As another thought experiment for our one-day-only, day-long Festival of Election Eve Dispatches™, here is a proposal for what Barack Obama should say tomorrow night if the Electoral College projections hold up and he gets more than 270 votes -- but Mitt Romney rolls up big enough margins elsewhere to win the popular vote.
I am a charter member of the "let's get rid of the Electoral College" movement, in keeping with the rationale laid out in loving detail at this National Popular Vote site. There are many reasons to wish that 60 or 70 thousand votes had gone the other way in Ohio in 2004, but among them is that it would have made resistance to the Electoral College a potentially bi-partisan issue. In 2000, the Electoral College (along with a lot of other factors) was rigged against Al Gore and the Democrats; in 2004, a shift in Ohio would have left George W. Bush with the popular-vote lead, but made John Kerry the president.
If it happened again this time? A reader tells us about that scenario:
If Obama loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College (as seems at least somewhat probable), conservatives will predictably howl that his is an illegitimate presidency, bereft of mandate (as a friend of mine said, they didn't even think he was legitimate when he won with 53% of the popular vote).
But here's how the President could turn that consternation on its head: On the first day after a split-vote re-election, he could call a press conference and say (essentially) "Look, we all played by the same rules, and I won fair and square. However, I also think the Electoral College is well past its due date. It's an archaic relic of an era when leaders weren't sure if people could handle self-government by themselves. I think we know better now. So, tomorrow I am calling on the Congress to immediately take up a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College."
This would do three things:
My guess is that for these very reasons, Republicans would be loath to abolish the Electoral College. And if they don't act to pass a Popular Vote amendment, President Obama will have called their bluff.
- It would neutralize the "he didn't really win" argument. If conservatives are so upset about losing the Electoral College vote, they can stop whining and do something.
- If such an amendment passed, it would move the elections from carry-the-state, winner-takes-all affairs in a handful of key states to campaigns to maximize votes in people-dense cities and suburbs nationwide. Democrats would start campaigning in places like Austin, TX and my hometown of Louisville, KY; Republicans would go to Orange County, CA and Dallas, TX. Overall, I think, a more urban electorate would tend to benefit Democrats.
- Taking the election national might do a lot to increase voter turnout. If the campaigns have to make a play for voters in population centers everywhere, people who thought their votes didn't matter might be more likely to get to the polls.
Meta-point: a truly remarkable aspect of this campaign is that neither side has spent any time dealing with the procedural issues whose importance we've been reminded of through the past four years. The Supreme Court (four of whose members are in their seventies). The %*%$&(* recent abuse of the filibuster. Gerrymandering and obstructionism in general -- and the overall breakdown of our machinery of democracy. This item is a reminder of the kind of thing we might talk about, if we were talking about this kind of thing.
More ahead. (The Festival™ runs until around the time the Dixville Notch votes start coming in.)