Commentary: Votes for the candidate, not the electors

By Frances McIntyre, Director of Advocacy – League of Women Voters of the Austin Area
Published in November 9, 2016 Austin American-Statesman.

What a crazy election year! Do you feel like your vote counted, or was it lost in the morass of the Electoral College? Well, maybe it was.

The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The Founding Fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

The Electoral College allows a state as many “electors” as they have representatives in Congress (senators and representatives). Choosing each state’s electors is a twopart process. First, the political parties in each state choose slates of potential electors sometime before the general election. Second, on Election Day, the voters in each state select their state’s electors by casting their ballots for president. You help choose your state’s electors when you vote for president because when you vote for your candidate, you are actually voting for your candidate’s electors.

There are a total of 538 electors in the United States, 38 in Texas. It takes 270 electoral votes to win. That is how many people really vote on the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Most states, including Texas, have a “winnertakesall” system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate. Whoever has the most popular votes on the day of the election will determine how Texas’ 38 votes are cast.

Since the 1970s, the League of Women Voters has supported direct election by popular vote of the president and vice president as essential to representative government. The League testified and lobbied for legislation to amend the Constitution to replace the Electoral College with direct election of the president, including provisions for a national runoff election in the event no candidates (president or vice president) received 40 percent of the vote. The measure, which passed the House and nearly passed the Senate in 1971, has been revived in each Congress since without success. In 1997, the League of Women Voters again called for abolition of the Electoral College and for direct election of the president and vice president in testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution.

The League also rejects the voting by electors based on proportional representation.

The proportional representation would be even worse than the “winnertakesall” method such as the one in Texas. An example of proportional representation might be a split popular vote where if 30 percent support a particular political party, roughly 30 percent of the seats would go to that party. Proportional voting would increase the chance that no candidate would receive a majority in the Electoral College, thereby sending the election of the president to the House of Representatives where each state, regardless of population, would receive only one vote. Election of the president by the House of Representatives — as addressed in the informational commentary “This presidential election could be decided by Congress” by University of Texas professor Steve Bickerstaff — further removes the decision from the people and is contrary to the “one person, one vote” principle. We also do not support reform of the Electoral College on a statebystate basis because the League believes there should be uniformity across the nation in the systems used to elect the president.

The League believes strongly that the Electoral College should be abolished and not merely “reformed.” The Constitutional
amendment effort to achieve this goal will take more than a village to start the ball rolling. The League offers a substitution called the
National Popular Vote proposal, while the constitutional amendment is underway.

Don’t stand by and allow Congress, who have all profited from the Electoral College system, continue to maintain the status quo. Travis County and surrounding counties have had unprecedented numbers of newly registered and voting citizens. We should implore those voters to begin demanding a system that better represents the voting public. Voters should voice their interests in this change to our existing U.S. and Texas senators and representatives. They should also consider choosing only state senators and representatives in the 2018 elections who pledge support of the system improvement. Let’s start the conversation!

Wouldn’t it be great to see your vote go directly to the candidate you vote for and not to an elector?

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