Presidential Elections: An End Run Around the Constitution?

In "Time to rethink the way we vote for presidents," a commentary that appeared on June 26 in the wood pulp version of The Kansas City Star, columnist Steve Kraske opines about a proposal that would effectively end the Electoral College.

Kraske reports on a group called National Popular Vote that is pushing bills in state legislatures that would result in this: "All of a state's electoral votes would go to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in the 50 states."  But Mr. Kraske then makes a serious omission:

Under the current system, the presidential candidate who wins a state, no mater [sic] how narrowly, grabs the entire parcel of that state's electoral votes. ... With the Electoral College, the votes of people who cast ballots for a losing presidential candidate in any one state don't count.

Actually, there are two states that don't abide by the winner-take-all rule, Nebraska and Maine.  Furthermore, any state that would prefer to drop out of winner-take-all can do so.  This prerogative is granted by the Constitution in Article II, Section 1.2.

National Popular Vote (NPV) urges a reform that is far more undemocratic than the current system.  In a state that has passed an NPV bill, electors in the College would have to vote for the winner of the national popular vote -- even if the voters of the state had gone overwhelmingly for the loser of the national popular vote.  So NPV forces such a state's electors to vote contrary to its own voters.  And if all 50 states were to enact the NPV reform, the possibility looms that a nominee could receive all electoral votes.  Is that their idea of democracy?  It reminds one of the "elections" in totalitarian states where the ruling despot receives all the votes.  A better solution than that offered by the NPV might be for more states to adopt the systems of Nebraska and Maine.

In any event, one doesn't change 200 years of precedent unless one can come up with something better; NPV is clearly worse.  Yet, popular election of the president might be worthy of consideration, but only if American elections were error- and fraud-free, and only if the results of our elections could be "proven."

If folks are offended by the way we elect our president, then they should completely do away with the Electoral College by amending the Constitution to provide for popular election, just as they did with federal senators in 1913.  But what the NPV is trying for is an end-run around the Constitution that keeps the Electoral College in place but renders it irrelevant.  Amendment is how we change things in America.

The makeup of the College mirrors that of the Congress.  If we were to do away with the College, then we might also consider having a unicameral federal legislature and do away with the Senate.  Or perhaps we could do away with Congress altogether and have a direct democracy where citizens themselves vote on every bill through the Internet.

What should concern folks is not that they don't get to directly vote for president, but that they do get to vote for presidential candidates in primaries.  The primary system is what's really wrong with how America selects a president.  For example, if Barack Obama has no serious opposition in his upcoming primaries, rogue Democrats will be able to cross lines and vote for who they think is the weakest of the GOP candidates.  The primary system is what needs to be changed.

So why do we have an Electoral College?

Alexander Hamilton laid it out in Federalist No. 68.  If you find it a bit turgid, there's a brand new version of The Federalist Papers by Glenn Beck that's made the best-seller list titled The Original Argument that makes the case in more accessible language.  Its subtitle is "The Federalists' Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century."

It's puzzling that folks are so exercised about the Electoral College and the popular vote; Barack Obama won the popular vote and look where that's got us.  On the other hand, a body even smaller than the Electoral College, the U.S. House of Representatives, decided the election of 1800 -- and that gave us Thomas Jefferson.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

If you experience technical problems, please write to