Here’s How to Make Sure the Popular Vote Always Elects America’s President

The Electoral College system is anachronistic, disillusioning, and unpopular. Here’s a better plan. 


Many in the American public are reeling due to the fact that Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the last presidential election because of the Electoral College. They are reminded of the 2000 debacle. Petitions are floating around to get rid of the Electoral College altogether, or to have them put Hilary in the Oval Office, either of which is unlikely. So what happened to American democracy? The answer is, what democracy?  

The founding fathers called democracy “mobocracy.” Instead, the US is a Republic or representative form of government. It was feared at the writing of the Constitution that a demagogue could easily sway an uneducated populous, take over the country, and establish a new monarchy or a dictatorship. It’s important to note that most of the people in the country at the time were uneducated and illiterate.

Today, the high school graduation rate is the highest it’s ever been, 80%. The literacy rate is 86%. And 40% of Americans of working age have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Not only is the populous ready for a more democratic system, many believe we should embrace the type of government we espouse abroad. But there are problems concerning the Electoral College. How it works is, each state gets a certain number of votes, related to population. Electors are selected on the number of Senators and House Representatives a state has. 538 is the total number of electors today. A candidate must secure 270 in order to become president.

In this way, those living in more rural states with smaller populations are given more of a voice. When the Constitution was written, it was feared that the voices of these states would be drowned out by bigger ones with a higher population. Today, candidates spend most of their time in swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. This leaves large swaths of the US electorate largely ignored.

Electoral votes being counted in Congress. Many argue the system is anachronistic.

Some critics argue that the Electoral College seems to favor Republicans, and their main constituency, older, white, rural, conservative voters. That of course is up for debate. Even so, the Electoral College remains wildly unpopular, with a recent Gallup poll finding 66% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans calling to abolish the institution. What’s funny is Trump himself once spoke out against it tweeting, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”

Be that as it may, it still plays a role. According to The New York Times, the system helps avoid a recount, which would be difficult and expensive in close races. It would also be hard to jettison. Though malleable, the Constitution is difficult to change. To eliminate the Electoral College altogether, a two-thirds vote would have to pass Congress and 38 states, which is highly unlikely.

The fact that the popular vote doesn’t put a president in the White House is causing many to lose faith in the system, as the wave of protests across the country have demonstrated. The Electoral College may be unpopular and anachronistic, but it seems that we’re stuck with it. This has political scientists, Constitutional lawyers, and others scratching their head. At a time when America should be coming together, it is instead more deeply polarized.

So how can we make the people’s vote count in a democratic and pragmatic fashion? A workaround has been drawn up. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), is a measure that would ensure that the popular vote puts a candidate into the White House. The idea is to get enough electors to agree to vote the way the popular vote goes across the nation, rather than in their own particular state. The compact needs to get 270 electors onboard, the number required to secure the presidency.

Protests in cities across the US after Trump was elected energized the debate surrounding the Electoral College.  

Say New Jersey is our focus and its electors have signed on. In this scenario, they can award their votes to their state’s winner, rather than the national winner, up until 270 electoral votes is reached. Once that occurs, those electors who pledged to the NPVIC, would have to give their votes to the national winner of the popular vote, even if it counters how their state voted. For instance, George W. Bush would have secured New Jersey’s electoral votes in 2004, a solidly blue state, if it operated under this system. This can only happen after enough electors have signed on.

Surprisingly, it’s gotten backing from both Republicans and Democrats, as the measure is thought to help restore some faith in the system. 11 states and Washington D.C. have signed on already, securing 165 electors thus far. One advantage is that Congress is kept out of the matter. Another is that this plan would give individual votes more weight, allowing voters to feel that their vote mattered.

There are a few hang ups however, including the fact that those swing states wield a lot of power under the current system, and might not want to give it up. Another is that a deeply red state may have to go blue in a tight race or vice-versa. The immediate aftermath of this election is the perfect time to contact one’s representative and show support for the NPVIC. If a tidal wave of voters showed support, it might see the plan implemented. Otherwise, it’s likely that this initiative will lose steam and fade away.

A recent ATTN post covered a series of tweets from former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth, about the best way to contact one’s Senator or House Representative. She worked as a staffer for six years, serving under Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). Ellsworth said that contact through social media was largely ineffective.

A letter to the district office made more of an impact. But it is impossible to read all the letters, and many of the emails get batched and scanned, then evaluated by an algorithm. The best way to get a Senator or House Representative’s attention is to call their district or state office. If you are American and feel strongly about this, find your representative’s contact information here: Contacting state officials is worthwhile too, since states establish their own election laws. You can find state representatives through the aforementioned link as well. Tell them you support the NPVIC. 

To learn more about the initiative click here: 

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.