The Gathering Threat to the Electoral College—and to the U.S. Senate
The left has a hot new cause: getting rid of the Electoral College. And if the left succeeds in doing away with that venerable institution, its next target, the U.S. Senate, will fall like a dried apple.
As is so often the case with leftist causes these days; the spearhead is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; being social-media-savvy and telegenic, she’s the star of the progressive A-Team.
Way back on October 6, 2018, AOC was tweeting:
It is well past time we eliminate the Electoral College, a shadow of slavery’s power on America today that undermines our nation as a democratic republic.
Just on August 20, she ripped into the Electoral College again, calling it a “scam… racial injustice,” which “effectively weighs white voters over voters of color.” What was needed instead, she continued, is a “one person, one vote system,” in which “all our votes are counted equally.” AOC was pointing to such possible “reforms” as a national popular vote, which would do away with, of course, the Electoral College.
Then, on August 23, she launched a further tweet-storm against the College:
If the GOP were the “silent majority” they claim, they wouldn’t be so scared of a popular vote. They *know* they aren’t the majority. They rely on establishing minority rule for power.
The Electoral College isn’t about fairness at all; it’s about empowering some voters over others. Every vote should be = in America, no matter who you are or where you come from. The right thing to do is establish a Popular Vote. & GOP will do everything they can to fight it.
In response, a few brave Republicans jumped into the social-media melee. On August 21, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa tweeted, “Actually @AOC, eliminating the Electoral College would silence our voices here in Iowa and in many other states across the country.” Ernst, who is up for re-election next year, then added a further dig: “This is just more evidence of how out of touch the Democrats have become.”
We might pause over Ernst’s words: The Hawkeye State lawmaker is shrewdly juxtaposing “our voices here in Iowa” with “out of touch” Democrats. So we can see: Ernst is seeking to rally the interests of her small state (six electoral votes) against the views of AOC’s big state (29 electoral votes).
Since Ernst is running in Iowa, it’s smart for her to stick up for Iowa. To be sure, New Yorkers see it differently—but that’s no surprise. What would be surprising is if anyone in Iowa thought it was in Iowa’s best interest to bow down to New York.
Two days later, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas also tweeted back at AOC:
Abolishing the Electoral College means that politicians will only campaign in (and listen to) urban areas. That is not a representative democracy. We live in a republic, which means 51% of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49%.
We can admire Crenshaw’s stipulation that the U.S. is a “republic.” He’s quite right, of course, insofar as James Madison’s Constitution explicitly lays out a formula for a mixed government, aimed at thwarting both tyranny and mob rule. (The nuances of such small “r” republicanism were once the staple of high-school civics classes—that is, the “old-fashioned” education that lamentably disappeared amidst the newfangled quest for relevance and political correctness.)
Yet in the meantime, unhindered by concerns about the Constitution, the anti-Electoral College juggernaut rolls on; other prominent Democrats have come out in support of its abolition, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Stacey Abrams, the woman who will never admit that she didn’t win last year’s Georgia gubernatorial election.
Also, speaking for our friends in Hollywood, here’s Barbra Streisand; she, or at least her ghost writer, adds her voice to the anti-Electoral College cause:
The 14th Amendment of our Constitution actualized what many of the Founders wanted, promoting equal protection under the law for all Americans. If I could, I would end the antiquated Electoral College. Twice in the last 20 years the popular vote winner was denied the presidency. This is an assault on our democratic principles, where the dictum should hold true: one person, one vote.
It is, indeed, true that in 2000 and 2016, the Democrat presidential candidate won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College, thus losing the White House. Indeed, leading MSM observers—writing recently for NBC News and the New York Times–have argued that it could happen again in 2020.
Yet if the Electoral College can sometimes go against the national-vote majority, what’s the argument in favor of it? Why should we support the 18th-century Constitution in light of 21st century popular passions?
Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute argues that the Electoral College is permanently valuable because it requires an actual majority to choose a president; it thus confers legitimacy on the victor. That’s because the College includes a mechanism for a kind of runoff within the Congress, such that the eventual winner must gain a majority of Electoral Votes. This runoff feature is vital, because it eliminates the possibility that a fringe candidate could sneak through to victory with a mere plurality of the popular ballots cast.
Perhaps even more importantly, it’s also worth emphasizing that the Electoral College was central to our constitutional founding; it was the brilliant political compromise that enabled the forming of a robust union in the first place. You see, back in 1787, the small states, such as Delaware and Vermont, insisted on the College as the price for ratifying the Constitution and joining the union. To put that another way, if it were not for the Electoral College, there might never have been a United States. (As an aside, today, both Delaware and Vermont are strongly Democrat.)
One group making a strong constitutional defense of the Electoral College is the American Legislative Exchange Council; ALEC, an assembly of state legislators from across the nation, argues:
The Electoral College respects and protects states within our constitutional republic. It has balanced the interests of rural and urban states, requiring serious presidential candidates and political parties to attract support from a genuine cross-section of the American public, for the past 58 presidential elections.
To put that another way, if we were to start revising the 230-year-old precedent of the Electoral College, we’d be at risk of revising everything—and not for the better.
Moreover, we can add an important additional point: If we got rid of the Electoral College, we’d also be getting rid of the U.S. Senate.
Yes, the Electoral College and the Senate are linked because they follow related political formulas: Each state, no matter how big or small, gets two Senators, and an Electoral Vote for each Senator.
It is, of course, true that voters in small states have more “Senate power” than voters in big states. These days, that’s a boon to Democrat Vermont and Delaware, as well as to Republican Alaska and South Dakota.
