One Way To End The Electoral College

Tom Geoghegan (who is our favorite Geoghegan!) describes several good paths to getting rid of the Electoral College, including compulsory voting (boldface mine):

Third, Democrats must institute compulsory voting in California and New York, in particular, and in as many of the other 15 states that Clinton carried as possible. Indeed, universal voting—which states have the authority to require—is the only tool that Democrats have to dismantle not just the Electoral College but the other ways that the GOP is now able to rig the vote.

One big state—California or New York—might be enough to set off a constitutional chain reaction. With compulsory voting in place in several states in the next presidential election, it is very likely that the Democrats would pile up a popular majority so immense that, under the weight of these new votes, the Electoral College, even as a half-credible institution, would simply collapse.

How big might the variation be? According to the latest figures from the Cook Political Report, Clinton leads Trump in the popular vote by a margin of more than 2.6 million, or 2 percent of the national vote. In California, voters preferred Clinton by a whopping margin of 30 percent. Let’s assume that split remained the same but all eligible voters in California cast ballots. That would adds another 3.2 million to her national margin over Trump, bringing it up to 5.8 million, or 4 percent of the popular vote. Then conduct the same calculation with New York. Then add in New Jersey, Illinois, Colorado and others.

Indeed, the lower overall turnout in this last election came in the Clinton states, where the outcome was assured. The focus on “battleground” states has a tendency—among Democrats especially—to hold down the votes in the “safe” states, as the safe GOP states can compensate for lower turnout among their voters by scaring off the Democrats.

Why would this growing disparity lead to an end to the Electoral College? It might not. But, to quote Lincoln again, it would create a house divided. With a right-of-center Supreme Court, the GOP will have license to go on scaring off minority race and low-income voters. The best way to fight this, since legal challenges will be less effective, is to do the opposite in Democratic states: rather than shrink the electorate, massively expand it.

Instead of trying to bridge the divide in our country, in other words, the Democrats should now widen it. Rather than trying to overcome our differences, we should accentuate them. Lincoln’s main point in the 1859 “house divided” speech was that the house could not stay divided. Only one version of America would survive.

With compulsory voting, the American “house” would be even more divided in the midterms, in which voter turnouts are now so low. In one half of the country, 95 percent or more of the electorate would vote, and in the other, the rate would continue on at 37 percent, or even lower. How long could the republic survive with such two different systems?

Some claim that compulsory voting would violate the First Amendment. But if that is true, then it would be unlawful to require jury duty. Yet we compel people serve on juries, and to render life-and-death verdicts.

Who are the non-voters? Overwhelmingly, they are young people, the poor and Hispanics. As the country becomes younger and more diverse, the GOP has every incentive to hold down the vote, while the Democrats have every reason to expand it, and to back the GOP into a corner.

Compulsory voting in some states—but not in others—is an existential threat to the Electoral College. It will become too difficult to install a future Bush, or a Trump, who loses not just by one or two million but by 10 or more million votes.

There would be other advantages as well. Unregistered voters are very left-leaning, especially on economic issues. Within the states that pass this, we would see a shift leftward. In addition, districting–which is to say, gerrymandering–relies on certain levels of turnout. For a few cycles at least, districts would become more competitive.

If Republican states decided they had to do this to retain legitimacy, this would weaken their hold in Congress as well as state and local governments.

If Republicans are going to use denying the franchise as a tactic, let’s make massively expanding it a Democratic strategy.

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3 Responses to One Way To End The Electoral College

  1. Net Denizen says:

    I’ve said for years — ever since I first learned of Australia’s compulsory voting laws in the 1990s — that the US version of requiring people to participate would be tax cuts for voters. Gets at the heart of anti-tax sentiment that (supposedly) most Americans hold and fills in the checkbox for “how do we get more people involved in the process?” The only other thing to go along with this would be making Election Day a national holiday. Every year, we should have the 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November as a paid vacation day, no exceptions.

  2. kaleberg says:

    The Republicans are essentially fascist. Why would they even care in the slightest about matters of legitimacy? They only care about power.

  3. Bern says:

    Small point: Trump did in fact get 10 million fewer votes than the combined votes of his competitors…

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