Here we go again. If we are to believe the political pundits and campaign strategists, the next race for the White House is well underway. Republicans like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are being touted as likely candidates for president in 2016.
On the other side of the aisle, political watchers are combing through former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tweets for signs that she will make the next race for the White House. Radio talk show hosts are already honing their insults for a Clinton campaign. As I said earlier, here we go again.
In addition to the speculation over who will run for president, there is an ongoing debate over how we elect a president in this country. There is a movement under way to change the way Electoral College votes are divided up in a presidential election. Currently, when voters go to the polls to pick a president, they are actually selecting a slate of “electors” who represent each state. These electors combine to form the Electoral College.
Electors are usually strong and loyal supporters of their political party, but can never be sitting members of Congress. They are generally free agents, as only 29 states require electors to vote as they have pledged, and many constitutional scholars believe those requirements would not stand in a court challenge.
After the election, the party that wins the most votes in each state appoints all the electors for that state. This is known as a “winner-take-all” or “unit rule” of electors. The only exceptions to this rule are in Maine and Nebraska.
The Electoral College process has come under intense scrutiny and debate since the 2000 presidential election when former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush captured the Electoral College vote. That election was the first time in more than a century that the candidate finishing first in the popular vote did not win the election for the White House.
Gore surprised many last year when he told an interviewer he now favors replacing the Electoral College process with a new plan known as the National Popular Vote. Supporters of this campaign want to allow a state to cast its electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of the winner in that state. This method could only be used when states boasting a total of at least 270 electoral votes — the minimum for victory — make the same pledge.
National Popular Vote bills have passed in legislatures of several states. Legal scholars say the idea is an extreme long shot, but may be easier than trying to amend the U.S. Constitution, which takes approval by Congress and then ratification by 38 states.
Although pollsters say 60 percent of Americans support scrapping the Electoral College, I doubt many Americans truly understand the consequences of doing so. The National Popular Vote movement is nothing more than a back-door effort to amend the Constitution. This nation’s Founders established a specific procedure for amending the Constitution and this is not it.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.