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A Cure for Insomnia

Lucky ones like me take great pride in being a part of two giants - the largest and the oldest democracies in the world. Except there is this thing called the Electoral College in the US, which keeps me up at night.

The Electoral College was a compromise between opposing factions in the Continental Convention of 1787. One wanted the Congress to appoint the President and the other wanted to drive the selection through a popular democratic vote.

The case for Congress selecting the executive was that people in the outposts were not well informed and did not possess the wherewithal to make an appropriate decision. The case against was that selection by Congress could lead to collusion between the two branches of government and could lead to a despot being appointed.

The argument for a democratically elected head of state is easily understood. The case against anchored on the fact that no other country, at that time, allowed a popular vote for fear of electing a populist.

So, the Electoral College was born for "wise" people to choose our President.

Wow! We are still following a tradition of once-removed electors that no longer exists elsewhere in the world AND we have a populist President with despotic tendencies. Well done, America!

The tensions between these groups ran high at the Convention and left the participants frustrated and exhausted. In the end, they settled for the Electoral College motivated by the lofty goal of going home. Little did they think of the impact of their decision on the elections of 2002, 2016 and possibly 2020 - the three that will leave indelible marks on us.

The Electoral College has 538 electors, which equals 435 representatives, 100 senators, and three from Washington, D.C.. The candidate that reaches 270 wins the Presidency. It was hard enough to figure out the number of representatives for the House of Reps (this is where the rule for counting a Black person as 3/5th of a White person was born) and the Convention delegates didn't want to do it again, so they went with the same formula. Electors were to vote their conscience.

Yikes, a democracy and not!

Five times in US history, the popular vote winner has not won the Presidency, two of those in my lifetime and three in the 1800s. In effect, the Electoral College can deliver a decision contrary to the will of the people. The faction that thought the outposts are ignorant wins when this happens.

It's nearly impossible to do away with the Electoral College since it is inked in the constitution. It favors the party in power and killing it will require a two-third majority in Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.

Let's not hold our breath!!

A state-level legislative initiative called, The National Popular Vote Compact, is the only beacon of hope. It will give the Presidency to the person who gets the highest number of popular votes in the state. This means that electors will be bound to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote and they cannot vote their conscience. The popular vote will finally have some meaning.

The Compact will be meaningful when the states that contribute 270 votes enact it. So far 16 states with 196 electoral votes have made it law. There's a definite momentum propeling state legislatures down this path based on Bush v. Gore and the HRC losses. It clearly won't be in effect in the 2020 presidential election but give it a few more cycles and then we will put democracy back in the oldest one in the world. Looking forward to this cure for our insomnia.

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