Doing away with the Electoral College, as the method of choosing presidents, comes up periodically – most recently from U.S, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate campaigning in Mississippi.
It particularly comes up following elections where the person who wins the popular vote for president loses in the Electoral College, as happened in two of the last five presidential elections (Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore in 2000).
The electoral college was set up to choose presidents and vice presidents during the constitutional convention in the late 18th century.
Partly to appease smaller states, but also to avoid direct democracy by popular vote, a system was set up where each state would have the number of electors as the number of senators and representatives from that state.
This was designed to force candidates to campaign in smaller states, rather than just urban areas.
California has 55 electoral votes – one for each of its 53 representatives and two senators. Wyoming, with one representative, also gets credit for two senators, for three electoral votes.
The system was designed to avoid choosing presidents simply by popular vote, by having state legislators or some other group to choose another group of electors to independently judge the candidates.
Initially, most state legislatures chose their state’s electors. Eventually, however, it evolved to electors being chosen by popular vote in every state.
Of the 50 states, 48 have adopted a “winner-take-all” method. The candidate who wins the most popular votes in the state election gets all its electoral votes.
Two states shifted to a “congressional district” system – Maine in 1972 ad and Nebraska in 1992 –where the winner in each congressional district gets one electoral vote, and the popular vote winner statewide gets two – for the two senators.
But critics say the electoral college is not serving its original purpose, of deliberating about whom to choose. Now, it is simply being used to ratify a popular vote.
In Texas in 2016, Republican Donald Trump outpolled Democrat Hillary Clinton, 52.2 percent to 43.2 -- a 9-point margin. But he was to get all 38 of the state’s electoral votes, though two “faithless electors” didn’t vote for him, cutting his total to 36. Clinton got zero.
States like Texas, and Mississippi, are among those who’ve voted Republican for decades. California, by contrast, has voted Democratic by large margins.
Opponents of the winner-take-all system say that rather than the electoral college encouraging campaigning in the less populous states, candidates choose to campaign in swing states, that could go either way.
Texas, for instance, which hasn’t voted for a Democrat for statewide office since 1994 – longer than any other state – fell off the radar screen for Democratic – and Republican – presidential campaigns back in the 1990s.
It didn’t make sense for either side to spend time and resources campaigning in such Red (Republican) states instead of in Purple swing states, where it could make a difference – like Ohio and Florida.
Justin Nelson, the Democratic candidate for attorney general in 2018, had already started a group aimed at wiring around the electoral college.
An Austin lawyer and adjunct University of Texas law professor of constitutional law, Nelson formed a group called “One Nation One Vote,” aimed bringing about a popular-vote election as early as 2020.
If enough states agree to cast all their electoral votes for the national popular vote winner if their pledged electoral votes reach the 270 majority of the 538 total, they will cast all their electoral votes for that candidate.
Colorado’s governor, Democrat Jared Polis, last month signed the bill to bypass the electoral college system, which he called an “undemocratic relic” of the nation’s past.
Colorado’s nine electoral votes bring to 181 the electors committed by 12 states and the District of Columbia to honor the national popular vote if the states signing up reach 270.
Meanwhile, Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, who successfully opposed a lawsuit in San Antonio federal court from last year to end the electoral college system, argued that Texas has joined 47 other states in using the winner-take-all system for decades.
“Only an amendment to the constitution can change or eliminate the stable and successful presidential election system devised by our founders,” Paxton said in a statement. He said the U.S. Supreme Court almost half a century ago rejected such a challenge.
But with the challenges and bypass effort, it’s pretty obvious this battle is far from over.