Based on the current electoral system, Donald Trump won 57 percent of the electoral votes with 47 percent of the popular tally. Together Clinton and Trump had 95 percent of the popular vote and all the electoral votes, but the ballots of 6.5 million Americans counted for nothing.
In last week’s column, I suggested states, including Indiana, change how electors for the Electoral College are selected. Nonetheless, several readers pictured me as an unearthed fossil because I think the Electoral College has its virtues.
What are those virtues? The Electoral College is based on the principle of democracy. At the same time, it respects the equality of the states. Further, it respects the ties we have to place, to residency and to the land.
The Electoral College generates controversy. There have been more than 700 proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution advocating changes. But none is needed.
The current allocation of electors is simple. Two are assigned to each state in recognition of the sovereignty of each state. Under this provision, Indiana is equal to each of the other states.
In addition, each state is assigned as many electors as it has representatives in the House of Representatives. This means that 435 electors are proportioned according to the population of each state as determined by a census every 10 years. Every resident, regardless of age, legal status or physical condition is equal.
(The District of Columbia was assigned three electors by the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution.)
The moderate change proposed here determines how many electors a candidate wins in each state by the popular vote in that state. According to the Constitution, this change requires simply a vote of the state legislature.
This is very different from proposals to determine the presidency by the national popular vote. Then you could vote for president anywhere and it would not matter, as place would be inconsequential.
When we decide the presidency by a national popular vote, we say only those who vote count. Children and those who cannot or chose not to vote don’t count. Place and the land itself is not represented.
In the Electoral College, nearly one-fifth of the votes (102 of 538) recognize the sovereignty of the states, the importance of place. This attachment to land, to a place and its people, has been strong in American life. States may once have been only groups of settlements with both natural and artificial boundaries, but the Constitution recognizes them as sovereign.
Today, those attachments to place, people and the land remains strong. Call it patriotism, but we are ready to defend our homes, our places and our institutions.
If we abandon the Electoral College to the call for popular sovereignty, we deny the special nature of place. We yield the last vestige of land’s uniqueness to the migratory whims of transient mankind. The environmental movement is negated. Consumerism, a variant of popular sovereignty, becomes triumphant and our descendants bemoan the loss of diversity and distinction.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.