Four times since the framers met in Philadelphia in 1787, the presidency has gone to the candidate on the losing end of the popular vote. The republic still stands.
That’s hardly a compelling argument for leaving things as they are. The Electoral College less than perfectly reflects the will of the people, and the threat of the “faithless elector” who tips an election the way his partisan bias dictates is real, if remote. Both threats would vanish if the election automatically went to the candidate for whom most registered voters pulled the lever.
This is the point at which the conversation normally would turn to amending the federal Constitution to abolish the Electoral College. But the state Senate has just passed a bill that would achieve a comparable effect by simple statute.
The bill provides that, if enough states join in to command a majority in the Electoral College, all of North Carolina’s electoral votes will be awarded to the winner of the popular vote — not the statewide winner, but the one who wins nationwide. More than 40 states are already looking at substantially the same bill.
If it works as planned, the problem goes away, with no violence done to the Constitution.
Something else happens, too. North Carolina will less often find itself in political obscurity when the nation chooses its top leader.
During the 2000 election, one analyst noted that the candidates were focusing most of their time and effort on 11 swing states. Ironically, only three of those had more electoral votes than North Carolina, which was not one of the 11. If candidates understand that they have a real shot at our 15 electoral votes right up until the polls close on that fateful Tuesday in November, we are unlikely to be shrugged off or taken for granted again.
The arguments against it are no stronger than those for retaining the Electoral College in all its supreme majesty: (1) it’s different; and (2) it means that North Carolina could end up giving its 15 votes to someone not favored by the majority of Tar Heel voters. The first argument lacks heft. The second would make perfect sense, but only if one could ignore the fact that presidential elections are held to enable individual Americans to put someone in the White House, not merely to express each state’s collective pique or pleasure.
This is worth a try — for the sake of simplicity and fairness, and in the interest of raising our state’s political profile.