Republican Party Platform Supports Fixing the Electoral College!

Sorry, that headline, although accurate, is a bit outdated. The Republican Platform called for reforming the electoral college three times:

  • 1948: “We favor a revision of the procedure for the election of the President and Vice President which will more exactly reflect the popular vote.”
  • 1960: “We favor a change in the Electoral College system to give every voter a fair voice in presidential elections.”
  • 1968:  “we propose to reform the electoral college system, establish a nation-wide, uniform voting period for Presidential elections, and recommend that the states remove unreasonable requirements, residence and otherwise, for voting in Presidential elections.”

In 1948, Strom Thurmond ran for President as the candidate of the States Rights Democratic Party, with an explicit strategy of depriving any candidate of winning a majority in the electoral college, thus sending the decision to the House of Representatives, voting by state, where Southern Democrats could extract concessions in exchange for votes. The “Dixiecrats” won four states and 39 electoral votes, but not enough to deprive Truman of a majority.

In the 1968 election, George Wallace, running as a candidate of the American Independent Party, repeated the 1948 Dixiecrat strategy. He won five states and 46 electoral votes. However, Nixon won a majority of electoral votes. The concern about “throwing” the election to the House of Representatives was one factor that led the House in 1969 to approve a constitutional amendment for direct election of the president. However, Southern Democrats in the Senate filibustered the measure in 1970 and it was never taken up again.


Ten years ago, an effort was launched to change the method of awarding electors by state so that it reflects the national popular vote, by the use of an interstate compact. This initiative has been adopted by 11 states to date, but so far only by states where Democrats are in control (with the exception of the New York Senate).

The 2016 Republican Platform shows that today’s Republicans (unlike those of 1948, 1960, and 1968), are unalterably opposed to changing the current undemocratic system of presidential election:

We oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College. An unconstitutional effort to impose National Popular Vote would be a grave threat to our federal system and a guarantee of corruption, as every ballot box in every state would offer a chance to steal the presidency. We urge state legislatures that have voted for this proposal to rescind their approval.

This plank is virtually identical to one included in 2012 platform, except that the last sentence is new. The charge that the proposal is unconstitutional is clearly false. So is the charge that it alters the federal system: the Constitution permits the states to use any method they chose to select electors, and at least a half dozen different methods have been used historically. The corruption argument is exceedingly weak — and possibly an admission that the votes of most people don’t actually count, except for those in the few “swing” states.

The 1972 Democratic Party platform called for a direct vote for president:

We favor a Constitutional change to abolish the Electoral College and to give every voter a direct and equal voice in Presidential elections. The amendment should provide for a run-off election, if no candidate received more than 40 percent of the popular vote.

However the recommendation was dropped in 1976 and has yet to make a reappearance. The 2016 platform has language about voting rights but nothing about the manner of electing the president.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is currently the best shot at achieving a more democratic method of presidential election. It has been approved by 11 states with 165 electoral votes and needs to get the support of states with 105 more electoral votes in order to go into effect. By contrast, a constitutional amendment would require the approval of 38 states, which is highly unlikely considering the extent of Republican control of state governments and their opposition to direct election. In other words, the rejection by either of the two chambers of the legislature in just 12 states would be sufficient to kill a constitutional amendment.

The only states with Democratic control of both houses of the legislature that have not already adopted the NPVIC are Oregon, Connecticut, and Delaware, representing an additional 17 electoral votes: far short of the 105 needed to reach a total of 270. Several other legislative chambers have adopted the NPVIC, including a few controlled by Republicans. But it appears that the NPVIC is stalled, given Republican opposition. However, 21 states that have not yet adopted the NPVIC give voters the power to pass legislation by ballot initiative. Thus it is in theory possible to adopt the NPVIC without the support of recalcitrant legislatures. For example, success in the three Democratic-controlled states mentioned above plus Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio and Washington (all of which permit ballot initiatives and voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2012) would provide the needed remaining votes for NPVIC to become effective, even with no other other states joining the compact. However, in most states it is difficult to get on the ballot, and it is not a sure thing that the NPVIC would win, despite polls showing that 60% to 80% of voters support direct election of the president.

Even without the proposed interstate compact,  a future Democratic Party majority (President, Senate, House) could include presidential election rules within the mandate of my proposed Federal Elections Agency. Although the states have plenary authority to determine the manner of selecting electors, if they decide to have them selected by popular election, Federal rules would apply for voter registration, election administration, and ballot access, in order to guarantee a nationally uniform system, and as, arguably, required by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Federal Elections Agency could require that states use ranked choice voting for determining the winner of the state’s electoral votes. Ranked choice voting (instant runoff) would eliminate the possibility of additional candidates thwarting the will of the majority (such as Ralph Nader in 2000).

The proposed Agency most likely could not require states to allocate electors in proportion to the votes received, since even a Supreme Court with a Democratic majority would probably conclude that the states have the exclusive authority to decide how to allocate electors. Moreover, proportional allocation would dramatically increase the likelihood that elections would be decided by the House of Representatives. (On the other hand, if this ever happens again — and it has not since 1824 — it is likely that we would finally adopt a constitutional amendment to change the system.)

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