The Electoral College is a blemish on our representative democracy. While other elections are determined by a simple tally of everyone’s vote, presidential elections segregate votes by state.
Presidents are elected not by the people but by Electoral College electors. Each state appoints electors equal to its total number of U.S. House members and senators. In most states the winner of the popular vote claims all of that state’s electors. This winner-take-all rule makes some states “safe” and others “swing” — rendering most people’s votes less relevant than they otherwise would be.
When a state is safely either “red”, like Texas, or “blue”, like California, neither candidate has any incentive to campaign there. Major-party presidential nominees largely ignore safe states, except as sources of money to spend elsewhere.
Eliminating the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment approved by three-fourths of the states — a high hurdle. However, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact offers a way to make the popular vote decisive without requiring an amendment. It would ensure that every American’s vote is valued, not just those in swing states. How does the compact work?
Each member state agrees to appoint a slate of electors pledged to vote for whoever wins the most votes nationwide — regardless of who wins in their state. The agreement doesn’t take effect until the member states command the 270 electors required to win the presidency.
Why would the electors all vote for someone who didn’t win their state? States have the right to appoint electors however they see fit. Texas now appoints its electors according to the state popular vote. Under the popular vote compact, Texas would appoint them according to the national popular vote, thus ensuring that the presidential outcome reflects the national will. “One person, one vote” is the most fundamental democratic principle, one that we will only attain when we value every presidential vote equally.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have already joined the compact. Members of the compact boast 165 electors — or 61 percent of the number needed to ensure a popularly elected president. If Texas and enough other states join, our next president could be elected by a national popular vote.
Texas House members Ina Minjarez and Celia Israel recently introduced a bill adopting the popular vote compact, House Bill 496. Texans of any party who want their votes to matter should urge their state representatives to support this legislation.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, since the Electoral College can rob either major party of the presidency. Apart from 2016, the Electoral College trumped the popular vote in 1876, 1888, 2000 and, arguably, in 1960.
The Electoral College is a relic of the 18th century, when many people were denied the right to vote. The Founding Fathers expected the electors to deliberate before voting; they thought that most elections would be decided finally in the House. Neither prediction proved accurate. Isn’t it time to bring our democracy into the 21st century?
No person’s vote should have more — or less — importance than any other’s. Make them all count equally. Pass HB 496 for Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Wiant is president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. Eckam is secretary for Common Ground for Texans.