Hillary Clinton is no fan of the Electoral College.
“I think it needs to be eliminated,” Clinton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night. “I’d like to see us move beyond it, yes.”
Here’s the thing: That ain’t happening.
You wouldn’t know that from listening to Democrats, who are absolutely up in arms following the second presidential election of the past five in which the winner of the popular vote didn’t win the White House. (Both losers were Democrats.)
Here’s a quick Electoral College Cliffs Notes: Basically, when you vote you aren’t really voting for Donald Trump or Clinton. You are voting for an elector pledged to that person. So the actual election results aren’t certified until the electors cast their votes – after the election (as we think of it) is over.
Those who oppose the Electoral College do so for lots of reasons – the main one being that it doesn’t reflect the popular will of the people. Another critique is that so-called faithless electors could go rogue – not follow the voting pattern of their state – and, in so doing, swing a close election to another candidate.
In the wake of Clinton’s popular vote win/Electoral College loss, California Sen. Barbara Boxer – just before she retired – introduced legislation aimed at eliminating the Electoral College. “In my lifetime, I have seen two elections where the winner of the general election did not win the popular vote,” Boxer said in a statement. “The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately. Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts.”
(The winner of the popular vote has lost the presidency five times: 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016.)
Boxer’s legislation has gone nowhere. And the legislative hurdles – even if there were some desire to make it move – are vast. The Electoral College is established in the Constitution – right there in Article II – and that means that to abolish or alter it in any way requires 1) a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate 2) three-quarters of the states to ratify the change within a seven-year window.
Because of the arduousness of that process, the last time the Constitution was amended was 1992, when the 27th Amendment was added – essentially making sure that members of Congress couldn’t vote themselves big (and immediate) pay raises.
As Kurtis Lee details in The Los Angeles Times, the last serious attempt to get rid of the Electoral College came in 1969, when President Richard Nixon and his defeated 1968 opponent – Hubert H. Humphrey – backed the elimination of the system. The reason? Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who ran as an independent in 1968, had won 48 electoral votes in 1968 – and the two major parties were scared about the impact a third-party candidate could have on future outcomes.
The legislation passed the House in 1969 but died in the Senate. As Lee writes:
“Mark Weston, a historian of the Electoral College and author of the ‘The Runner-Up Presidency,’ said the amendment was filibustered and finally killed in the Senate by a group of Southern senators concerned that states with large populations would dominate elections.”
Shortly after winning the 1976 presidential election – and with the country still reeling from Watergate – President Jimmy Carter proposed a package of campaign reforms that included ending the Electoral College.
“I do not recommend a constitutional amendment lightly,” Carter said in a speech in March 1977 introducing his reforms. “I think the amendment process must be reserved for an issue of overriding governmental significance. But the method by which we elect our president is such an issue.” Two years later, the bill – which had been introduced by Democratic Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh – failed by a 51-48 vote in the Senate.
More recently, the highest profile movement to end the Electoral College has been the National Popular Vote interstate compact. In essence, the effort is aimed at trying to get states totaling 270 electoral votes to pass a bill in their legislatures pledging that the candidate who wins the national popular vote gets those states’ electoral votes.
It’s been signed into law in 11 states, totaling 165 electoral votes, meaning the National Popular Vote founders need another 105 to make it a reality – which is very unlikely to happen.
In short, even the likes of Clinton complaining about the inherent unfairness of the Electoral College won’t likely change much about how we elect presidents. Even if the next election produces our third popular vote winner/Electoral College loser in the last six presidential campaigns.