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Commentary: Is It Time To Ditch The Electoral College?

Hillary Clinton, with former President Bill Clinton behind her, pauses during her speech conceding her defeat to Republican Donald Trump after the 2016 presidential election.
Andrew Harnik
/
AP
Hillary Clinton, with former President Bill Clinton behind her, pauses during her speech conceding her defeat to Republican Donald Trump after the 2016 presidential election.

For the time being, an Ohio group has pulled out of a ballot issue this year to have the state join a nationwide movement to bypass the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote.

The Ohio group, Ohioans for Making Every Vote Matter, said Tuesday night it simply doesn't have enough time to gather the signatures of 442,958 registered Ohio voters, meeting a certain threshold in 44 of the state's 88 counties, by July 3.

So, the issue will not be on the November ballot in Ohio this fall.

But that in no way means that the issue is dead. It has been and remains the hottest topic of conversation in political circles nationally.

There are 14 states who have joined a National Popular Vote Compact thus far, representing 184 electoral votes. In the compact, the states pledge to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national vote – no matter what the results were in their individual states.

The agreement would take effect when states with 86 or more electoral votes sign on – which would equal 270 electoral votes, the amount needed to elect the president.

It is primarily, but not entirely, a movement organized by Democrats.

You can hardly blame Democrats for being unhappy about the way we choose our presidents.

Which is not the same as saying we need to change it.

In two of the past five presidential elections, the Democratic candidate for president – Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 – won the popular vote but lost the White House in that pesky Electoral College.

In the Electoral College, of course, you can tote up the presidential votes nationwide and the candidate with the most votes does not necessarily win. It's the candidate who corrals at least 270 of the states' 538 electoral votes who is declared the winner.

Let's say we had a system based on the popular vote since 2000. Four of the last five presidential elections would have been won by Democrats. Hillary Clinton would be president now; Donald Trump would be a private citizen, presumably building gaudy resorts and producing and starring in brain-dead "reality" TV shows.

George W. Bush would not have been president – at least not in 2000.

David Niven, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, says "the best argument against the Electoral College is that it is not anything close to what the election of a president was meant to be.

"The founders clearly had the notion of a group of wise men who would gather in a room and decide a president for us,'' Niven said. "The founders would be aghast at all these state elections to choose a president."

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia and managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a closely followed weekly newsletter on politics, said that "where you stand on this issue depends on where you sit."

"This is something that the Democrats would want now, but maybe not further down the road, if voting patterns change,'' Kondik said. "Republicans would be pretty upset about this system.

"If we leave the Electoral College alone, you could very well have a scenario next year where Trump could win again without winning the popular vote,'' Kondik said.

Prior to the year 2000, only three presidents have been elected without winning the popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1924, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

But it has happened twice since 2000: George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016.

This is a sign of just how polarized politics has become in this country.

Mack Mariani, associate professor of political science at Xavier University, thinks that with the polarization of American politics, changing the Electoral College system is a bad idea.

"It sets up a scenario where you have two people with plausible claims on the presidency,'' Mariani said. "What happened in 2016 was unsettling, yes, but Hillary Clinton knew the rules going in.

"We went a long time without anybody raising this issue,'' Mariani said. "If we do this now, we could end up looking back at it and saying, 'hey, we didn’t think this would start a civil war.' "

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU
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WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here

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Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.