There’s been a lot of talk about moving to a popular vote for electing the president of the United States in the wake of Republican Donald Trump’s winning a solid electoral vote majority but losing the popular vote plurality to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump received 304 electoral votes and nearly 63 million popular votes versus Clinton’s 227 electoral votes and nearly 66 million popular votes. To be precise, there was a difference of 2,865,075 votes in Clinton’s favor, according to the respected David Liep’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Clinton took 48.04 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 45.95 percent. Neither had a majority since other candidates garnered the balance of the votes.
Of course, this isn’t the first time in our history that a president was elected without receiving a plurality of the votes — the most recent being George W. Bush’s election in 2000 with a half-million votes less than Al Gore. Previous winners in this category were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.
And the move to elect the president by popular vote is not new.
For years, attempts have been made to do this through proposals in Congress to amend the federal Constitution. These efforts have been consolidated in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact which would base a state’s electoral votes on the national popular vote.
In Georgia, Republican and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly introduced legislation in the 2016 session to make this state a member of the popular vote compact. Sponsoring the bill in the House was Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, with House minority leader Rep. Stacy Abrams, D-Atlanta, signing on as No. 2 sponsor.
In the Senate, president pro tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, introduced the legislation, with minority leader Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, the second sponsor.
Ehrhart’s bill got out of committee but was not called up for a vote on the floor, while the Senate bill did not even get out of committee.
That tells the story of underwhelming support for the popular vote effort — especially in view of Republican Trump’s victory without a plurality of the popular vote nationally and his winning Georgia with 51 percent, racking up huge majorities of 70 percent and more in some Republican counties. On that point, 11th District Republicans recently passed a resolution opposing the popular vote proposal, declaring that it “undermines the doctrine of federalism.”
The popular vote compact has managed to attract support from only 10 Democratic states and the District of Columbia with 165 electoral votes. These states include the first and third largest states, California and New York, plus Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — all outside the South where state rights have historically been a priority in keeping with the Tenth Amendment.
In Rome and Floyd County, Republican lawmakers don’t expect the popular vote initiative will be resurrected in the 2017 legislative session.
As state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler of Rome put it: “Due to the circumstances of this election, I think people would be less likely to look at that now.”
Rep. Eddie Lumsden of Armuchee zeroed in on the foundational reason for the electoral college, saying he thinks “the framers of the Constitution didn’t trust a direct democracy. We are a democratic republic.”
And Rep. Katie Dempsey of Rome, while noting her constituents were about evenly divided on the issue, observed: “Right now I feel we need to abide by the Constitution as written…”
That is the proper approach, in our view.
The founders of our republic ingeniously devised the electoral college for a number of reasons and prominent among them was the concept of federalism, the sharing of powers between the national government and the states which preceded that government.
As the Constitution provides in Article X of the Bill of Rights: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The electoral college, which opponents see as outmoded and unfair, preserves a vital feature of federalism and in the process prevents the most heavily populated states from controlling presidential elections. And that’s as it should be.