The time to consider changing how the nation elects a president has never been better because of Donald Trump — but not for the reasons most people would think.
This year, Colorado and several other states are considering a strategic change in how to reshape the country’s arcane electoral college system, effectively electing U.S. presidents by popular vote.
Colorado should definitely sign on to this significant improvement to presidential politics now for a long list of reasons, President Donald Trump being among them.
Trump makes the timing of considering this change important, not because he lost the popular vote in 2016, and not because he is arguably an inept and unqualified president. The timing is ideal for Colorado and other states to consider the National Popular Vote Bill because Trump has drawn attention to the office of the president like no other has for generations.
This keen interest in the role of a U.S. president — from Trump detractors and supporters alike — makes this a perfect time for voters to pay attention to one the most misunderstood parts of the U.S. government and history.
For most Coloradans, and most Americans, if you think you know how and why we elect presidents the way we do, you probably don’t. The facts are out there and easier than ever to uncover and understand, but stubborn partisan myths continue to obscure many voters’ understanding of this American anachronism.
Currently, almost all states have the same system. We have a popular vote once every four years, all on the same day. The winner of that election in each state wins all of that state’s “electors,” equivalent to the number of congressional representatives it has, plus two. Those electors are bound to vote for their state’s top-vote getter. The candidate with the majority of electoral votes wins the White House. Only two states vary slightly from this and are inconsequential.
Arguments supporting the current system and against changing it are rife with fiction, deception and provable inaccuracies.
One of the most popular fables is that changing to a national popular vote undermines the “wisdom” of the founding fathers.
The argument confuses intent with wisdom. First off, there wasn’t even a president or a federal government when the colonies created the United States. That came later. When it did, founding fathers had no faith in the ability of commoners to elect leaders to run the government. Everyone, except slaves, were given rights under the Constitution, but founding fathers reserved political power for the elite. There were no political parties when the Constitution was created, and there was no real plan for them as power would change hands.
The odd electoral college system was created for a nation spread across great distances without any central communication. It was created as a way to allow educated and well-connected citizens to slowly vet potential leaders akin to George Washington. The system’s flaws became apparent over time, and something similar to our current winner-takes-all electoral college system was born. It came about as a partisan power struggle between supporters of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, not because of the wisdom of founding fathers. States worried about losing clout in selecting a president fell in line.
At the time, American commoners didn’t elect anyone to the U.S. Senate. They didn’t elect the president. Women couldn’t vote. Blacks were enslaved. There were no public schools. The light bulb was years off.
But the biggest legend perpetuated by critics of a popularly elected president is that rural America would lose political clout.
The opposite is provably true. Statistics have revealed for years that the only “clout” in presidential elections is wielded by large and medium swing states, and there are generally about a dozen every cycle. It is indisputable that the majority of presidential campaign visits, advertising and activity is bestowed on these 12 states, and mostly very few among them.
The 2016 campaign was no exception. Multiple sources report that in 2016, battleground Ohio received a whopping 25 percent of the campaign visits and spending. Florida and Pennsylvania are also regular, similar magnets for campaign activity.
Meanwhile every rural, “safe” state in the country received no presidential campaign activity in 2016, according to National Popular Vote Act statistics, gleaned from accountable sources. In fact, presidential politics under the current electoral college system, by design, totally ignores states that are reliably red or blue.
And if you think that these swing states just get more TV commercials, data shows that these 12 states regularly get considerably more federal dollars and White House attention outside of election cycles.
Ohio is neither the center of the universe nor the nexus of this nation.
Currently, voters in big cities and especially suburbs in swing states matter more than anyone to presidential campaigns because that’s how they can beat the winner-take-all electoral system. Rural voters in reliable states, blue or red, don’t matter at all under the current system. That’s not opinion, it’s a fact. And in swing states, they don’t matter nearly as much to presidential campaigns as do dense pockets of voters in big cities and suburbs.
That would change under the National Popular Vote system. If the president is elected by popular vote, candidates would be forced to build campaigns that appeal to every voter in all parts of all states.
Such a system could actually change the very nature of political candidates. Rather than partisan machines pushing candidates who can contrive key electoral vote wins only in swing states, candidates that would have to appeal to a majority of all Americans could be far less partisan, and less likely to be beholden to Congress and political parties.
The losers in changing to popular vote are giant lobbying interests such as industry and unions, not rural voters.
This proposal is a creative, no-lose plan for the vast majority of voters and states in the nation. Senate Bill 42, which has passed the Colorado Senate and now awaits action in the state House, preserves the Electoral College, allowing Americans the luxury of trying this out without chiseling the change into the U.S. Constitution.
Colorado and every other state that signs on to the pact stands to lose nothing because it doesn’t take effect until enough states sign on to create a majority of votes in the Electoral College. So far, 12 states are in, providing 172 of 270 Electoral College delegates needed to elect a president. The current system would continue until the required number of states buy in.
While a better solution would be a constitutional change, that’s impossible in this hyper-partisan and dysfunctional environment. This plan is a bridge to that constitutional change, not an end-run around it.
The change would immediately mean that big political parties in power-states would no longer be direct arbiters of the White House, such as California, Texas, Florida and New York. Voters there and across the country would all have the same influence on the White House as voters in Walsenberg, Kona, Gillette and Fargo.
Rather than argue that the popular vote system would have changed the outcome between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the NPV would likely be much more essential, elevating candidates into the partisan presidential finals very different than those two.
And that’s what the nation’s founders had in mind. When creating a federal government, they wanted leaders who took on the interests of the nation, not the states, not the Congress and not political parties.
With so much attention being paid to the office of the president, now is the time for voters to get accurate and credible information for themselves. When voters dispel the myths and see the facts, there’s no compelling argument against this move to a popular vote for president.