lurks in our republican democracy,” wrote E.J. Dionne, Jr., a columnist with The Washington Post. What is the virus which is causing a substantial threat to our constitutional republic? Dionne argues that the cause is none other than the Electoral College. The Electoral College is one of the least-understood elements of the United States Constitution. For many Americans it is a mystery, and it is often viewed as antidemocratic and archaic. This is especially true in recent years as the Electoral College has come under more fire. The Electoral College is fundamental to our constitutional system.
The most recent attempt to undermine the Electoral College is from the National Popular Vote Movement (NPV). The objective of NPV is to get states to join together to form an interstate compact to guarantee to pledge their states electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote. At this time, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to join the NPV compact. This means that 196 electoral votes have been pledged and NPV will need 74 more electoral votes to reach 270, which is what is needed to win the presidential election.
Opponents of the Electoral College argue that it undermines democracy. The Founding Fathers understood the dangers of a direct democracy. Rejecting a direct popular election, they looked for a way to protect the states and provide every citizen with a voice.
NPV brings up serious constitutional questions. NPV seeks to circumvent the constitutional amendment process by creating an interstate compact that would destroy the Electoral College. The resulting interstate compact would violate the Compact Clause of Article 1 of the Constitution. “The very purpose of this clause was to prevent a handful of states from combining to overturn an essential part of the constitutional design,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
If NPV was achieved it would not just undermine the Electoral College, but several consequences would occur. Since elections are administered by the states, each state has different election laws. Some require a voter ID, while others allow mail-in or other forms of voting. A direct election would not only nationalize the presidential election, but it would lead to dangerous levels of election fraud that would make the Florida 2001 recount a picnic in comparison.
Abolishing the Electoral College would result in punishing smaller states. Presidential elections would be won primarily upon larger states and urban centers. The Electoral College does not just work to preserve our republican form of government. In addition to providing equal representation, it also brings stability to elections by forcing candidates to moderate and build coalitions. Even though Iowa is a small state, both presidential candidates in 2020 are working to win the state. Iowa’s electoral votes matter, but under NPV Iowa would be ignored.
“The Electoral College was designed by the framers deliberately, like the rest of the Constitution, to counteract the worst human impulses and to protect the nation from the dangers inherent in democracy,” wrote historian Allen C. Guelzo. The Electoral College balances the sovereignty of the states, while at the same time ensuring equal representation. The United States Senate was designed with a similar purpose to provide equal representation to small states.
“If the Founders had wished to create a pure democracy, they would have done so. Those who now wish to do away with the Electoral College are welcome to amend the Constitution, but if they succeed, they will be taking America further away from its roots as a constitutional republic, stated John Samples, Vice President of the Cato Institute.
Mr. Dionne has misdiagnosed the virus that is lurking, it is not the Electoral College, but rather the progressive efforts to undermine the Constitution that is the threat to our constitutional republic.