Improving Our Democracy: Reforming the Electoral College

Of the many take aways from 2012 I hope one everyone on the center-left will agree on is the need to modernize and improve our democracy.  A combination of factors - new technologies, a new distribution of our population, and outright anti-democratic tendencies on the right - has created a political system in need of updating and improvement.

The thing I will focus on today is the anachronistic Electoral College.  First, we are the only developed country in the world who has a system where the person who gets the most votes in a national election is not guaranteed the win.  Second, when I worked for Bill Clinton's war room in 1992 we contested 31 of the 50 states.  In this election the two Presidential campaigns are contesting no more than 9 states with about 24 percent of the population, leaving a full three-quarters of the US out of the process of picking their President. 

Why does this matter? Because at the core of our theory of government was the bestowing of legitimacy on a leader by the vote of the people and not other means (heredity, divine right of kings etc).  If 80 percent of the country is not meaningfully involved in picking a leader, and only 20 percent is, it starts to undermine the theory of our system and I think create legitimacy problems for our leaders and the political system itself. 

You can see how perverse this has become in a current set of national polls.  Gallup has Romney leading today by 5, 51-46.  Yet Obama is either leading or winning in the Electoral College.  If this current situation holds we could see Romney winning the popular vote by a wide margin but losing the election.  While Democrats and the President will take that win, it is clearly not in the best interests of sound governance to have a situation where one side feels (like we did in 2000) that they was robbed.  To create legitimacy elections need to be definitive.  I am no longer certain our system as constituted has the ability to provide clear and definitive outcomes every two or four years. 

The answer? Support an effort underway to reform the national vote to essentially eliminate the Electoral College.  Called the National Popular Vote campaign, it is a compact between the states that they would award their EC votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  So far this quiet but effective effort has rounded up half the EC votes needed to move the nation to a better system.  My gut is that after this campaign, when so many states not in the NPV compact were ignored by the national campaigns we could see them making a serious run at getting to 270.  And I for one think that would be a terrific thing.

I can think of no other reform - with perhaps the exeception of universal same day registration - that would do more to bring more people into the political process.  Presidential campaigns would be truly national, and we would restore one person one vote to the Presidential process - every vote would count the same no matter where one lived.  Given the new internet based organizing and fundraising models a national campaign of this scope and scale is possible now.  A truly national effort could bring millions into the process who aren't now, and force both parties to become more reliant on citizen involvement and less on paid media and big dollars to pull off such a massive undertaking.

While there are many reforms the national can adopt to improve and modernize our democracy in the years ahead, this one may be the most important of them all.