In recent columns I’ve written of the possibility of a Democratic surge in Texas voting this fall, as forecast by statewide polls which show Joe Biden running either neck-and-neck with President Trump or even ahead of him. This surge, even if not great enough to give Biden Texas’s 38 electoral votes, could conceivably elect more Democrats to the state House of Representatives—perhaps even enough to give the Democrats a majority in the House and the power to block the state legislature’s Republicans from adding more Republicans to Texas’s delegation (expected to grow from 36 to 39) to the U. S. House of Representatives. I also mentioned that the potential Democratic surge could have a significant impact on the Electoral College.
The Electoral College was created directly by the framers of the U. S. Constitution in 1787. Those who are concerned that a presidential candidate such as George W. Bush in 2000 or Donald Trump in 2016 can win the electoral vote and therefore the presidency, while losing the popular vote, want to eliminate the Electoral College and simply elect the president by direct nationwide popular vote. But they can’t do so without amending the Constitution. Or can they?
The Constitution granted smaller states more representation in the Electoral College out of proportion to their population, while slightly reducing the representation of more populous states. Each state gets 2 senators, as well as a number of representatives in proportion to its population, and an electoral vote equal to its total number of senators and representatives. But all states, no matter how small, are guaranteed at least 1 representative and therefore 3 electoral votes. Thus California, with 12% of America’s population of 328.2 million, gets only 10% of the electoral vote, while Wyoming, with only .17% of the population, gets about .57% of the electoral vote. Although the Constitution requires a proposed amendment to win the approval of at least ¾ of the states, well over a quarter of the smaller states are overrepresented in the Electoral College and therefore highly unlikely to support its abolition, and thereby their own power.
To get around the small state obstacle, supporters of direct popular presidential elections have proposed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which all states which become signatories would pledge to cast their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who won the nationwide popular vote, regardless of who carried the signatory states. The compact would go into effect when enough states whose electoral vote totaled 270—a majority in the Electoral College—had passed legislation ratifying the Compact, and when the Compact itself had been approved by the Congress, as the Constitution requires. States which do not ratify the Compact would not be obligated to adhere to its provisions.
In general, blue states support the Compact, while red states do not. Since the Great Depression Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in the electorate. In 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, the Democratic nominee for president has won the popular vote, if not the electoral vote. It’s therefore only natural that Democrats support a proposed election method which will increase their chances for winning the White House.
It’s equally natural for Republicans to favor the retention of a system which gives them a slight edge, despite their smaller numbers, which is precisely what the Electoral College does. Most smaller states are more likely to be whiter, more rural, more Protestant, and therefore more Republican. Of course, there are a few exceptions—multiracial Hawaii, countercultural Vermont, urban Delaware and Rhode Island—but they’re the exception to the rule better illustrated by Alaska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, etc. In fact the average population of a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 was 6.7 million, while that of a state carried by Trump was only 6 million. But because the smaller Republican states are overrepresented in the Electoral College, the GOP’s chances of winning are slightly enhanced. Indeed, in 4 elections—1876, 1880, 2000, and 2016–the Republican presidential nominee has won the Electoral College and therefore the White House while losing the popular vote. No Democrat has ever been able to do so.
But a Democratic surge in Texas and other states this fall will increase the adoption of the NPVIC in 2 ways, thereby making the Electoral College less relevant and eliminating the Republican advantage it currently offers:
First, the election of more Democrats to state legislatures increases the chances that more state legislatures will ratify the Compact;
Second, the surge may produce more Democratic members of Congress, and their numbers may be supported and reinforced by mandatory redistricting in 2021; a more Democrat-dominated Congress is more likely to vote the approval of the NPVIC necessary to make it legally binding on the signatory states.
So the 2020 election is about more than the election of the President of the United States. It’s also about the election of thousands of officials throughout the country, about who will shape the composition of the U. S. Congress for the next decade, and quite possibly about new game-changing rules for the election of future presidents as well.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.