Electoral College persists

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Politcal leaders and experts interviewed by The Daily Iowan differ on the role of the Electoral College but agree it is unlikely to change.

By Maria Curi

maria-curi@uiowa.edu

Despite her Nov. 8 loss, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has surpassed 2.5 million, sparking a debate over the role of the Electoral College reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election. Political leaders and experts in Iowa, a swing state and first in the nation to hold a presidential-candidate contest, differed on what the Electoral College means to the state and the country but agreed changes to it are unlikely.

Cary Covington, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science, said the debate about getting rid of the Electoral College is “purely a mental experiment” because it would require a constitutional amendment unlikely to pass.

Abolishing the Electoral College would require three-quarters of the state legislatures to approve it — which means it would only take 13 states to vote against getting rid of the Electoral College to block the amendment.

According to a calculation Covington made last week, the 14 states with the lowest electoral votes plus the District of Columbia control 54 electoral votes and all together have a population of around 17.5 million. California has control of 55 electoral votes and is home to 38.8 million.

“To ask these states to allow an amendment to eliminate the Electoral College would be like asking them to throw away half their electoral power,” Covington said. “There’s just no way that’ll happen.”

Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa Jeff Kaufmann said Iowa and all of rural America would be “irrelevant” without the Electoral College.

“I would hope, and I really feel strongly about this, that in this state, Democrats and Republicans alike would support a mechanism in which our voices could be heard, and I just don’t understand anyone who wouldn’t,” Kaufmann said.

Gerene Denning, a former Johnson County Democratic Central Committee chairwoman, said the Electoral College is no longer providing a proper balance between rural voters and urban voters. Out of the six counties Hillary Clinton won in Iowa, Johnson County gave her the largest win at 66 percent of the votes.

“Even being an Iowan, I do not think it’s a good system when at the national level you have most people choosing one candidate and the Electoral College choosing someone else,” Denning said. “I’m an Iowan, but I don’t think my vote should count more than others’.”

For Covington, if the Electoral College were abolished, that would mean less attention for states with smaller populations — not necessarily a bad thing, he said.

“Candidates would go to where the voters are, absolutely. That’s always been true, and it should be true,” Covington said. “I mean, 10 people’s votes should matter more to someone than one person’s vote, and to argue otherwise is to play fast and loose with the whole notion of equality under our system of government.”

Mark Lundberg, the chairman of the Sioux County Republican Committee, said the Electoral College provides protection from majority tyranny. Trump’s largest victory was in Sioux County, racking up 82.1 percent of the vote.

“I think our Founding Fathers adopted this for a reason, and it’s why we’ve had such a long standing democracy,” Lundberg said.

Covington said that although a direct presidential election would cause a closer connection between the people and could risk presidential abuse of power and the tyranny the Founding Fathers feared, he said the House of Representatives and the Senate are well-equipped with checks and balances that can counter such a risk.

“So, for example, if both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, and Hillary Clinton won the presidency in a direct popular vote, the likelihood of her tyrannizing the country is remote,” Covington said. 

Recent reports show anti-Trump electors are working to persuade at least 37 Republican electors to abandon Trump and prevent his election. One elector from Texas, Christopher Suprun, vowed on Monday not to vote for Donald Trump.

Don Kass, the chairman of the Plymouth County Republican Central Committee, said this election can’t be prevented; 74 percent of Plymouth County went red in November.

“They can hold their breath, but it ain’t gonna do them any good,” Kass said. “I find it purely hypocritical that after criticizing Trump on not accepting the outcome of the election, Democrats are now doing this.”

Clayton Hodgson, the chairman of the Plymouth County Democratic Central Committee, said the Electoral College may be giving Iowa an unfair advantage but agreed with Kass that faithless electors are “never going to happen.”

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