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Joan Fitz-Gerald Headshot

Counting the Votes for President

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Recent attempts by GOP controlled legislatures to tie electoral votes to performance in gerrymandered congressional districts might lead one to believe that they feel they have an obligation to fix an antiquated system and have it reflect the will of the voters more accurately.

If the concern was real and not solely focused on a somewhat predetermined outcome, then modernization and an accurate reflection of the will of every voter ought to be the aim. There is an idea that is slowly working its way through state legislative chambers to modernize the centuries-old use of Electoral College and go to a more direct election of the president. The National Popular Vote movement would not become the law of the land until states that total 270 electoral votes adopt it into law. The reform has garnered 132 electoral votes (eight states). The states that have already adopted it through their legislatures are small (Vermont), medium (New Jersey) and large (California) among others. Every vote for president would count whether you lived in a swing state or a solidly red or blue state. It might even reduce the constant television ads that battleground state citizen have had to endure. The way it would work is simple -- regardless of which candidate wins the popular vote in a given state, if that state were to be part of the National Popular Vote movement, it would allocate all of its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote count. If enough states pass the bill (totaling 270 electoral votes among them) it wouldn't matter how other states allocate their electoral votes because 270 electoral votes would be cast for the national popular vote winner, making that candidate the President-elect.

When the framers of the Constitution were trying to decide the method by which a chief executive would be elected one of the reasons for rejecting a direct election method was that there was not a way for voters from one state to get enough information about a candidate from another state. This may have been valid when the nation's population was four million, but in an information age of multi-media, it long ago ceased to make sense.

Looking at National Popular Vote in contrast to the new machinations around the Electoral College we see a stark contrast in the importance of the individual's vote. Using already-gerrymandered Congressional Districts guarantees that the will of the voter can be thwarted by how packed they are into a Congressional district heavily weighted toward an opposing political party. It certainly reduces the enthusiasm and rationale for casting a vote for president. The idea now surfacing as a substitute for using gerrymandered congressional districts to allocate votes would be to still use the Electoral College but to proportionately give those votes to candidates according to the statewide vote. If all states utilized this mechanism, it might be a fair representation of the will of the people, but it's only being discussed in Republican-controlled states where President Obama won in 2012. Hence, some commentators are calling this bill the "sour grapes" plan.

The bottom line is that the presidential election is a national election. While the constitution affords states the right to allocate electoral votes as they see fit, we should be able to trust our elected officials (who work for us) to work towards a system of elections that represents the will of the people. Unlike utilizing partisan gerrymandered maps or an entirely mismatched way of allocating votes depending on the state, a national popular vote system makes some sense if fairness and equal representation is what we're striving for. It's time for a national conversation about fairness and transparency in the way we elect our president.