So if we ever were to change the College, the temptation to change the Senate, too, would be irresistible. That is, if AOC’s logic on the College—including notions of “one person, one vote”-type rearranging, as outlined in the 1962 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Carr, and since—were embraced, then there’s no reason why the same concept couldn’t or wouldn’t be applied to the Senate.
Needless to say, President Donald Trump is the top target of Democrats in 2020, and yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is up there, too, on the target list, and so are the Senators who compose his majority. So of course the Democrats want to deconstruct that majority.
And if both the Electoral College and the Senate went away, what would happen next? One shudders to think, although Shakespeare vividly captured the feeling of foreboding: “Untune that string, and, hark, what discord follows!”
So what to do? How to defend the Constitution and the good order it provides? Obviously, no amount of constitutional or political argumentation is going to change the minds of AOC & Co.
Thus constitutionalists need a defensive strategy; they need to batten down the political hatches. That is, be prepared for the storm that’s coming.
One preparation is to make sure that all small states are lined up to protect themselves against the AOC-type spiel; specifically, all elected officials from small states should be pledged to defend the Constitution as it is.
And when we say “pledged,” we should mean, yes, an actual pledge. Or better yet, pledges—pledges to defend the Electoral College and also, relatedly, to defend the U.S. Senate.
Two Pledges to Defend the Constitution
The first pledge is to defend the Electoral College. In a perfect world, every state would staunchly defend the Electoral College. And yet in this real world, many states won’t, and so constitutionalists, readying their defensive works, might think first about bolstering the 13 smallest states (in order from the smallest: WY, VT, AL, ND, SD, DE, RI, MT, ME, NH, HA, ID, and WV).
We can pick the number 13 for a forward-looking reason, not just because it has a nice 1776-ish resonance. That is, anticipating some future era of Democrat dominance, when Democrats might seek to rush through a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College, we can recall that 13 states are enough to block the ratification of such an amendment. After all, it takes three-fourths of the states—38 of the 50—to ratify an amendment, so 13 states saying “no” are enough to block it.
It’s worth noting that these 13 states are hardly uniformly Republican. In the 2016 presidential election, eight of them voted Republican, while four voted Democrat (Maine used its quirky system to split its Electoral Votes).
Yet all these states, regardless of partisanship, share an interest in preserving their constitutional rights. So the citizens of those states should insist on the safeguarding of these rights. And to simplify this safeguarding, a written pledge could be developed for politicians to sign. This constitutional pledge need not be complicated; here’s some nice and concise language:
I pledge to oppose any and all efforts to change or dilute the power of my state’s Electoral Votes. I will also oppose any change or dilution of the Electoral College as a whole.
That’s simple enough.
Of course, it could be hard for some small-state Democrats to sign and honor this pledge, because as we have seen, their national party, anchored in big states, is increasingly hostile to the Electoral College. Thus the Electoral College Pledge would put small-state Democrats—especially those with national ambitions—in a bind; they would have to choose: Stick with the state and anger the AOC-ized national party, or go along with the national party and risk the wrath of the state folks.
Yes, the stakes are high. Small states that wish to defend their powers can’t afford to let their elected officials mumble around on the fate of the Electoral College. As we know from other issues, many Democrats have proven themselves skilled at talking one way at home while voting another way in the capital. A pledge, putting it in writing, would cut down such flim-flammery.
The Electoral College Pledge would thus be most useful for state legislators, and if incumbents are reluctant to sign, it could help their pro-pledge challengers.
Moreover, the Electoral College Pledge could be extended to all of a state’s office-holders, since their overall voice, if not their proximate vote, could affect the ratification process.
Of course, we mustn’t forget federal office-holders. They, too, can defend the Constitution, since any proposed amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.
And speaking of the Senate—so crucial to the power of small states—we can turn, now, to the second pledge:
I pledge to oppose any and all efforts to change or dilute the enumeration of my state’s Senatorial delegation. Two is the right number, just as the Constitution states. I will also oppose any change or dilution of the U.S. Senate as a whole.
Moreover, since the Electoral College is the first line of defense for the Senate, I reiterate my support for the maintenance and perpetuation of the Electoral College as it is currently established.
We can see: This Senate Pledge also uses simple language, made only a bit more complicated insofar as it is connected to the Electoral College Pledge.
We might note that in the case of these 13 states, their cumulative senatorial delegations are evenly split: 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats. (Technically, two Senators, from Maine and Vermont, are independents, and yet they align with the Democrats in all the ways that matter.)
Yet whatever party a small-state lawmaker belongs to, he or she should be resolutely determined to defend small-state prerogatives—right? After all, surely no small-stater would sell out his or her state to curry favor with the likes of AOC and the national Democrats—right?
As Ronald Reagan, that canny fellow, liked to say about murky situations, “Trust, yet verify.” So all citizens of these 13 states should humbly, but sternly, request that their lawmakers, state and federal alike, sign these two pledges.
Moreover, beyond those 13 smallest states, there are plenty of other smallish states that have a similarly strong interest in maintaining the integrity of the Electoral College and of the Senate.
One such smallish state is Joni Ernst’s Iowa. As we saw earlier, Ernst is vigilant about her state’s interests; indeed, the motto on the Iowa state flag reads, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”
So now, as we move towards the 2020 election, it will be interesting to see if Ernst’s Democrat challenger, whoever that turns out to be, is willing to stand up, in writing, for Iowa’s liberties and rights. If not, then the voters, having been put on notice about the challenger’s potential waywardness on a supreme issue, should vote in November 2020 to defend those liberties and rights.
Through such constitution-minded political action, voters in each state can help preserve our Republic.