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OPINION

Bypass Electoral College to improve our politics

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As a North Carolina voter, you probably think you have clout — that you possess an equal voice in our electoral process. Well, think again. Among the 50 United States, North Carolina ranks fifth from the bottom when it comes to voter influence in presidential elections. 

Why? Currently, North Carolina has 15 electoral votes, or one elector for every 700,000 residents. Conservative? A Democrat in Vermont, with 208,000 residents per elector, has 3.4 times your voting power. Liberal? One Republican vote in Wyoming, with 178,000 residents per elector, will take 3.9 of your votes to offset. Even after our state picks up one additional electoral vote from the 2020 census, the inequity will persist.

Not exactly “one person, one vote,” is it? So, how do we level the playing field? 

You can be certain that, following most presidential elections, a significant portion of the public will complain about the unfairness of the Electoral College, an archaic system created long ago for what was then an agrarian nation. But that system, no matter how undemocratic, is embedded in our Constitution, and only a constitutional amendment can repeal it. 

Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine that smaller states will ratify anything that will reduce their outsized influence. So, the Electoral College is here to stay? Probably. “One person, one vote” is a hopeless cause? Hardly.

There is a simple way to bypass the Electoral College. It is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. In short, states that enter the compact agree to pledge all their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of whether that candidate prevails in their state. 

The National Popular Vote bill will take effect when it is enacted into law by states with a combined total of 270 or more electoral votes. As of this writing, the bill has been ratified by 16 jurisdictions possessing 196 electoral votes. Several more state legislatures have it under consideration. In 2007, the compact passed the North Carolina Senate but died in the House.

What would ratification mean? In addition to cementing “one person,one vote,” election by popular vote would force candidates to appeal to a broader swath of America rather than pander to special interest voters with overarching influence in swing districts. 

For example, in 1959, tens of thousands of Cubans fled their island nation after a popular revolution toppled the Batista regime. Many migrated to South Florida, where today they embody a large segment of Miami and its surrounding communities. Understandably, these Cuban transplants hold a deep resentment of the Castro government and reliably support candidates who are hostile to it. A presidential contender promoting improved relations with Cuba risks losing their votes and, thanks to the Electoral College, could very well forfeit the entire election. Consequently, and to the detriment of both countries, the U.S. stands alone among nations in its failure to normalize relations with its neighbor.

Perhaps most importantly, election by popular vote would likely have a moderating effect on candidates, thus reducing fringe and regional influence, and the partisan rancor that ensues. Newly elected presidents would have a more sizable mandate since their legitimacy could no longer be questioned because they failed to win the popular vote.

Enactment of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact may very well be the most important thing North Carolina legislators can do to preserve our democracy and foster the healing process our nation so desperately needs. 

Chances are you never heard of the compact before. Now that you know, spread the word. Contact your representatives. Join the movement.

Jeffrey Zalles is a retired San Francisco entrepreneur and freelance writer now living in Southport. 

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