Republican legislators in at least a half-dozen states are being branded as sore losers as they promote change in the way American presidents are elected, but the critics needn’t worry. The U.S. Electoral College website says it’s been tried over 700 times over the past 200 years, and nothing has changed.
The system this country uses to elect presidents is confusing at best, but it’s what the framers of our Constitution wanted. They didn’t create the Electoral College, but they did decide citizens they called electors would pick our presidents. It was a compromise between those who wanted them to be elected by popular vote and those who wanted Congress to select our commanders-in-chief.
President Obama, the Democratic Party nominee, won the 2012 election by a comfortable margin, getting 65.9 million popular votes to 60.9 million for Republican Mitt Romney. The president got 332 electoral votes to 206 for Romney.
The monkey wrench in the minds of many voters is the fact the candidate who gets the most votes in 48 of the 50 states gets all of its electoral votes. The number of electors in each state is determined by the number of members it has in the U.S. House and Senate. Louisiana, for example, has eight electors — six for its House members and two for its two senators.
States have a free hand when it comes to determining how its electoral votes are awarded, but only two have parted ways with the other 48. Maine and Nebraska each give two electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote and the rest are awarded based on who won in each of their congressional districts.
Republicans in those states that would like to join Maine and Nebraska believe Romney would have won the election if electoral votes were awarded by congressional districts. Those states are Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Democrats, as you would expect, are furious about proposals to change the electoral system. The Associated Press last month quoted Pennsylvania Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach on the issue.
“It is difficult to find the words to describe just how evil this plan is,” Leach said. “It is an obscene scheme to cheat by rigging the election.”
Leach obviously doesn’t remember or doesn’t want to recall that Democrats have made similar proposals over the last decade, according to the Washington Post. Those plans didn’t go anywhere, either.
What is surprising in all of this is the fact voters have consistently said they favor abolishing the Electoral College system. Public opinion polls have shown the percentage who favor change has grown from 58 percent in 1967 to as high as 81 percent in 1968.
Although there are a number of Republicans who want to change the system, some of the key figures in the party disagree. Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, is one example.
“The Electoral College has served the country well,” Villere told the AP. “This is coming from states where it might be an advantage, but I’m worried about what it means down the road. This is a system that has worked. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about changes, but we have to be very careful about any actions we might take.”
Louisiana legislators obviously agree. They refused at last year’s session to approve a bill that would have led to electing the president by popular vote, and the state House vote wasn’t even close — 29 for and 64 against.
Eight states have approved the plan that would require their electoral votes be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote in the 50 states and in Washington, D.C. However, they only account for 132 of the 270 electoral votes that would be necessary to change the presidential election system. They are California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Two other plans have also been suggested. One called the Nebraska Plan would follow the pattern set by that state and Maine. Electoral votes would be awarded based on how well a candidate did in each congressional district.
The second plan is called a Proportional Vote. Electoral votes would be awarded based on the percentage a candidate received in a particular state. About.com says if a candidate received 60 percent of the vote in a state with 10 electoral votes, he would receive 6 electoral votes.
Each of the proposed changes has its pluses and minuses. What worries most critics is the fact basing electoral votes on popular votes would probably lead to candidates concentrating all of their efforts in heavily populated states. Rural areas of the country would be left out in the cold.
Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, agrees with Villere that the current system should be retained. He told Politico he’s a traditionalist who likes things the way they are.
If conservative GOP officials in Louisiana and Mississippi don’t want to change the current system for electing our presidents, you know it isn’t likely to happen.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].