Centuries-old debate of Electoral College vs. popular vote comes before state Legislature

When our nation’s founding fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a new U.S. Constitution, they deadlocked on how the president should be chosen.

James Madison argued against having the Congress choose the president, believing it would leave the chief executive “under the influence of an improper obligation” to the Congress. Another proposal had the president elected by a direct popular vote. This was rejected because of concerns that the president would be decided by the largest, most populous states.

A compromise was reached using a system from Roman times — the Electoral College. Under this system, each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to its representation in Congress. Electors meet in their respective state capitals in December of each presidential election year to cast their votes for president. They are the ones who actually elect the president. In Washington, we have 11 electors — nine who represent each of our state’s nine congressional districts, and two chosen at large.

Some 220 years later, the debate has shifted to state legislatures, including our own, with a new campaign to create a national popular vote method of electing the president. Rather than attempting the difficult process of amending the U.S. Constitution, the proposal makes an end run around the Electoral College. The “National Popular Vote” (NPV) campaign calls on state legislatures to pass a measure dictating all electoral votes from that state go to the winner of the national popular vote.

The measure would go into effect only if enough states approve it to represent a majority of the electoral votes. In other words, if states that represent at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes approve the measure, the winner of the popular vote nationwide would win the presidency. This renders the Electoral College moot without eliminating it.

Four states have enacted the NPV bill. The measure has been introduced in Washington through Senate Bill 5599. It has passed the Senate and is now under consideration in the House.

Proponents argue that the Electoral College system is archaic. They say candidates could win the popular vote but still not become president if they lose the electoral vote.

Opponents have the same concerns of Alexander Hamilton, Electoral College architect, who noted if too much power were afforded to one majority, the result would be a corrupt government with a president who would let others rule him. They also worry the vote of rural America would be lost to metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. We also share those concerns.

Imagine how voters would feel if our state’s Electoral College votes were given to a candidate who did not receive the majority of votes within Washington. If we were to join the NPV agreement, it’s possible our state would be forced to deliver its electoral votes to a presidential candidate who had little support within Washington and represented positions contrary to the needs of Washingtonians. We believe rural voters already have experience with such feelings, because in statewide elections, candidates winning the vote in only a handful of urban counties have carried the election, leading to feelings of disenfranchisement in our rural areas.

The wisdom of our founding fathers has carried us far. We must uphold the U.S. Constitution — not make an end run around it. As George Washington warned, “resist with care the spirit of innovation upon [the Constitution’s] principals” and be suspicious of “mere hypothesis and opinion [that expose the Constitution] to perpetual change.”

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, and Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, represent the 39th Legislative District. Kristiansen may be reached at (360) 786-7967 and Pearson can be contacted at (360) 786-7816.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000