The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, North Fork and Shelter Island hosted an online discussion on Monday, Sept. 13 to shed light on the American Electoral College system and proposals to change it.
In presidential elections, no matter who wins the popular vote, the winner is the candidate who amasses the highest number of votes from the Electoral College, which is apportioned by the states.
Moderated by Islander Cathy Kenny, the panel gathered on Zoom included three distinguished law professors: Derek W. Black of the University of South Carolina School of Law; Rebecca Green of William and Mary Law School in Virginia; and Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne University Law School in Pennsylvania. Despite their expertise in election law, all noted that they don’t know precisely how the electors are selected.
“It’s different in each state,” Ms. Green noted. Ms. Kenny said that in New York, the electors are often legislators and other figures who are active in government and politics. Mr. Black noted that the Electoral College has “small states disproportionately represented.”
The system is so arcane that Mr. Ledewitz pointed out that “growing up, I always thought the Electoral College met” to cast their votes. “I didn’t find out until years later that they never met.”
Ms. Green cited recent elections where the Electoral College decided the election in favor of the person who had not clearly won the popular vote, including Bush v. Gore in 2000, and an election with “the specter of foreign interference” in 2016.
After discussing the roots of the current system and revisiting the shortcomings they’d witnessed in recent elections, the panelists weighed in on how to address it. “Is there a way to amend the ‘mess’ that’s the Electoral College to ameliorate these problems?” Ms. Kenny asked.
A remedy under consideration is the National Popular Vote Insterstate Compact, legislation that would commit the states’ respective electors in a presidential election to cast their votes for the candidate who won the most votes in that state.
To date, the National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by 16 jurisdictions possessing 195 electoral votes, including: four small states (DE, HI, RI, VT); eight medium-sized states (CO, CT, MD, MA, NJ, NM, OR, WA); three large states (CA, IL, NY); and the District of Columbia.
The compact will take effect when enacted by states representing at least 270 electoral college votes; currently states comprising 75 more electoral votes will have to adopt it to reach that point. Unlike other proposals to reform or eliminate the College, enacting this legislation would not require amending the Constitution, which gives the states power to award electoral votes in any manner they choose.
Signing the legislation in 2016, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “Making the national popular vote a binding one will enable all voices to be heard and encourage candidates to appeal to voters in all states.”
Currently, like 47 other states, New York uses the winner-take-all method in which the winner of the popular vote in New York State receives all of its electors. The LWV panel discussion is still available to view on YouTube at youtube.com/c/SeaTV-Southampton.