How To Really Reform The Electoral College

Back in April, here and here, I wrote about the National Popular Vote, an effort by some states to change the way the Electoral College works by means of an agreement among participating states that it would give it’s electoral vote to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of which candidates may have actually gotten the most votes in a given state.

As I stated back then, there are several problems with the NPV, not the least of them being that it is unconstitutional. But that doesn’t mean that the Electoral College can’t be reformed short of amending the Constitution. There is at least one alternative, and it’s being considered in California right now:

LOS ANGELES — California Republicans are floating a ballot initiative that would change how the state awards its 55 electoral votes, a whopping prize that Democrats have come over the past four presidential elections to regard as theirs.

Under the current format, the winner of the state’s popular vote takes all electoral votes. The initiative proposes to award one electoral vote for every congressional district a candidate wins, with the statewide winner getting two more electoral votes.

Had such a system been in place in 2004, President Bush would have come out of California with 22 electoral votes instead of zero. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) would have gotten only 33.

“It has a gut-level appeal to it,” said Kevin Eckery, a GOP consultant supporting the initiative, which would be put before voters in June. “It sounds fair, and it is fair.”

Democrats emphatically disagree and are mounting their own campaign to derail the initiative, which strategists say could easily alter the outcome of the 2008 contest.

“You’re looking at between 19 and 22 votes that would shift to the Republican side,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist mobilizing against the proposal. “The electoral math becomes very challenging.”

Leaving aside the politics that underlies the debate in California, and would indisputably play a role in any state where this method for allocating electoral votes was considered, there is much about this proposal that is worthy of consideration.

First of all, it maintains the Electoral College’s purpose of balancing large states against small ones, and regions against regions while at the same time addressing one of the biggest criticisms of the way that we elect Presidents. By tying at least one electoral vote in each state to a Congressional District, the proposal would put nearly every state into play in a Presidential election. Yes, the proposal would benefit Republicans in California, but it would also benefit Democrats in states like Florida and Texas. In the end, the benefits would probably balance themselves out across the nation, and candidates would be forced to run a campaign that addresses the country as a whole, rather than one that merely focuses on a few big states.

Second, unlike the NPV, the Congressional district allocation method has been tried before, and works. Both Nebraska and Maine have had this system in effect for several years and it’s worked just fine.

Finally, unlike the NPV, the Congressional district allocation method is completely constitutional. The Constitution leaves to the individual states the method by which Electoral Votes are allocated.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think that the Electoral College is as broken as some people think it is. In it’s 200 year history, there have been only three occasions where the Electoral College winner did not also win the popular vote, and only two where no candidate got a majority of Electoral College votes, requiring the House of Representatives to choose the President. In some sense, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But, if reform is considered at all, the District Method seems to be the way to go.