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3 Ways to Bypass the Electoral College

How to Dump America's Wacky System of Electing Presidents

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Electoral College vote counting ceremony

This is a scene from an Electoral College vote counting ceremony.

Getty Images/News

Is there a more maligned institution in American politics than the Electoral College?

Call it what you will - esoteric, archaic, confounding (yep, we're talking about the 2000 election, Democrats). There's no doubt that most Americans find their system of electing presidents downright confusing and silly. The proof can be found in opinion poll after opinion poll.

So why do we do it? Why does the Electoral College system even exist? Why is it possible that the winner of the popular vote can actually lose the presidential race, as Al Gore did in 2000? A little thing called the U.S. Constitution, that's why.

But take heart, cynics. There are ways to shake up the Electoral College, to change the way we decide presidential elections to better reflect the will of the people. And doing so wouldn't break any of the rules set forth by our Founding Fathers.

The truth is that while the U.S. Constitution requires states to appoint electors, the document is silent on how they actually award votes in presidential elections. In other words, there are ways to bypass the Electoral College.

Here are three ways in use or under consideration in the United States:

1. National Popular Vote

What it is: The National Popular Vote movement would guarantee the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., a victory in presidential contests regardless of how many electoral votes they won. Forty-eight of the 50 states now award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who gets the highest vote count in their states.

Status: Proposed.

Who's behind it: Eights states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation requiring their electoral votes be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote. The proposal can go into effect only if states accounting for 270 or more electoral votes agree to the system. The states who have agreed hold 132 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidential race. They are:

  • California, with 55 electoral votes;
  • Illinois, with 20 electoral votes;
  • New Jersey, with 14 electoral votes;
  • Washington, with 12 electoral votes;
  • Massachusetts, with 11 electoral votes;
  • Maryland, with 10 electoral votes;
  • Hawaii, with 4 electoral votes;
  • Vermont, with 3 electoral votes;
  • and Washington, D.C., with 3 electoral votes.

Pros: Supporters of the National Popular Vote movement believe that the presidency should never be won by a candidate who has lost the popular vote, and that their system would ensure such a thing never happens again. They also argue that the Electoral College system puts too much emphasis on large swing states, thereby negating smaller states with fewer electoral votes. They see the National Popular Vote movement as an equalizer.

Cons: Critics of the National Popular Vote proposal claim it would discourage candidates from campaigning and paying attention to sparsely population regions of the country, thereby neglecting the problems of rural America while focusing too intently on densely populated cities and urban issues.

2. The Nebraska Plan

What it is: Awarding electoral votes by the vote tally in each congressional district instead of winner-take-all across the state.

Status: In effect in two states, Nebraska and Maine, and under consideration in Pennsylvania.

Who's behind it: Activists and legislators in states that have been won by Democrats and are frustrated that their votes for Republican candidates have essentially gone uncounted.

Pros: Supporters say it would reflect the will of the voters more accurately than the winner-take-all approach.

Cons: Critics believe that because the electoral prize would be much smaller the Nebraska plan would diminish the influence of their states and force candidates to campaign only in congressional districts that are competitive. Another negative side effect could be further gerrymandering of congressional districts to make them less competitive for House members and more reliable to presidential candidates.

3. Proportional Vote

What it is: Awarding electoral votes proportional to the popular vote in a state. In other words, a candidate who won 60 percent of the popular vote in a state with 10 electoral votes would receive 6 electoral votes. The move would have an effect similar to the National Popular Vote initiative.

Status: Not in effect.

Who's behind it: Activists and pundits who see the method as a middle ground between the Nebraska plan and the National Popular Vote movement.

Pros: Supporters say it would reflect the will of the voters more accurately than the winner-take-all approach.

Cons: Critics believe it would diminish the influence of their states and force candidates to campaign only in densely populated areas such as cities and ignore rural areas.

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