Sorry, but we’re just not going to be able to get rid of the Electoral College.

Finally the American people have woken up and understand the Electoral College (EC), or at least its importance.

Well, at least somewhat.

My Quantitative Reasoning (QR) students at the Crimson Summer Academy (CSA) certainly understand it: how many electors each state gets, how the electors are awarded in each state except Maine and Nebraska, how those two states do it, what faithless electors are, what happens if no one gets a majority, and how the EC totals relate to the popular vote totals in terms of who wins the presidency. And every year many of my students are justifiably outraged by the process, and there’s always someone who asks why we don’t just abolish the EC. It’s unfair, it’s pretty much unique in the world, and it’s undemocratic.

So why don’t we abolish it?

Basically, we can’t. It’s in the Constitution. Its unfairness is intentionally built in.

“But,” observes one of the more knowledgeable students, “the Constitution can be amended.”

Yes, but look at the process. You need two thirds of each house of Congress, which won’t happen because the Republicans will block it. The EC works to their advantage, after all. Alsoyou need three fourths of the states, and that won’t happen because the Republicans will block it. The EC works to their advantage, after all.

There is one small possibility of a solution: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). This agreement among some of the states provides that each state would cast its electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote: problem solved!

Well, not so fast. In the cartogram shown above, you see in green the states that have adopted the compact, in yellow the states where it is pending, and in gray the states where no action has been taken. If the green areas were colored blue and the gray areas red, you would spot the partisan divide. The compact provides that it would take effect once states with a total of 270 electoral votes or more have adopted it. Note the red line, which shows that we’re close. But we need 74 of the 98 votes in the yellow areas, and where are we going to get them? Nowhere, probably. And then there’s the problem that the whole idea might turn out to be unconstitutional, either as an end-run around the EC or as an illegal treaty between states.

So are we stuck with the EC forever? Looks that way, unless someone comes up with a brilliant solution.

Categories: Life, Math, Teaching & Learning