Not all but a great many of us have serious complaints about the electoral college, the constitutionally-mandated collection of people that, most directly, elects the presidents of the United States.
Established in the constitution as a sot of uncomfortable compromise, it has shaken and wobbled through the years and when pressed given us some unfortunate results. Because electoral votes are counted in a winner-take-all approach state by state, the national results won’t necessarily match the preferences of America’s votes. Just that happened in 2016 (and 1888).
There’s not a lot we can readily do, however, to get to the simplest and most logical result, which is to elect our presidents by direct popular vote. As a practical matter, since the EC is embedded in the constitution, the job of getting that change made would be a political lift beyond the superheroic. In anything like the near term, that simply isn’t going to happen.
There are alternatives for working within the system. One, which almost a third of the states has signed on to, involves a compact in which a large group of states would agree that their electoral votes would go to whichever presidential candidate receives the most popular votes nationally. (It would have to be approved by states accounting for at least 270, the number needed to elect a president, to go into effect.) It might be better than the current system, because at least the will of the people is more likely to be directly carried out, but it does have a series of problems of its own, including some questions of constitutionality.
A new book out this year, All Votes Matter, by game theorist Jerry Spriggs, of West Linn, Oregon, proposes another way to use the current electoral college system in a way that offers some significant benefits.
There’s a hint of what could be in the states of Maine and Nebraska, where the electoral college votes are awarded in a split fashion, two of them (in each state) reflecting the statewide vote but the others matched to the presidential winner in each of the congressional districts. (Both of those state split their electoral college votes between the candidates in 2020.)
What Spriggs calls Equal Voice Voting would involving splitting every state’s electoral college vote based on the portion of the vote each candidate received. As a practical matter, that would mean major-party presidential candidates rarely would receive all the electoral votes from any state, in a block; they would be split depending on how strongly or poorly the candidates did. That would have meant, in 2020, that Donald Trump would have gotten some of the electoral votes from California, and Joe Biden would have gotten some of the votes from Texas – even, very likely, one of Idaho’s four electoral college votes.
Part of the idea is that, for voters, no one would be shut out because they live in a “red” or “blue” state – even the underdogs are likely to collect some votes there. Another idea is that this approach would mean the electoral college vote would much more closely reflect the actual popular vote. Spriggs reviewed the national results over the last 16 presidential elections and found those electoral college votes were a close match for the popular vote.
He has some concerns I don’t share or think as critical as he does – the significance of votes by states and the risk of abuse in elections, for example. And he tends to elide, as the book closes, the extreme difficulty of getting all 50 states to adopt such a system, which is what they’d have to do to make it work. (Say you’re in a red or blue state: Do you want to go first in surrendering some of your party’s advantages? Probably not until the other side puts up as well.)
But he makes an excellent case for the usefulness of Equal Voice Voting as a means of developing one-man one-vote system without having to take a run at the constitution. Check it out. And maybe give a little thought to launching some support for it.