Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rep. Jones: Changing the Electoral College Should Only Be Done After Careful Consideration

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) was recently asked to weigh in on the question of whether the U.S. President should be elected by national popular vote, rather than the Electoral College. This column ran in the Globe North section of the Boston Globe on Sunday.

Altering something as important as the way we elect a president should rightfully be done through a Constitutional amendment. The Electoral College has served the country well since its inception. If we are to make any changes to it — and jettisoning it ought not be one of those — we should do so only after careful consideration.

National popular vote advocates have been trying to circumvent this process by getting states to join a multi-state compact. Since 2007, 10 states and the District of Columbia have joined, pledging to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who carries the national popular vote. Together, they account for 165 electoral votes, 105 short of the 270 needed for the compact to be implemented.

When Massachusetts joined the movement in 2010, proponents claimed it would make the state more relevant during presidential elections. Choosing the president by national popular vote would not necessarily increase Massachusetts’s clout during a presidential campaign. In fact, an argument could be made that it would actually disenfranchise many voters.

In his 2008 Cato Institute analysis, “A Critique of the National Popular Vote Plan for Electing the President,” author John Samples warned of such a scenario, noting that “[National popular vote] will encourage presidential campaigns to focus their efforts in dense media markets where costs per vote are lowest; many states now ignored by candidates will continue to be ignored under NPV.”

There could be other unintended consequences for Massachusetts. Let’s say Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. On Election Night 2016, Clinton could carry Massachusetts by a wide margin, but if Trump wins the national vote he would receive all of Massachusetts’ 11 electoral votes.

The United States is a geographically diverse country, and the Electoral College reflects that by allocating two electoral votes to each state, and the remaining electoral votes based on population. This helps to ensure that all states – large and small – have a role in the process.

As an alternative to the national popular vote compact, we should do what Nebraska and Maine do and award two electoral votes to the popular vote winner, and our remaining electoral votes to the winner in each of the state’s Congressional districts. Such a change could encourage more competitive races without undermining the Electoral College and while respecting our Constitutional process.