The Electoral College will again determine who’ll become President this year, as it has for more than two centuries of confusion. And Americans will once again ask themselves how the system has outlived generations of controversies.
In five US presidential elections — including in 2016, when Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton — the eventual winner has lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.
The prospect that it could happen again this year has led to yet another campaign to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a simple majority vote.
But the Electoral College has proven resilient, and Constitutional rules make changing or eliminating it difficult. Here’s why it’s been so polarizing.
Some say the Electoral College ignores the will of the people
The Electoral College has been a part of the Constitution since that founding document took effect in 1789. Any changes to its system require a Constitutional amendment.
The Founding Fathers established it as a compromise between a popular vote and a vote in Congress. Under its system, each state gets a number of electors proportionate to its population: For example, California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes while Wyoming, the least populous state, has just 3.
All but two states — Maine and Nebraska — give all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in that state. Whichever candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes nationwide — at least 270 — becomes president.
Three times in the 1800s, the winner of the popular vote missed the presidency after falling short in the Electoral College, leading to complaints that the system ignored the will of the people.
Over the years more than 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to change or eliminate the Electoral College, according to government records. Congress came close to doing away with it some 50 years ago when a proposal to replace it with a popular vote system passed in the House in 1969 but failed in the Senate the following year.
The push to replace it intensified after the bitter presidential election of 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote by more than half a million votes but lost the election to George W. Bush after the Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida, the deciding state.
Opponents of the Electoral College got more ammunition in 2016 when Hillary Clinton received almost three million votes more than Donald Trump but still lost.
Since then, the movement to get rid of the Electoral College have gained more momentum. But so has resistance to changing it.
Some historians say it is rooted in racism
Alexander Keyssar, a professor of history at Harvard Kennedy School and author of “Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?” says that Southern white supremacist leaders challenged the idea of a national popular vote from the latter decades of the 19th century into the 1960s.
“Both during slavery and also after slavery, well into the 20th century in fact, the states of the South stood firmly in opposition to the adoption of a national popular vote,” he said. “The South was the bulwark of opposition during the period of slavery, of course, because slave-holding states received extra electoral votes thanks to the three-fifths clause.
“White Southerners, thus, gained added influence in the Electoral College, and if they had switched to a national popular vote, they would have lost that influence,” Keyssar said.
The three-fifths compromise was an agreement between Northern and Southern states and essentially said that only three-fifths, or 60%, of slave populations would be counted to determine representation in the House of Representatives — and electors in the Electoral College.
In this way Southern States used slave populations to increase their political influence without having to recognize slaves as equal to Whites. Most slaves also had no voting rights.
“The Electoral College brought that same three-fifths compromise into presidential elections and thus gave Southern states political power out of proportion to their White populations from the beginning,” Keyssar said.
Even now, some Southern states believe abolishing the Electoral College would reduce their influence and undermine White power, Keyssar said.
“The presence of racism and White supremacy in the South helps to prevent the country from adopting instead of the Electoral College a national popular vote,” he said.
Not everyone supports getting rid of it
America’s electoral system has long baffled the world. But some experts have defended it, saying the process gives a voice to less populated states.
“The Electoral College is a very carefully considered structure the Framers of the Constitution set up to balance the competing interests of large and small states,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former commissioner for the FEC.
“It prevents candidates from winning an election by focusing only on high-population urban centers (the big cities), ignoring smaller states and the more rural areas of the country. … The college forces candidates to seek the support of a larger cross-section of the American electorate — to win a series of regional elections.”
While critics of the system have argued that Hillary Clinton lost the election unfairly, Spakovsky says her case is a perfect example of why the Electoral College works better than the majority vote.
“The Framers’ fears of a ‘tyranny of the majority’ is still very relevant today. One can see its importance in the fact that despite Hillary Clinton’s national popular vote total, she won only about a sixth of the counties nationwide, with her support limited mostly to urban areas on both coasts,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also challenged the idea of a national popular vote.
Some defenders of the Electoral College have used racial undertones. Just last year, former Maine Gov. Paul LePage said abolishing the current system would marginalize White people.
“Actually what would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do is White people will not have anything to say,” LePage said in a radio interview. “It’s only going to be the minorities that would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida. All the small states like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, Rhode Island, you’ll never see a presidential candidate again.
“You’ll never see anybody at the national stage come to our state,” he added. “We’re gonna be forgotten people. It’s an insane, insane process.”
Reforming or abolishing it would be difficult
The Electoral College has changed several times, each by constitutional amendment. The 12th Amendment, passed in time for the 1804 election, allowed electors to cast two votes — one for President and another for Vice President. The 20th Amendment put a time limit on the process. The 23rd Amendment gave electors to the District of Columbia.
In a 2018 survey, 65% of Americans supported selecting the President by popular vote, compared to 32% who preferred the Electoral College.
But eliminating the Electoral College system would be hard, for several reasons.
Changing the Constitution takes years and requires broad majorities in Congress or state legislatures. Smaller states that benefit from the Electoral College would have to give up some of that power.
Politics has also played a role in preserving it, with many Republicans believing the Electoral College is more beneficial to their party.
“They think it’s to their advantage to keep the Electoral College. And since you need the two-thirds in Congress to amend the Constitution, it makes it difficult to do that if one party is opposing it,” Keyssar said. The current electoral system also divides power between the federal government and the states, making it complex to reform any one piece of it, he added.
So for better or worse, American voters may not be ditching the Electoral College anytime soon.
Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow
The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.
The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan.
The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.
In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.
Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.
“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President
(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.
Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.
Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.
It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.
Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.
Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.
California Governor Formally Appoints Alex Padilla To Fill US Senate Seat Vacated By Kamala Harris
(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted the appointment of Alex Padilla to the US Senate today, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Padilla formally resigned as Secretary of State this morning and Gov. Newsom also submitted his nomination letter for Assembly member Shirley Weber to replace him. The Deputy Secretary of State, James Schwab, will be the Acting Secretary of State.
“It is fitting that on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a civil rights icon who fought for justice and representation — we also move forward the appointment of California’s first Latino U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the nomination of Dr. Shirley Weber who will serve as the first-ever African American Secretary of State. Both will be strong defenders of our democracy during this fragile moment in our nation’s history,” said Gov. Newsom.
“I am humbled and honored by your trust in me to represent California in the United States Senate. I look forward to continuing to serve the great State of California as a United States Senator and to ensuring that the rights and democratic principles we cherish are protected and preserved for all people,” Padilla wrote in a letter to Gov. Newsom.
Some context: Earlier today, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris formally resigned her seat as one of California’s US Senators. She’ll be inaugurated as vice president on Wednesday, Jan. 20. In a farewell addressed posted to Twitter, Harris said, “Of course, I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m now saying hello as your vice president.”