Today is the publication day of Jesse Wegman’s “Let the People Pick the President,” a history of the Electoral College and the case for abolishing it. I posted this review on my Facebook page and as I’d hoped it generated a brisk conversation from both sides. Click through the image of the book below to order your copy, and join in the conversation here on Facebook (scroll down until you find the post) and on Goodreads.
My Goodreads review is cut-and-pasted below.
I’ve hated the electoral college since learning about it in civics class in high school. It has always felt to me like such an abrogation of the ideal of “one man, one vote.” In his book, Let the People Pick the President, Jesse Wegman writes
…the Electoral College…violates the core democratic principles of political equality and majority rule. We may all be eligible to vote for president now, yet all of our votes do not count the same, and the candidate who gets the most votes can lose…
There isn’t even one single body of electors. Instead, each presidential candidate has his or her own “slate” of electors tapped by local party leaders for nothing but their obedience.
“Nothing but their obedience.” There is no word in the English language more guaranteed to make me run amok, especially in this context. Obedience is for dogs, not for American voters.
It turns out I’m not alone in my hatred, though. Wegman writes
If we really thought the Electoral College was the best way to choose a president, we wouldn’t have tried to reform or abolish it more than 700 times.
That’s right; in the 243 years of our existence, we have tried an average of three times a year to do away with the Electoral College. Given the fact that said College has now twice in the last two decades utterly abrogated the popular vote, Wegman’s book is particularly apropos. He gives us a history of the Electoral College, beginning at the beginning
The final product–a system of specially appointed, state-based electors that we today call the Electoral College–was a complicated, half-hearted arrangement cobbled together in the [Constitutional] convention’s final days by a few exhausted delegates in a side froom of the Pennsylvania statehouse. It ran to 346 words over two paragraphs, the longest, most convoluted clause in the whole charter.
and points out that the arc of American history bends toward that ideal of “one man, one vote” time and again–in women’s suffrage, in black suffrage, in the Second Founding, and more. Eliminating the Electoral College is the next step.
For those who insist that the Electoral College is a way for small-population states to have an equal voice in our national community, Wegman writes
Right now most states, and the voters in them, are forgotten, and for a simple reason: they are not electorally competitive in the presidential race…The last presidential candidate to visit all 50 states in a campaign was Richard Nixon in 1960, and he did it because he’d promised to…the underlying dynamic stays the same: a few lucky states duke it out in the ring while the rest of America sits up in the nosebleeds, passive spectators to the most consequential election in the world’s oldest democracy.
Further, once a president is elected by those handful of states (I’m looking at you, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and let’s not forget Florida, which holds up every presidential election because they never learned to count), that president naturally focuses his official attention on those states, to the tune of federal dollars and personal appearances, which alone generates more investments and more attention. The rest of us? Who cares?
Thoroughly researched, well written, this book is the Electoral College soup to nuts, and if you aren’t convinced by the end of the book that it’s past time to end the EC, then you haven’t been paying attention. Wegman sums it up here
The challenges facing democracy in the twenty-first century are very real, which is why it is all the more urgent that we do everything we can to strengthen the oldest continuously functioning one in the world. A presidential election system that ignores 100 million voters and lets the loser win is not the way to do that. A democracy that doesn’t simply tolerate minority rule but encourages it is not a true democracy, and it cannot survive for long. [emphasis mine]
I read that senators — United States Senators with the full might and majesty of the US Constitution at their backs — admit privately that they were too afraid of Trump to vote guilty in his recent impeachment trial.
In a word, they were obedient.
Okay, fine. Time to make them afraid of the voters. Buy this book, read it, and take action. Start here:
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.