Glenn K. Beaton: Dems shooting themselves in foot with Electoral College compact

Glenn K. Beaton
The Aspen Beat

Dems are still smarting from losing the 2016 presidential election by losing the Electoral College.

So they have an idea. Apart from the dubious constitutionality of their idea, it’s a bad one which can only help the GOP.

First some background. The Constitution says the president is elected by the Electoral College. The College comprises 538 voters who are allocated as follows: Each state gets two, corresponding to its two senators, plus a number equal to its number of House representatives, plus the District of Columbia gets three.

The effect is that the College voters are spread among the states and D.C. roughly in proportion to population. And so you might think that the College voting would be proportional to the popular vote.

Nope. The kicker is that in nearly all states it’s winner-take-all. If the candidates split the popular vote in a state by, say 51 percent to 49 percent, then the College votes in that state are not split proportionately. Instead, the winner of the 51 percent of the popular vote gets 100 percent of the College votes for that state.

That’s how President Ronald Reagan ran up a humiliating 525 to 13 College win over Walter Mondale in 1984 — which translates into a 97 percent to 3 percent margin — even though the popular vote margin was only a landslide of 59 percent to 41 percent.

This works both ways, of course. The Dem candidate can run up a disproportionate College win with only a modest popular win, as President Barack Obama did twice.

Once in a while, the College can even give the presidency to the candidate who lost the popular vote. This happens when one candidate runs up huge margins over the other in populous states, while the other candidate wins the other states by more modest margins. If a candidate wins every single vote in California and New York, for example, she still only gets a total of the 84 College votes allocated to those two states.

Something like this happened in 2016 when Hillary Clinton won some of the populous states by huge margins but Donald Trump won many other states by slim margins. In the winner-take-all system of state College votes, he won the election.

I’m not here to debate whether the College is a good system. There are pros and cons. But it is indisputably one of the checks and balances the founders deliberately put in place. (Another is allocating two senate seats to each state regardless of its population.)

The Dems would like to abolish this system because it hurt them in 2016. Of course, it could help them in some election in the future, but politicians don’t have the analytical ability to fight any war but the last one.

Despite the Dems’ wish, the College won’t be abolished. That would require an amendment to the Constitution. The odds of that happening are 0.00 percent.

Here’s their fallback idea.

The states would enter into a “compact” that would work something like a multiparty contract. They would each agree that they would cast their respective College votes for the candidate that wins the national popular vote. If all the states entered into this compact, and if it survived Constitutional challenges, then the winner of the popular vote would thereby win all the electoral votes. Every election would be a 538-to-0 decision in the College.

But in the real world, not all states will enter into this compact. That’s because the College currently seems to favor the GOP. Sure, the blue states like California, New York and Illinois will sign up. But red states like Texas and the rest of the south and the mountain states won’t. And purple states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and others probably won’t.

So only the blue states will be bound by their compact.

In theory, this blue state compact will play out in two different scenarios, but in a practical sense only one will actually happen.

One theoretical scenario is that the voters in the blue states in the compact will vote blue, as voters in blue states do, while the national popular vote goes red. If that happens, the blue states will disenfranchise their voters by requiring their College votes to vote red. The result could well be that the GOP candidate wins the election even though he would have lost the College vote under current rules.

The other scenario is that the voters in the blue states in the compact vote red, while the nation at large votes blue. That’s the scenario that the Dems want to prevent.

But that scenario won’t happen. Voters in a blue state don’t vote red in a national election where the blue candidate wins the popular national vote. If they did, it wouldn’t be a blue state.

Here’s the bottom line.

Unless the Dems convince plenty of red or at least purple states to join their compact, which is unlikely, the net effect of their compact will be that they will override the will of their citizens only when their citizens vote for the Dem candidate.

I recognize that Dems are fighting mad. Nobody likes to lose. But maybe they should think this through before they express their madness in a mad way — even if it feels good not to.

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