California Forum

We’re stuck with the Electoral College, until the winners want to change the process

Democratic electors Phillip Tyler, left, and Esther John fill out their ballots with ceremonial plastic “quill” pens during a meeting of Washington state's Electoral College Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in Olympia, Wash. For the first time in four decades, members of the Electoral College in Washington state broke from the state's popular vote for president, with four electors casting their votes for candidates other than Democrat Hillary Clinton. Now those four face $1,000 fines.
Democratic electors Phillip Tyler, left, and Esther John fill out their ballots with ceremonial plastic “quill” pens during a meeting of Washington state's Electoral College Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in Olympia, Wash. For the first time in four decades, members of the Electoral College in Washington state broke from the state's popular vote for president, with four electors casting their votes for candidates other than Democrat Hillary Clinton. Now those four face $1,000 fines. Associated Press file

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union,” are still working at it.

For instance, many folks, having lost the recent election, have called for the nullification of the existing Electoral College system. But Donald Trump won according to the rules in place in November, so his ascension can’t be nullified.

On the other hand, when one party falls short by nearly 3 million votes in the popular race, but at the same time wins both houses of Congress along with the presidency, someone got outsmarted. It may indeed be time to reconsider the system we use, since it gives a Wyoming voter almost four times the clout as my California vote.

Back in the early 1950s, as a high school debater, I considered the efficacy of the Electoral College. Competitors had to argue both sides, and most of my teammates came to favor a popular-vote election over the Electoral College.

We thought we understood its history. To us the traditional system seemed to be an anachronism, a horse-and-buggy arrangement dating from a time when states were virtually inaccessible to one another. We favored one voter-one vote across the nation.

World War II had encouraged nationalism; we were Americans, not Nevadans or Georgians or Hawaiians. Prior, it was easier to argue that each state was a separate entity – a commonwealth perhaps – with a distinct culture that defined its independent existence. Even then states took advantage of the national union (seeking tariff protections, for instance) just as some encouraged practices (such as racial segregation) that ran counter to the national Constitution.

The growth of electronic communications that followed World War II has especially linked us together. We have, however, recently seen a scattered withdrawal of national support, often based on romantic illusions of the past or on resentment over the accomplishments of others, or on what President Barack Obama called “naked partisanship.”

As for voting, the Electoral College hasn’t been changed and neither has my opinion. It remains our somewhat creaky vehicle for presidential selection. And today, more than I can remember in my nearly 80 years, this seems to be one nation divided.

Anachronism or not, only when the winning side, too, wants to move beyond the Electoral College, are we apt to change it. Until then it will be presidential politics as usual.

Gerald Haslam is the author of “In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakawa.” Haslam can be reached at ghaslam@sonic.net.

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