Thursday, January 19, 2017

Blame the “Committee on Postponed Parts.”

America cannot indulge a system where one candidate receives 2.9 million votes more than an opponent and still loses the election.

Blame the “Committee on Postponed Parts.” They came up with the Electoral College during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It’s their fault that five candidates won the popular vote and lost the presidency.

Wyoming can play a role in reforming this undemocratic process.

The 2016 plebiscite witnessed the fifth presidential election in which the winner was the loser. Andrew Jackson was first in 1824. Samuel Tilden won the 1876 popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Next came Grover Cleveland’s 1888 contest against Benjamin Harrison. Then Al Gore lost to George W. Bush. Now it’s Hillary Clinton.

For all of the lofty attributes with which we imbue the Founding Fathers, they never trusted us. The idea that the people should elect anyone frightened them. In the beginning, they permitted only members of the House of Representatives to be elected by the riffraff. Senators and the President would be elected by those they trusted; Senators by state legislators, presidents by an Electoral College. The people were mere “interested but not involved spectators.”

Delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention assumed the process should protect the country from the people. George Mason argued that allowing the people to choose a president made as much sense as referring “a trial of colours to a blind man.” Mason questioned the ability of common people to judge the “respective pretensions of the candidates.”

Given the role of big money, poll-driven campaigns, and the post-factual media, Mason may have been right. Nonetheless, the Electoral College is an antiquated insult to the people.

In a nation paralyzed with partisanship, the fact that each of the five candidates losing the presidency after winning the popular vote were Democrats may sour reformers’ hopes. But that shoe comes only in “one-size-fits-all” and will one day be worn by a Republican. If just 59,393 Ohioan votes had gone to John Kerry in 2004, he’d have defeated George Bush in the Electoral College though Bush won by the same popular-vote margin by which Hillary defeated Trump.
The Electoral College was the best compromise proposed in 1787 by the Committee on Postponed Parts. Its continuation makes sense today only if 21st century politicians feel the same disdain for us. They may have believed electors would be independent actors with America’s best interests at heart. Today they are mere partisans chosen for their loyalty, not to America, but to their party.

In addition to diluting the impact of our votes, the Electoral College requires candidates spend time and resources in a handful of states, ignoring all others. Stopovers matter. Having a candidate visit your state is about more than niceties. It means candidates actually have to take time to think about its people and their needs.

Worse yet, once elected they give more attention to those “battleground” states. One study concluded, “Battleground states receive 7% more federal grants than spectator states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement designations, and more No Child Left Behind exemptions.”

But help is on the way. A reform measure is close to becoming reality. It’s one the states can accomplish without waiting for Congress. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is near being approved in enough states that it could become the way presidents are elected by 2020. It requires members of the Electoral College to vote for the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationally.

Eleven states with 165 electoral votes have approved it. The compact takes effect when enacted by states with 270 of the electoral votes.

Wyoming can play a key role in this reform. If you believe the people should be able to choose a president, urge state legislators to support a resolution approving the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in the current session of the legislature. Learn more at

A state with so few voters seldom has a chance to so greatly influence the election of presidents.


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