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Dems should leave Electoral College alone

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign house party, Friday, March 15, 2019, in Salem, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign house party, Friday, March 15, 2019, in Salem, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

At a town hall in Mississippi last week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined the ranks of those in her party who want to see the Electoral College abolished. Her reasoning left a little to be desired, however.

In remarks at Jackson State University, Warren said the change is needed to ensure that “every vote matters,” and said that because of the Electoral College system, states like Mississippi and others are de-emphasized because they aren’t key swing states like Pennsylvania or Ohio.

On the contrary, it’s the Electoral College that makes smaller states like Mississippi and Oklahoma relevant. If the system were done away with, smaller states would generate even less interest from presidential candidates because they would spend most of their time in the country’s population centers.

The Electoral College makes the presidential election a process of 50 statewide elections, which means candidates must appeal to the diverse interests of residents in many states. States’ electoral votes are already weighted based on population. Under a pure popular vote system, those scales would be tilted even more toward high-density (and generally blue) states.

Warren and others likely wouldn’t be concerning themselves with the Electoral College if Donald Trump hadn’t become president despite winning about 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Three states — California, New York and Illinois — combined to provide one-fifth of Clinton’s vote total.

Two of the past three Republican presidents have won the office despite losing the popular vote, which agitates Democrats. Yet as Jonah Goldberg wrote last year, Democrats for years liked to tout their Electoral College advantage – the “blue wall” of 18 states “where Democrats consistently won from 1992 to 2012, adding up to 242 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win.” Due in part to Clinton’s overconfidence in the region, Trump punctured that wall in 2016 and is president because of it.

Following Trump’s election, George Will argued that the Electoral College “shapes the character of majorities by helping to generate those that are neither geographically nor ideologically narrow, and that depict, more than the popular vote does, national decisiveness.”

Consequently, you can have Bill Clinton win just 43 percent of the popular vote in 1992 but 68.8 percent of the electoral votes. Or Barack Obama win 52.9 percent of the popular vote in 2008 but 67.8 percent of the electoral vote. Or Woodrow Wilson win 42 percent of the popular vote but 82 percent of the electoral votes in 1912.

Warren’s call is mostly rhetoric, because eliminating the Electoral College would require changing the Constitution, and that’s a heavy lift indeed. Yet her recommendation rings of sour grapes. The nation faces many issues that merit candidates’ attention. The Electoral College is not one of them.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›