Capitol Journal

Donald Trump was right: The election was rigged. Now it's time to get rid of the electoral college

Donald Trump had it pegged. The election was rigged. Hillary Clinton won the most votes. But Trump won the presidency.

It was rigged 229 years ago by the Founding Fathers. They created a convoluted, undemocratic presidential election system that became known as the electoral college.

It was part of a classic backroom political deal fashioned to appease Southern slave states so they’d sign the new Constitution. The South — slave owners, anyway — fretted about the North’s larger population and the political power that came with it. Those Yankees might even abolish slavery.

So they infamously compromised. Slaves wouldn’t be allowed to vote, but they could be counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of padding the South’s population numbers. That way, Dixie would be entitled to more congressmen — and more presidential electors.

It wasn’t by coincidence that four of the first five presidential elections were won by candidates from Virginia, which had lots of slaves.

The three-fifths nonsense ended when slaves were freed during the Civil War. But the electoral college endured, still tilted toward the less populated states.

That’s because of how presidential electors are allotted to each state. It’s mostly based on the number of U.S. House members, which is determined by population size. But every state also gets an elector for each senator. And every state is entitled to two senators, regardless of how many people live there.

So in the most extreme case, Wyoming gets one senator for roughly every 291,000 residents. In California, there’s one senator for every 19.2 million.

True, Wyoming has only one U.S. House member and California has 53. But when it’s all calculated, for every 194,000 people in Wyoming, there’s one electoral college vote. But it takes 697,000 Californians to qualify for one electoral vote.

It’s long past time to clean up this absurdity and allow American voters to elect their presidents directly. Our votes should not be filtered through an archaic system that enhances citizens’ votes in some states and dilutes them in others.

Citizens should be electing the president. States shouldn’t be.

Republican votes for president in deep-blue California are worthless. Ditto Democratic votes in bright-red Texas. Such disenfranchisement occurs across the country. That’s because all but two small states — Nebraska and Maine — cast their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis.

Name one other elective office in America that is not decided by who gets the most votes — all the way from U.S. senator and state governor down to first-grade class president.

Why do we still do it this way? Partly it’s the old answer: Because we always have.

It’s also because Republicans, who now control Congress and most state governments, certainly don’t want to change something that has been benefiting them.

Clinton is the second Democratic candidate in 16 years to win the popular vote but lose the presidential election. Like Al Gore did to George W. Bush in 2000.

In all, five presidential candidates have lost the popular vote but won the White House. The others were Benjamin Harrison over Grover Cleveland in 1888, Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel J. Tilden in 1876 and John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson in 1824.

Harrison and Hayes were both Republicans. So the electoral college has been rigged for Republicans going back to the 1800s.

That’s why there won’t be a constitutional amendment to change it, at least anytime soon. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress — currently controlled by the GOP — and approval by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Red states aren’t going to agree. Neither are purple states because they soak up a lot of attention and campaign bucks as “battlegrounds.”

Nevertheless, California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer announced Tuesday they’ll introduce legislation to scrub the electoral college. They’ll be lucky to get committee hearings.

“Long odds should not dissuade us from fighting to make sure our democracy accurately reflects the will of the voters,” Feinstein said.

Boxer: “Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts.”

Actually, Trump seems to agree. In 2012 he tweeted: “The electoral college is a disaster for democracy.”

Reporter Lesley Stahl asked the president-elect on CBS’ “60 Minutes” whether he still agreed. “I do,” he said. “I’m not going to change my mind just because I won….

“I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.”

For several years, there has been a movement to circumvent the electoral college without amending the Constitution. States would form a compact obligating them to cast their electoral votes for the candidate who won the national popular vote. The pact wouldn’t take effect until signed by enough states to make up a majority of the electoral college.

California joined up in 2011. Gov. Jerry Brown, in signing the bill, said: “It seems logical that the occupant of the White House should be the candidate who wins the most votes. That is basic fair democracy.”

Ten states plus the District of Columbia have signed the pact, accounting for 165 electoral votes. States with 105 more electoral votes are needed to make it a reality.

For too many, defanging the electoral college doesn’t make political sense — even if it would be common sense for democracy.

Updates from Sacramento »

george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter

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