Electoral College must go, but what should replace it?

The elector nomination process is specific to each state. For example, in Florida, the governor nominates the electors of each party while in other states like California, electors are nominated by the state political parties.ABEMOS/iStockphoto/Tribune News Service

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — Soon, we’ll be seeing a lot of posts and articles about getting rid of the Electoral College.

We’ll hear a lot about the idea of “one (hu)man, one vote” and proposals to use the national popular vote to determine the president. We’ll hear people point to examples when the Electoral College result differed from the national vote (Trump/Clinton 2016) or to Wyoming’s three electoral votes as justification for dismantling the Electoral College.

The “one human, one vote” solution is popular, but it has many problems. The first is an assumption that voter turnout is equal across all 50 states. Of course, that is not the case.

Second, POTUS is not the only issue on the ballot in November, when 11 states will choose their governors and 33 states will choose senators. The contentiousness of those races often affects the percentage of eligible voters that turn out.

Third, many states allow ballot initiatives to appear on ballots. Some of these initiatives become lightning rods for voter turnout.

Think back when many states put marriage equality on the ballot. That caused a very atypical election in many states.

Fourth, geographic differences influence beliefs and needs differently within a state or region. Candidates are aware of this and campaign accordingly. Under a “one human, one vote” system, POTUS candidates would give all of their focus to states with larger populations like New York and California while ignoring less-populated states like Missouri and Iowa.

A broad national agenda would be sacrificed, replaced by the unique needs of large population pockets.

Finally, going with a national “one human, one vote” system could mean our registration would eventually end up under the federally controlled Department of Homeland Security rather than with states.

A chilling reminder: When Donald Trump took office, one of his administration’s first requests was for the states to send their voter rolls to the federal government. Only a few did; thankfully, most said no.

Yet we still need to change the current system of the Electoral College. One reason is the “winner-take-all” setup of rewarding electors to candidates. This system is in place in 48 states, where a minimum 50 percent plus 1 vote gives all electors for that state to one candidate.

Especially in states where the vote is likely to be close, that means up to 49 percent of the voters did not count!

I recommend that we keep the Electoral College but adopt the system in place for Maine and Nebraska. They use a formula that awards electors to candidates based on the percentage of the vote that each candidate won.

Have you noticed that when the Electoral College vote is reported, there is usually a fractional part? That’s Maine and Nebraska, where all voters counted.

This change could be made in 48 different state legislatures, or it could be instituted via a federal voting rights law that mandates percentage awards of electors. The Supreme Court has recently upheld that electors who don’t vote as assigned by the voters they represent can be sanctioned, so judicial precedence exists to support this system.

The original Electoral College was created during a time when the electors had to ride their horses to cast their votes. We don’t have that situation anymore; no valid reason exists to keep electors as physical bodies casting the final POTUS votes, other than the hassle to change the system.

One more added advantage exists to percentage awards, and it may be the most important in this era of extreme partisanship. The Maine/Nebraska system, where Electoral College votes are apportioned based on the percentage of vote earned by a candidate, would open the door for third parties to gain recognition by the electorate. It would finally give them a legitimate chance to have a chance.

Broadly, over time this system change may lead us to a Congress that legislates through compromise rather than by the letter (R or D) after their titles.

This outdated “50 percent plus one” is no way to choose a leader. The Maine/Nebraska “percentage awards system” is the way to go for so many reasons. Getting it in place requires bipartisan agreement — so the time to start pressuring our legislators is now.

Bob Mueller of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, is a longtime political activist. He studied economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This column originally appeared on TheRealMainStream.com.

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(12) comments

hermit thrush

a bedrock principle of just government is majority rule and minority rights. i.e., the majority gets to be in charge, but it can't run roughshod over the minority. there is exactly one way to have the majority be in charge: a simple popular vote.


A lot of people seem to forget that the United States is not one giant land mass from sea to shinning sea. It's fifty independent states cobbled together in a Republic, not a democracy. If states like Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, the Dakotas, Montana, etc are left out of the voting process and their voices are never heard, and their votes don't matter, they will leave the Union.

hermit thrush

it is already the case that wyoming, utah, idaho, the dakotas, and montana are effectively left out of the voting process. they're all dominated by one party so no one pays any attention to them in national elections. similarly, upstate ny has a lot of republicans in it, but they receive no national attention because ny is not a competitive state overall. yet none of these states are about to leave the union, my goodness! a simple popular vote would force politicians to pay attention to the entire country, not just a small handful of swing states.


Bob Mueller makes a significant error in his description of his solution to the electoral college. He says Maine and Nebraska us a proportional system for assigning electors. This is incorrect. Maine and Nebraska award one elector for the winner in each congressional district (Maine has 2 districts, Nebraska has 3). The state wide winner is awarded the other 2 electors.

His solution has a significant drawback. Under either a by-district, or a proportional method of assigning electors, you would have a far greater chance of candidates with regional appeal, or third party candidates winning electoral votes. You mights say, "Great, more candidates is for the best." But this would increase the likelihood that no candidate would win a majority in the electoral college. If that happens, the election in thrown to the House of Representative, where each state is awarded one vote for president. Right now, Republicans have majority of the seats in 26 states. If the election is thrown to the House, those votes would elect the next president. Those state delegations are not representative of the majority of the country.

Mueller's solution would likely disenfranchise the majority of voters in presidential elections.


Who says it should go at all. Better be very careful about this discussion. Pure democracy means tyranny of the majority. This is to the advantage of the city dwelling dems.

hermit thrush

right, this explains why democrats have a hammerlock on state governments in georgia, texas, and florida.


The Electoral College is a national institution and has nothing to do with state and local. If it was abolished carelessly we would be dominated by the politics of NYC, LA, San Fran, and all the other urban centers. I know you would like this but it would be a form of tyranny.

hermit thrush

that whooshing sound you hear is the point going over your head. georgia, texas, and florida aren't dominated by their respective cities in statewide elections because their cities don't hold enough population, and the same pattern holds nationally. we are not a very urban country! the median voter lives in the suburbs. on the other hand, so what? we are not talking about how much raw political power this or that group has, but simply who gets to lead the government. "consent of the governed" can only mean that the majority gets to be in charge. you are an open advocate for minority rule.

hermit thrush

more seriously, every single state in the union elects its governor via "pure democracy," i.e., a simple popular vote. there's nothing tyrannical about this at all. doing at the national level would be no different. elitists like pitbull are in the minority but they feel entitled to have power anyway.

hermit thrush

a national popular vote is the only fair system. each person's vote should count equally towards the final outcome.


Calling me an elitist is a good one. I'm going to tell my friends. A popular vote where cities choose all would decimate rural America. Is this what you want?

hermit thrush

if you think that the votes of yourself and people like you should count for more, then yes you absolutely are an elitist. i am sorry but that's simply what the word means.

meanwhile, surprise surprise, you are wildly misinformed about the geographic distribution of people in this country. there aren't enough people in cities to dominate the electoral process. all you have to do is, say, look at the 2016 election results. hillary clinton won the national vote by 2.1 percentage points. that is not a lot! republicans could have very easily won the national popular vote if they nominated a more reasonable candidate.

the reality is that a plurality of people live in the suburbs in this country. again, all you have to do is look at state politics in texas, georgia, and florida to see how farcical it is to claim that cities would dominate under a simple popular vote.

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