This Op-ed originally appeared in the Fayetteville Observer on July 22.
Every four years, along with the presidential election come criticisms of the Electoral College. Some people are just unhappy their candidate lost, but others are truly uncertain.
Today, a lobbying group from California called National Popular Vote is trying to take advantage of that uncertainty to convince state legislators to manipulate the Electoral College. Their plan, which goes into effect if passed by enough states to control the election outcome, is for states to ignore their own voters and instead choose presidential electors based on the nationwide vote. That effort threatens to make the will of North Carolina voters subservient to those of other states, taking away our voice in presidential elections.
So, what is the truth about the Electoral College?
At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, the American Founders argued about how to elect the president. The first proposal was that Congress do it. It works that way today in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and many other countries. The Founders rejected this because they wanted presidents to be independent of Congress. They considered holding one big national election — a national popular vote. But then a handful of big states, or the biggest cities, might control who becomes president.
It was at the very end of the Constitutional Convention that a committee of eleven members, including James Madison, came up with the Electoral College. The people have power to choose the president, but it is channeled through our states and based on our representation in Congress.
In the Electoral College, each state gets as many presidential electors as we have members in the House and the Senate. States with more people have more members of the House, but each state has two senators. That means the smallest states get three electors, and bigger states get more; North Carolina has 15. In that way, the Electoral College balances the interests of citizens in large and small states.
The 2016 election showed how this works. Hillary Clinton believed she would win no matter what, so she slacked off her efforts to win votes in the middle of the country. The result was that she lost states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin where Democrats had won for a generation. She did, however, rack up huge margins in big cities, especially in California. That gave her a popular vote majority, but not the White House.
The Electoral College forces candidates and parties to reach out to more Americans, and not to ignore the heartland of our country. In every election, it pushes candidates to build broader coalitions.
The Electoral College also adds an element of federalism to our presidential elections, making states relevant, and it contains election disputes to within individual states. There has never been a nationwide recount thanks to the Electoral College.
If North Carolina was to join the National Popular Vote interstate compact, our electoral votes could be determined, not by the voters of North Carolina, but by the vote totals in California and other larger states. For example, if North Carolina had been a member of the compact in 2016, all our electoral votes would have been given to Hilary Clinton even though a majority of North Carolina voters cast ballots for Donald Trump. The General Assembly should not make our vote for president irrelevant.
North Carolinians who care about the Constitution and our state’s voice in presidential elections need to continue to remind our state legislators to stand up for the Electoral College.
Andy Jackson is the Election Policy Analyst at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh. Trent England is the author of “Why We Must Defend the Electoral College” and the executive director of Save Our States, which is based in Oklahoma City.