On Sunday, the Democratic governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, stated that he would sign a bill allowing his state to circumvent the Electoral College, giving his state’s electoral votes to whomever won the national popular vote, thus allowing population heavy areas to determine the presidential election.
Polis told The Hill that he viewed the Electoral College as an “undemocratic relic,” adding, “I’ve long supported electing the president by who gets the most votes. It’s a way to move towards direct election of the president.”
If states whose electoral count totals 270 votes vote similar to the proposed Colorado bill, then they would combine their electoral votes and award them to the national popular vote winner, thus making that candidate the president. Currently, the number of electoral votes totaled in favor of such a position total 172, including 12 blue states and the District of Columbia. 11 more states have bills in their legislature similar to Colorado’s; their combined 89 electoral votes would put the proposal over the top.
John Koza, who chairs National Popular Vote, claimed, “Under a national popular vote, the 38 nonbattleground states long ignored by presidential campaigns will be powerful again, because no candidate can win 270 electoral votes and the White House without also winning the popular vote across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
Peter Wallison, who served as general counsel of the Treasury and White House counsel in the Reagan administration, explained why jettisoning the Electoral College would be problematic:
If we had a pure popular vote system … it would not be feasible—because of third party candidates—to ensure that any candidate would win a popular majority … If we abandoned the Electoral College, and adopted a system in which a person could win the presidency with only a plurality of the popular votes we would be swamped with candidates. Every group with an ideological or major policy interest would field a candidate, hoping that their candidate would win a plurality and become the president. …
We see this effect in parliamentary systems, where the party with the most votes after an election has to put together a coalition of many parties in order to create a governing majority in the Parliament. Unless we were to scrap the constitutional system we have today and adopt a parliamentary structure, we could easily end up with a president elected with only 20 percent-25 percent of the vote.
Another explanation of the need for an electoral college came from John Samples of the Cato Institute:
First, we must keep in mind the likely effects of direct popular election of the president. We would probably see elections dominated by the most populous regions of the country or by several large metropolitan areas. …
The victims in such elections would be those regions too sparsely populated to merit the attention of presidential candidates. … The Electoral College is a good antidote to the poison of regionalism because it forces presidential candidates to seek support throughout the nation. By making sure no state will be left behind, it provides a measure of coherence to our nation.
Second, the Electoral College makes sure that the states count in presidential elections. As such, it is an important part of our federalist system — a system worth preserving. Historically, federalism is central to our grand constitutional effort to restrain power, but even in our own time we have found that devolving power to the states leads to important policy innovations (welfare reform).