Guest post by Robert P. Duckworth
The mantra of many, crying foul in the presidential victory of Donald J. Trump, is to let every vote count so “the will of the people can be heard.” It resonates with a clarion call to "abolish the Electoral College” since Trump "only" won the total Electoral College count of the states, not a plurality of the popular vote nationwide.
Thus, for them the Trump win is deemed a democratic inequity, or worse, the election of an illegitimate president. This flawed belief is grounded in a constitutional misconception: That is, our American form of government is a direct democracy, not a Constitutional Republic as approved in 1798 by the states ratifying the U.S. Constitution.
The Framers at the Constitutional Convention designed a unique federal system of government for "we the people," one whereby governmental powers are shared and balanced between the states and a national government. The Framers purposely avoided a direct democracy that would stack the larger states against the smaller. Rather, representing each state, they hammered out a new form of government that separated and balanced state and federal powers to protect the political rights and liberty of citizens in each state. In a word, they created a uniquely American federal system to which Ben Franklin quipped: “A Republic if you can keep it.”
The Framers also reflected their federal plan in crafting a mechanism for electing the president of the United States in Article II, Section 1. They saw a danger in allowing a presidential winner-take-all popular vote. This would strip the representation of small states against states with larger demographics such as Virginia in choosing a president. And they were correct. An example of a popular vote scheme in this past election would have allowed four of the most populated states, California, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts, to determine the presidency outcome before the election even began.
So, with the Electoral College, the presidential election is really separate state elections. As such, states like Wyoming and Iowa have a say in the election of a president. Article II, Section 1 sets up the Electoral College along the lines of Congress the Framers established in Article I. To wit: “Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the (state) legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in Congress.”
To change the way we select the president by scrapping the Electoral College means amending the Constitution. Article V presents a very steep amendment process to do this, thereby making it moot. A better path to correct any "democratic inequity" in our Electoral College is to focus change at the state level. Convince state lawmakers to base their presidential electoral votes proportionally by congressional districts. Whoever wins the popular district vote gets that portion of the electoral vote and whoever wins the statewide count receives two votes based on their senators.
If such a method had been enacted in Maryland in this last election, not all 10 electoral votes would have been cast for Trump’s opponent. I had proposed this, as others have, right after the Bush and Gore election in 2000. That’s how it is done in Maine. And it is certainly superior to amending the Constitution and ignoring our Founding Fathers' hard-earned Republic. Yes, let every vote count. But don’t scrap the Electoral College, democratize it!