I rarely get a chance to be proud of my home state. Illinois is something like 48th in spending on social services, 47th in education, and probably first in the number of governors and ex-governors convicted of felonies. But by george, I’m bursting with pride today. The governor of Illinois has signed into law a provision that requires the award of its electoral college votes to the presidential candidate with the most support nationwide. Speaking of stats, we are the third state to do so. For more information, or to follow developments nationwide, see http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/
Until 2000, of course, most of us thought of the Electoral College kind of the way we thought about that old moose head Grandpa kept in the attic. You know, no earthly use to anybody, unlikely to do any damage, but one of these days we really ought to get rid of it. Most of us had never even heard of the Hayes-Tilden Compromise, which was what happened the last time (1876) the Electoral College vote and the popular vote diverged. Which is kind of a shame, because the Hayes-Tilden Compromise erased the last vestiges of Reconstruction from the South, and established Jim Crow legislation for another 80 years—scarcely a historical footnotes.
So, while we all expected some kind of apocalypse in the year 2000 (our survivalist friends even had us stocking up on canned goods and distilled water), we anticipated it in January, not November. What we got instead of the universal off-lining of civilization was another election in which the Electoral College vote and the popular vote diverged. And what that got us, several months later, was a war we are still bogged down in, and the shredding of our civil liberties. Arguably, it has brought us closer to fascism than we have ever been before, except of course that nobody is promising to make the trains, or indeed any other system of common carriers, run on time.
My original, grandiose, proposal for a solution was a trade with Congressional Republicans—we’d let them have the Schwarzenegger Amendment (abolishing the requirement that presidential candidates had to be born US citizens) if they’d let us abolish the Electoral College. But amending the Constitution is a slow and difficult process. The National Popular Vote movement is a lot faster and easier. It takes advantage of the fact that the US Constitution allows every state to choose its own Electoral College delegates any way it wants to, down to and including a hot game of draw poker or the Code Duello. Apparently a lot of states are considering signing on, mostly because they believe the Electoral College system discourages presidential candidates from paying much attention to states with small numbers of delegates, or because they believe it discourages the candidates from paying enough attention to more populous states—both of which, paradoxically, appear to be true.
So, gentle reader, if your state hasn’t signed on yet, it’s time to contact your legislators and get them mobilized. In the meantime, I will keep on basking in the rare pleasure of my state being more or less first in something praiseworthy.