Letters: Electoral College archaic; we need a change

2022 is an election year. (I don’t mean to start off the year negatively.) Perhaps we can make positive steps towards a ”more perfect union?”

The archaic Electoral College has beaten back 700 challenges to its existence in 235 years. It seems as impossible to beat as the Kobayashi Maru test at the Starfleet Academy. That test, in the Star Trek movies, was designed to evaluate the ability of future fleet officers to function in no-win scenarios. Cadet James T. Kirk did not believe in no-win scenarios. He considered the test to be fundamentally unfair so he “re-programmed” it to give fleet officers a meaningful voice in deciding outcomes. He cheated. He then beat it.

It’s time for us to re-program the EC. All Americans should have a meaningful voice in deciding presidential elections. Unlike Kirk, though, we can change the system in the light of day. But first, what is the Electoral College and why did the Founding Fathers write it into the U.S. Constitution in 1787?

The EC is 538 people who elect the president of the United States. Each state decides for itself how to appoint “electors” to the EC. Most states (including California) and the District of Columbia say that a presidential candidate who wins their state/district gets all their EC votes. Its winner takes all. Two states assign electors by congressional district which can result in a split vote. Each state/district gets electors consistent with the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. Each state gets two more to match the number of its U.S. Senators. The winning presidential candidate must receive at least 270 of the 538 votes which is 50 percent plus one. The EC votes in December followed by a confirmation vote in a joint session of Congress in January.

But why do we have the EC? It was the compromise result of frustration arising from the heated debate of competing interests during the humid summer of 1787 in Philadelphia. They argued for nearly five months in sweltering heat, open windowed rooms that attracted swarms of flies, and the odious aromas of close human contact in early America. Their compromise reflected the numbers of electors mentioned above. They also agreed that slave states could count three out of every five slaves for purposes of representation, the Electoral College, and taxation.

Political commentators observe today that less populated states have an unfair advantage over more populated states when they have as many senatorial related votes in the EC. Less than six hundred thousand people in Wyoming get two votes in the EC as do forty million Californians. Defenders of the status quo point to the desire of the Founding Fathers to “fairly” balance the votes of less populous states with those states that were more populous. Let’s get real.

At the time of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, women could not vote. Slaves could not vote. Indians could not vote. And white men without property could not vote. Therefore, when you examine our original democracy you find that only six percent of the adults who lived in early America could vote. America was crafted by rich white men, for rich white men. That was not fair then. It’s not fair now. The Electoral College is a harsh reminder of a grossly unfair past.

Reality has changed somewhat. White men without land could vote by 1830. Former male slaves got the right to vote after the civil war subject to the anti- Black restrictions of Jim Crow, voter suppression laws and gerrymandering. Women received the right to vote in 1920 but Black women have had to continue to fight in order to cast their votes. Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens in 1924 but fought discriminatory state voting laws through 1962.

A majority of the American public favors modifying the EC. They want Republican votes in California and Democratic votes in Alabama to count towards electing the president. Doing so, however, would require a Constitutional amendment approved by two-thirds of a majority in both houses of Congress or ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures after a Constitutional convention requested by two-thirds of the states. Forget about it. That is not likely to happen.

Enter the desire of Cadet James T. Kirk to give everyone a meaningful voice in deciding outcomes. The Kirk answer in my opinion is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That compact constitutes an agreement among state legislatures to give all of their state electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. Several states, including California in 2011, have passed legislation to join the compact. It becomes enforceable when participating states and Washington, D. C. represent a majority of the Electoral College. As of today, 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined for a total of 195 electoral votes. It needs an additional 74 electoral votes to become law and make each American presidential vote count.

Live long and prosper.

— Charles A. Wieland,