We Must Deal With The 12th Amendment

 By Leslie Stenull         |      Our Voice Contributor


The 2016 election was a revelatory event with regard to the actual operation of the democracy. The election’s outcome brought Americans face-to-face with what many view as an arcane relic with dubious roots. Most Americans struggle with explaining the Electoral College, and yet, it is the cornerstone of the franchise.

What most of us learned from the election is that the Electoral College operates as a kind of check on the wills of simple majority by balancing the interest of large population centers with the interests of remote populations that comprise most of the country’s landmass. That basic idea is familiar to most Americans, as we were all taught in civics class the importance of checks and balances. It is reasonable to ask whether the checks in place here are conducive to the practice of democracy. If we take democracy in its purest form, then the electoral college looks like an obstruction; denying the choice of the majority. Ours is not a full democracy where we open our governmental forums to free and unfettered participation. Instead, we channel the levers of democracy through systems of representation.

So, the check of the Electoral College is not entirely inconsistent with the principles under which we operate our government. What is the practical effect of the Electoral College on what should be our shared, bipartisan objective: active engagement in the democracy? The system of electors and the predictable maps that they generate are a suppressive force on voter turnout, as voters in all but the “swing states” are repeatedly reminded that their vote is a mere pro forma exercise.

As a happy resident of Connecticut, I am confident that the electoral votes of my reliably blue state will go to the Democratic candidate. So, as a practical matter, any Connecticut resident can justifiably abstain from the presidential election and rely on a particular outcome. While many people exercise their votes as a matter of civic pride, it is understandable that some would see voting as an ineffective use of their time.

But, inasmuch as the electoral process may present a disincentive for voters, it does have the legitimate balancing effect that gives voice to citizens who live outside of the power centers, whose lives are impacted by the decisions of the President.

I think an outright change of the 12th Amendment in favor of simple majority vote violates historical norms and operates as a form of disenfranchisement. I also think the system, as it stands, does not serve the best interests of a participatory democracy. What then is the compromise in this situation? I would propose what I am calling, “The 12+10 compromise.”

The 12+10 would leave all of the features of the 12th Amendment in effect with an added provision. The addition would be a provision whereby the candidate who wins the electoral race would win the Presidency, unless the unsuccessful electoral candidate won the popular vote by a margin of 10% or greater, in which case, that candidate would then become President. It is worth noting that this compromise would not have changed the 2016 election, because Mrs. Clinton did not reach the 10% margin.

This compromise is about the flaws that the 2016 race highlighted, not the race itself. A vote for the Presidency is the only national vote, and it should matter, both perceptually and actually. The people in the flyover states should have a voice in the government that serves them. By creating this mechanism to honor a significant popular win, we would all be given a reason to show up at the polls, and no voter would be automatically discounted.

By fortifying the checks and balances of our national elections this way, we would create a better fit with the system of representation in Congress, which acknowledges land area rights in the Senate and population rights in the House of Representatives. The Congress should take up this matter as a good faith means of bringing us closer to our fundamental ideals.