It Would Serve Them Right

It would serve them right.

Republicans, who have done everything in their power to tilt this and recent elections by denying people access to the polls based on fraudulent claims of voter fraud, richly deserve to lose this one. (Admittedly, in forty years I have voted for a Republican only once, when the Democrat was under indictment.) I suspect that on Tuesday President Obama will win a popular majority nationwide as well as in the Electoral College. But there’s a more than slim chance that the President will lose the popular vote but win in the Electoral College. And after the national disgrace of the 2000 election – and the ongoing disgrace of Republican voter suppression efforts – it would serve them right.

The 2000 election wasn’t just anomalous because Al Gore lost in the Electoral College despite a popular-vote majority of a half-million votes. It was further anomalous because, when you consider that Democrats tend to win narrow majorities in big blue and swing states and lose by wide majorities in small red states, the odds would seem to favor the opposite outcome: a Democratic victory without a national majority of the popular vote.

The Electoral College was hashed together by the Founders ostensibly to prevent any one section of the country dominating. (Or so we believe; no one really knows what they were thinking.) It’s actually had precisely that effect, however, granting the South disproportionate power (much as the structure of the Senate has done, by granting two seats to each state regardless of size).

It’s a sad reflection on our democracy that even after 2000 there was barely a hint of talk about scrapping the Electoral College, which made no sense three centuries ago and makes no sense now; it can only function by frustrating the will of the people.

It is an affront to democracy and a national embarrassment when the winner of the national popular vote doesn’t win the presidency. We should have the courage and intellect to invite our leaders to get rid of this stupid system.

There is a movement afoot to do just that without the fuss of a Constitutional convention. The idea is for a handful of states to join in a compact, agreeing to throw all their electoral votes behind the majority-winner in presidential elections. The plan is perfectly Constitutional, ingenious in its way, and wouldn’t require changing the Constitution.

But why can’t we change the Constitution? The last thing the Founders would have wanted would be for us to consider their every idea about government sacrosanct. Unlike us, they were smart enough to know they were flawed geniuses, and to trust in future generations to tailor the system of government to their needs.

Maybe what it will take to change the system will be for a Democrat to win with a minority of the vote, as George W. Bush did in 2000. Republicans will howl and ask for a do-over on account of the whole thing being unfair. They’ll try to ram through some reforms, while finding a way of maintaining the structural advantages of the Senate (and the disenfranchised District of Columbia) for their side.

It won’t be a good thing for the country if President Obama wins re-election without a majority; it would be a travesty. And it isn’t all that likely to happen. The real travesty, though, is that we do nothing to eliminate the Electoral College.

But if it does happen, let the Republican howling begin. For all they’ve done to block access to the polls for poor people and minorities, profaning the democratic system while trying to manipulate it in their favor, it would serve them right.

Originally posted on