Another divisive Trump tweet was the backdrop of the question asked by my student “John” as we began our unit on presidency. His questions were simple ones: How does one candidate get more popular votes but lose the presidency? Is the presidency the only election in the United States where that happens? I said sadly YES! In fact, it has happened FOUR times in our nations’ history: 1824, 1876, 2000 and 2016. Yes, this has happened TWICE in the past 16 years! John looked angry. He wanted to blame someone. I said four words to him: blame the Electoral College.
We looked to the Constitution to for the answer. Article II discusses the election of president. One of the many compromises at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was election of our president. The Framers did not trust direct democracy. To avoid such a system, they instituted the Electoral College. States choose electors who elect the president, more populated states having more electors than less populated states. John then keenly stated, “that may have worked in the 1780s when the average voter was not informed and may have choose a candidate based on the color of their wig. This is 2017! What can be done to abolish this archaic, undemocratic system?”
I was so proud of John at the moment, being an independent thinker questioning the status quo. We looked for the answer: how to amend the Electoral College found in Article V. In this era of hyperpolarization, the threshold of proposal by two-thirds of Congress and ratification of three-fourth of the states is nearly impossible. Remember, we have only had ONE amendment since 1992. Germany, for example, has made 50 changes to their constitution since 2003.
However, I said there are THREE realistic reforms to the Electoral College that could garner enough support:
1) Go to the Maine and Nebraska method: Maine and Nebraska do not allocate their electoral votes on a “winner-take-all” system. Rather, they use the “congressional district method.” They allocate two electoral votes to the state’s popular winner and one electoral vote to the popular winner in each congressional district. Under this system, the state legislature needs only to pass a bill. However, it is highly unlikely that at least 38 states would adopt this model.
Chance: Possible but highly unlikely
2) Go to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). Under this system, states and D.C. allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. Whoever wins the popular vote wins the presidency. However, this is highly unlikely, as you would need three-fourths of the states to ratify. Swing states, like Florida, will not vote for this reform, as they would lose their disproportionate influence on presidential elections.
Chance: Slim to none and Slim left town
3) The Alternative Voting (AV) System: Under an AV system, voters would rank their candidates. In 2000, 97,421 Floridians voted for Ralph Nader. If they had a choice to rank the candidates the majority of them would have chosen Vice-President Gore, Gore would have won Florida, therefore, been elected POTUS. In fact, many municipalities in the Bay Area such as Oakland and the City and County of San Francisco have implemented an AV system for their local elections. It could be replicated at the state level. Again, the threshold is high because at least 38 states to support such a change.
As we ended class, John made my day when he asserted it is time for California to be a courageous state and lead the movement for reform the undemocratic Electoral College.
Dominic J. Caserta, a teacher at Santa Clara High School and the city’s vice-mayor, is running for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in District 4, which includes Santa Clara. He wrote this article for the Santa Clara Weekly.