2019 | Week of August 12 | #1321
This commentary is dedicated to the proposition that what we don’t know really can hurt us.
So what do you know about the Electoral College, the brilliant provision contained in Article 2, Section 1 and in the 12th Amendment to our US Constitution? This means by which we elect a president and vice-president protects federalism, the important concept of sovereign states united by a federal government.
Electing a president by national popular vote utterly destroys federalism. When states lose significance and power, we all lose because we begin functioning much more like a democracy than a republic.
The Electoral College law requires that each state gets a certain number of electoral votes. That number is determined by the number of members of the US House of Representatives that a state has, which is determined by population, and the number of US Senators each state has, which is set at two for every state. Wisconsin currently has 8 members of the US House of Representatives and our two US Senators; so we have 10 electoral votes. The House of Representatives is presently limited by law to 435 members, and the Senate, of course, has 100 members, totaling 535 electoral votes.
However, the actual number of total electoral votes is 538. Since the early ‘60s the District of Columbia has had the same number of electoral votes as the least populated state, Wyoming, which has just 3 electoral votes. Adding D.C’s 3 to the 535 gives us a total of 538 electoral votes.
Since to win the presidency, the candidate must have more than 50% of the electoral votes, the magic number is 270 electoral votes, one more than 50% of the 538 votes available, to claim victory.
In Wisconsin the parties choose their electors for each presidential election. The parties can do that any way they want. Generally, it’s done by a vote at the parties’ annual conventions. Nothing in the law or the constitution requires that the electors vote for the candidate that wins that state’s popular vote, but it is understood that will happen. The reality is that when we cast our vote for a presidential candidate in 2020, we will be voting for a slate of electors selected by the party that candidate represents and will be assuming those electors will follow the protocol.
Most states have a “winner-take-all” approach to allocating the electoral votes, meaning all the electoral votes go to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state. Only 2 states depart from that, Nebraska and Maine, and they divvy up their votes based on the popular vote and how the vote goes in the various congressional districts. What this means is every presidential election is really a state-level election done in all 50 states—and that retains state sovereignty and federalism.
When the electors gather in their respective states to vote in early December following a presidential election, they cast two votes—one for president and one for vice-president. The Constitution lays out a clear path for handling situations where there is no majority or a tie—provisions that involve the US House and the Senate.
I believe this system works and needs to remain. But efforts are aggressively underway to do away with the Electoral College. The National Popular Vote Compact movement is trying right now to get enough states to change how they allocate their electoral votes to force a change in the national electoral college. What those pushing for this want is for each state to give its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote, not who wins the popular vote in that state. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote, not Donald Trump. However, Trump won in Wisconsin and got our state’s 10 electoral votes. Under the National Popular Vote Compact, our 10 votes would have gone to Clinton.
In order for this significant change to go into effect, enough states must vote to join the compact to bring the number of electoral votes to 270. Currently 15 states and the District of Columbia, have joined the compact, with a total of 196 electoral votes. Legislation to have Wisconsin join the compact has been introduced this session. The bill has gone nowhere to date, reminding us that elections really do have consequences and that what we don’t know, really can hurt us.
For more information on how you can support the work of Wisconsin Family Council, call us at 888-378-7395 or visit us online at wifamilycouncil.org.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”