End it, mend it or leave the electoral college system alone

“The 2016 presidential contest was noteworthy for the first simultaneous occurrence in presidential election history of four rarely occurring electoral college eventualities. These included (1) the election of a President and Vice President who received fewer popular votes than their major opponents; (2) the actions of seven ‘faithless electors,’ who voted for candidates other than those to whom they were pledged; (3) the split allocation of electoral votes in Maine, which uses the district system to allocate electors; and (4) objections to electoral votes at the joint session of Congress to count the votes.” These events are examined in detail in The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections (May 15, 2017 RL32611). Reforming the electoral college is the subject of another recent CRS report, Electoral College Reform: Contemporary Issues for Congress (Oct. 6, 2017 R43824). From the report:

Changing the electoral college system presents several options, sometimes characterized as: “end it,” “mend it,” or “leave it alone.” Proposals to end the electoral college almost always recommend direct popular election, under which the candidates winning the most popular votes nationwide would be elected. In support of direct popular election, its advocates refer to the elections of 2000 and 2016, so-called electoral college “misfires,” in which candidates were elected with an electoral college majority, but fewer popular votes than their principal opponents.

Almost all reform proposals—“mend it”—would keep electoral votes, but eliminate electors, thus ending the faithless elector phenomenon. They would then award the electoral votes directly by one of several methods: the general ticket system on a nationwide basis; the district system that awards electoral votes on a congressional district- and statewide-vote basis; or the proportional system that awards state electoral votes in proportion to the percentage of popular votes gained by each candidate. Despite more than 30 years of legislative activity from the 1940s through the late 1970s, proposed constitutional amendments did not win the approval of two-thirds of Members of both houses of Congress required by the Constitution for referral to the states.

States can reform the electorial college without congressional intervention or amending the Constitution. Under the Constitution’s grant of authority to the states in Article II, Section 1, to appoint presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct…” several states have entered into the National Popular Vote Compact to change how the electorial college operates for their states. See LLB’s Is the National Popular Vote Compact a better way to elect the next president? for details. — Joe

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