I had the honor —and it was a true privilege— to preside over the vote of the 2016 Electoral College in Connecticut.
Inside the state Capitol, the event was filled with the solemnity that such a process deserves. Outside a handful of protesters picketed a practice that some are calling undemocratic.
In any other year, I might have joined them.
After all, the Electoral College was a process introduced for reasons that are now, at best, woefully outdated. Its purpose for being, which ranged from minimizing factionalism to accommodating slave-owning states, is obsolete in modern America and, frankly, offensive.
Now, the Electoral College makes little sense to … well … just about anyone.
After confusing students of civics for generations, it is a process that continues to baffle the electorate who —for the second time in five presidential elections— are left wondering why the candidate that garnered the most votes lost.
That is not good and it does nothing to make the American people feel as if their votes matter when three million are cast aside on a structural issue.
Founding father Alexander Hamilton essentially suggested the electors could be eleventh-hour defenders of the country should someone unqualified be put forward for the office of president. He wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68, “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
Yet many states have nullified this role by binding the electors to the vote of the people.
I am not questioning the legitimacy of the vote. There was an election, and by the rules of the contest there was a winner.
That doesn’t mean the process cannot be improved. There are many learning opportunities from the 2016 election.
…Or from 2000, the fiasco that left us without a clear presidential winner for weeks.
…Or from 1872, the year Horace Greeley received three electoral votes despite being dead (later discounted by Congress).
Changing the Electoral College is clearly a hot topic. Proposed Constitutional amendments in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College top any other subject. By some estimates there have been as many as 700 proposals over the last 200 years.
My view is that the Electoral College is flawed and should be abolished.
I am less confident about specific alternatives.
On its face, a model in which the winner is chosen based on the most votes makes sense. However, in practical terms it could be challenging to apply.
Imagine a recount that does not hinge on a single state but rather every state and the District of Columbia.
Then there are the problems of actually getting it into effect. Would all states join a popular vote model or only a handful? Would the handful lose influence? What might that mean for the political leanings of that state’s voters? How would it impact the campaigns?
Either way, while I have concerns about alternatives, I am by no means suggesting that the status quo is preferable.
As a nation, we can study alternatives that will improve our democracy.
I publicly supported the abolition of the Electoral College before the 2016 election and I support it now. The Electoral College is an idea that has outlived any sensible function.
It should be abolished.
Denise Merrill is the Secretary of the State of Connecticut. Follow her at @SOTSMerrill.