How to fix the Electoral College and not have to amend the Constitution

For the past several days, the huge topic in the Twittersphere (at least the precinct that I hang out in) has been getting Ron Paul, Gary Johnson and Virgil Goode voters to shift over to voting for Romney this November. The argument is that a vote for either of those men will be a defacto vote for Barack Obama.

One need look no further than the Ross Perot vote in 1992 to realize that Ross Perot gave us Bill Clinton for eight years. That is a fact.

Americans are typically not sell-outs (don't get me started about Middle Eastern foreign policy.) As a rule, we make up our minds and stick with it through thick and thin. How else can you explain unwavering devotion to the Chicago Cubs?

Along comes a primary season before a Presidential election. Your guy gets in there and mixes it up with the other candidates, the weak ones drop early, but the strong ones hang on, often staying in the race until the convention. At the convention the eventual winner is anointed, usually with votes from previous opponents who have thrown their support behind him, but sometimes (like Dr. Paul), the losing candidate keeps his delegates because he just cannot support the winner.

In a worst case scenario, there is so much animus between the winner and the vanquished, that the vanquished embarks upon a Quixotic idea of running as a third (or fourth, or fifth...) party candidate.

So, here we are, a mere 40-some days before the big election. Obama and Romney are neck and neck in the Electoral College competition and all of their focus is on the 6-10 states that are in play. Romney clearly needs the Libertarian and Disgruntled Republican vote. The Ls and the DRs desperately want their candidate to win, but know that he has no chance. But, like Chicagoans rooting for the Cubbies, they cannot bring themselves to root for a team that can win and they stick with their losers.

Unlike the desire for the Cubs to win the World Series, this election has monumental consequences. We know that a Romney win would fit much better with the Ls and the DRs than an unrestricted second term for Obama, but if they all vote for Romney, how will the world know that they really wanted Gary Johnson or Ron Paul?


This one is actually pretty simple and does not involve a Constitutional amendment. Simply put, allow on-ballot, secondary party candidates to be able to cede their votes to a specific candidate.

This is how it is done in the primaries. A Newt Gingrich can hold out until the convention and then he can release his delegates to vote for the presumed winner, usually with some sort of quid-pro-quo from the winner. The rules are set by the parties themselves and oftentimes change from year to year, but a rule is a rule.

Because states set their own rules for electing electors (remember, currently some states have winner takes all, some states have proportional voting and at least one votes by congressional district), the states can make this change easily. These disgruntled parties (DPs) can get on the ballot in each state, but by a finite point in time, say, two weeks before the election, they must elect to keep their votes or cede them to a specific candidate.

This accomplishes several things. First, it allows the DPs to be on the ballot and it allows their numbers to be counted. It gives proud Americans the ability to vote their conscience while at the same time not feeling like they have wasted their vote. It leaves the DP candidate with a modicum of his dignity. It also acts as a barometer to show the winning candidate from what aspect the people really want to be governed.

Let's say that Ron Paul is on the ballot, but he has ceded his votes to Romney. There could be 10-20% of the electorate that agree more with him than with Obama or Romney. If he gets this big of a count, it can have a huge impact on how the winner governs because he will realize that he is leading a coalition, not a monolithic mandate based on his platform alone.

One option that I would stipulate if I were the states is that if a candidate cedes his votes, but ends up getting a majority, he would get to keep his votes.

I know, I know, there are a lot of "but what if..." questions that would need to be worked out. Questions like what if Gary Johnson cedes to Ron Paul and Ron Paul cedes to Romney, would Johnson's votes go to Romney, etc., but these things can quickly be worked out. If the state Governors got together to work out a model law for this idea, we could have it in place before 2016. This change would benefit the left as much as the right and could actually allow a strong third party to evolve if voters are relieved of the fear of wasting their vote.

While many pundits propose to abolish the Electoral College, it has its benefits. It causes candidates to pay attention to different states each cycle and not spend their time courting just large states like CA, NY and TX.

With this idea, the Constitution need not be changed and we can move forward quickly to electing the best candidate while making sure that he/she knows exactly where their support lies.


Craig Hollins said…
You Americans really like to do things the hard way.
The simplest method of giving the lesser political players a voice is proportional voting. The principle is very simple and it reduces the effectiveness of secret back room deals that take power away from the voters.
If you have five candidates on the ballot, you can number them from one to five. When they are counted, you get five piles with the number one votes for each candidate. If no-one has 50% +1 votes then you take the smallest pile and move them to the piles that the number twos were on. You repeat that process until you get a winner or you have only two piles.
I don't know if it will require a change to the constitution but that 200+ year old document could do with a revamp anyway.
We have that in Australia and it works quite well. I would make one small change to the way we do things tho. Here we must put a number against every candidate or none are counted. Should there be five candidates but only one or two deserve my vote, I have no way of expressing that. Let me say "This one or that one or I'm happy to have my vote wasted".
The Asterisk said…
Yes, NOTA would be a great option.

I do not think we could get a Constitutional amendment anytime soon. We can't even get our Senate to pass a budget.

My idea could work and work quickly.

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