To avoid disaster, vote for president has to be compartmentalized
Regarding Jeff Jacoby and Scot Lehigh’s July 9 point-counterpoint on the Electoral College (“Its enduring value,” “A rust-bound relic”): The unasked question regarding the national popular vote is this: Who gets to decide what it is? It’s not a trick question. In a close race, who will call for a recount, over what electoral distribution, and how many times?
In the last 20 years, two elections of consequence required extraordinary attention to resolve. The contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, in 2000, led to a Supreme Court intervention to stop recounts in Florida, a decision that still evokes partisan ire. The race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, in 2008, took eight months of back-and-forth recounts before Franken was granted Minnesota’s Senate seat by that state’s Supreme Court.
Those were two single-state cases. What happens if half of more than 120 million votes for president, more than 50 political divisions, come within 1 percent of one another? How long would that process take to settle?
Yes, the Electoral College is antidemocratic by design. Its current incarnation, including the recent Supreme Court decision that “rogue electors” must be reined in, has moved it away from even that original intention. But the presidential vote must be compartmentalized if it is to be computable. What we’ve got is awkward, but what’s being suggested in its place could lead to unresolvable disaster.
If all votes counted equally, candidates would have to pursue all votes
In his defense of the Electoral College, much of Jeff Jacoby’s unconvincing argument relies on the premise that it exists because each state has “its own social, political, and cultural character.” Actually, the Electoral College was part of an intricate and difficult negotiation combining 13 independent political entities while reserving certain powers to each —including for some, as Scot Lehigh points out in his companion critique, the power to enslave.
Today every state, like the nation, is a complex mix of political views, subcultures, and interests, and the borders are merely historical accidents. Do residents of the small Berkshires town of Richmond, Mass., have more in common with my neighbors in Cambridge or with folks in equally small Canaan, N.Y., about 6 miles to the west? State lines are significant in the presidential race only because the obsolete Electoral College makes them so.
Jacoby writes that under a popular vote, candidates could win with “only a handful of states.” Who cares? Would a candidate who got 55 percent in the 10 biggest states and 49 percent in the others, for a 52 percent total, be a less legitimate victor than one who got 49 percent in those 10 and 55 percent in the rest, for that same 52 percent?
Jacoby rationalizes the current focus on swing states but leaves out the obvious: If all votes everywhere counted equally, candidates would have to pursue all votes everywhere. For example, a Republican candidate would certainly need the 1 million Massachusetts residents who voted for Trump; turning out every potential vote nationwide could make the difference in any close election.
The last 16 years are only a blip in our election history
Your July 9 Opinion pieces by Jeff Jacoby and Scot Lehigh were interesting. Jacoby gave good reasoning as to why the Electoral College is necessary and needs to remain in place. Lehigh, on the other hand, offers some slightly skewed facts in his argument to scrap the process. He writes, “Five times in 58 presidential elections the candidate who won the popular vote hasn’t been the one who went on to the White House. The fact that we’ve seen that corrosive result twice in the last five presidential elections is deeply troubling for democracy.”
That last point is quite misleading. The “truer” statement is that twice in the last 33 presidential elections has the person who won the popular vote not gone on to the White House. Until 2000, it had not happened since 1888, when Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote and won the presidency — a span of 112 years. That doesn’t make it seem nearly as troubling for democracy as Lehigh would like us to believe.
The Electoral College needs to remain in place.
When majority doesn’t rule, we have a problem
We appreciated the debate over the Electoral College in Thursday’s Globe. One of the biggest problems with this system is what we saw in the 2016 presidential election, when 3 million votes were dismissed. When the minority wins an election, they end up governing the majority, with all the power that goes with the office (for example, lifetime-appointed justices).
Unfortunately, when the Electoral College does not represent the will of the majority, it’s time to rethink it.
Nancy and Phil Cole