Burbank: A way to make Electoral College hew to popular vote

By John Burbank

Our leaders always reference democracy with the founders of our country. That is not true. The founders had a much different vision of power and control, one that did not and still does not comport with democracy.

We started our journey as a nation with the Declaration of Independence, in which the founders stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. … Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. …”

But our Constitution embedded slavery without mentioning it: “other persons” — that is, slaves — were counted as three-fifths to bulk up the political power in Congress of the slaveholders in the South. Then they gave each state two senate seats, no matter what the population, giving small states equal power to big states.

The founders further reinforced the protection of government from democracy with the Electoral College. This archaic symptom of anti-democracy still confronts and confounds us every four years. A vote of the people does not determine who our president is. It is a vote of the Electoral College, with delegates equal to the number of Congresspeople and Senators accorded to each state. Each state, except Maine and Nebraska, casts all its votes for the winner of the popular vote in their state.

A friend of mine calculated the impact of the Electoral College system. Wyoming with 588,000 people gets 3 electoral votes. That’s 196,000 people per vote. California with a population of 39,000,000 gets 55 electoral votes. That’s 709,000 people per vote. So Wyoming citizens have more than three and a half times the voting power for the President than citizens in California. That’s why, while Hillary Clinton will end up with over a million votes more than Donald Trump nationwide, she lost the vote in the Electoral College.

This is not an election based on a democratic vote. Hillary emphasized that this is the result of our constitutional democracy. I see it as a constitutional coup, the result of the founders’ designs against democracy.

In the 3rd Snohomish County Council district, Hans Dunshee lost by 2,000 votes. But we don’t give him the office because he was close. He lost. Nationally Trump lost the popular vote. He gets the golden ring.

In two of the five Presidential elections in this century, the loser of the popular vote has won the Presidency: George Bush in 2000, who lost by more than a half-million votes, and Donald Trump in 2016. This never happened in the 20th century. In every single election for president, the winner won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. But with two-fifths of our elections for president in this century going to the losers of the popular vote, we have turned democracy upside down.

State legislatures can rectify this anti-democratic process passing a multi-state compact which commits their electoral college delegates, no matter who they individually support and no matter what the outcome of the election is in that particular state, to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. That’s why this is called National Popular Vote.

It takes effect when states that control 270 electoral votes (the majority needed to determine who is elected president by the Electoral College) enact this multi-state compact. The compact has been passed into law by 10 states and the District of Columbia. Washington was one of the pioneers, passing National Popular Vote in 2009. The other states are Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and California. But these states only add up to 165 electoral votes. So there are 105 votes to go! In the west, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Colorado have failed to act.

If we want to prevent this travesty of voting from happening again, we need to get National Popular Vote passed in these states. That would bring the vote total to 219. Not enough, but the west would have done its part. And then we need to look at states like North Carolina and Florida to get over the 270 threshold.

Looking forward to 2020, that seems a reasonable goal. We could insure the election of the president who actually wins the popular vote. Your vote would count. What an outcome, for a democracy!

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

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