Inquirer Editorial: Best way to elect presidents

New idea bad for Pennsylvania

Posted: September 18, 2011

In pushing to award Pennsylvania's presidential electoral votes by congressional district rather than the current winner-take-all system, Republican leaders in Harrisburg are headed in the wrong direction.

They should be moving to rid the country altogether of the archaic Electoral College, which allows the loser of the national popular vote to become president. Instead, state Republicans are trying to rig the nation's antiquated election system to their advantage. They want to guarantee their candidate gets at least some electoral votes from a state their party has failed to win in the last five elections.

Americans like to think we live in a democracy - one person, one-vote; the majority rules - but come time to elect a president, we don't. Thanks to the Electoral College, four times in our history the loser of the popular vote has become president.

Since the Republican Party emerged in the mid-1800s, the Electoral College has produced that perverse outcome three times - and all three of the winners were Republicans. So maybe it's no surprise that it is Republicans in Harrisburg who are so eager to manipulate the Electoral College to their party's favor. Notice that there is no comparable move to award electoral votes by congressional district in Texas, a reliably Republican state in presidential elections.

Pushing this one-party power grab is state Senate Majority Leadder Dominic Pileggi, who says he is merely "making sure that individual voters have a say in who the president is." That's a right and proper goal, but the way to do it is to support electing the president by a majority vote of the people, not by investing even more power in the colonial-era anachronism known as the Electoral College.

Few Americans realize what a fundamentally antidemocratic institution the Electoral College is. Nothing in the Constitution, for example, prevents those appointed to the Electoral College from casting their electoral votes for whomever they darn please, regardless of what voters in their home state decided. That has happened 11 times in the nation's history.

Under the rules that Pennsylvania and New Jersey use to pick members of the Electoral College, it's still perfectly legal today.

Nine other states have realized this antidemocratic, jerry-rigged system of picking the president has long outlived its usefulness. They have signed on to a plan that would elect the president by majority vote. Those states, which include California, have made a binding pledge to award all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the nation's popular vote. However, the pledge doesn't take effect until states representing a majority of the Electoral College, 270, agree to the same arrangement. It's perfectly legal, because it will be done through a well-established, legally enforceable mechanism known as a multistate compact.

The Electoral College is a relic of a distant era, a throwback to earlier times in America, when only white men with property could vote and slavery was still legal. No country can call itself a true democracy when the candidate chosen by the most voters doesn't win the nation's highest office.

Pileggi has suggested that his proposal somehow addresses "the disconnect between the popular vote and the Electoral College." There's a disconnect all right, and the cure for it is simple: Elect the president by majority vote.

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