Opponents of the Electoral College Try a ‘Tea Party’ Strategy

by Tara Ross

Much of the country is understandably focused on the revolution in Egypt, but an equally life-changing — if more stealthy — revolution continues here at home in America. Its proponents are attempting to win support by latching on to the highly successful Tea Party movement. But their cause is the precise opposite of what the Founders would have envisioned.

As I’ve previously written on NRO, the National Popular Vote movement is an effort to effectively eliminate the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment. NPV goes into effect when adopted by states holding a majority of electoral votes (270); to date, six states plus D.C. (74 electoral votes) are committed to the plan. Already this spring, NPV’s bill has been introduced in nearly a third of state legislatures and is moving in Alaska, Connecticut, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Vermont. A state-by-state update is here.

NPV’s efforts in South Dakota reflect its new “Tea Party” strategy. It has convinced some Republicans from this red state that NPV is good from a conservative, Tea Party perspective: Allegedly, a national direct election will eliminate the focus on swing states, enabling conservative voices across the country to be heard. The nation leans center-right; thus, a national popular vote for president will reflect this sentiment and allow more center-right candidates to be elected. Or so NPV claims.

There are several problems with this analysis. First, it is wrong to eliminate the Electoral College based purely on temporary, partisan gain. Our Constitution contains safeguards such as the Electoral College so that freedom might be protected over the course of decades. The founding generation would never have understood tampering with fundamental law to protect one person or party at one point in time.

Second, it is a big leap to assume that conservatives will benefit the most from a transition to direct elections. Arguably, the short-term partisan gain will be for the Democratic party. Candidates who are striving for individual votes campaign most efficiently when they focus on big cities and densely populated areas — currently a Democratic strength. At a minimum, Tea Partiers should admit that arguments for conservative electoral strength sound somewhat insincere coming from a California-based organization, funded by liberals.

Finally, Tea Partiers should be wary of the roundabout manner in which NPV is seeking its goal. I have defended the benefits of the Electoral College and believe it should be kept. But if it is to be eliminated, respect for the Constitution requires use of the formal constitutional amendment process. Yes, such a process is difficult, but changes to fundamental law should not be made without great thought and widespread agreement. NPV instead relies on a handful of states to change the presidential election system for the whole country, with minimal debate and even less agreement.

The Tea Party has proven itself to be a powerful political force, so it is not surprising that NPV is adapting its pitch accordingly. But Tea Partiers will serve their country best if they continue to be wary of anti-constitutional ideas such as NPV.

— Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College.