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Arkansas lawmakers say dumping Electoral College would hurt small states

by Frank E. Lockwood | December 18, 2016 at 5:45 a.m. | Updated December 19, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.
Map showing Electoral College votes, state by state

*CORRECTION: Maine’s electoral votes were divided Monday between President-elect Donald Trump, who received one vote, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who received three. Maine’s projected votes were incorrectly noted on a national map published with this article.

For the second time in 16 years, a Republican who finished second in the popular vote is poised to win the White House after securing a majority of votes in the Electoral College.

Arkansas Republican leaders say they are satisfied with the current system, maintaining that it is good for the state and the nation. Even some Democrats say it would be a mistake to abandon a process that gives small states a disproportionately large say in the outcome.

Electors from across the country will meet Monday at state capitols to cast their votes, which will then be forwarded to Washington, D.C., to be counted early next year. Arkansas' six electoral spots were awarded to Republicans who pledged to back the candidate who carried the state, President-elect Donald Trump.

People from both parties say there's little momentum for awarding the state's electors, in future years, to the winner of the national popular vote.

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"I think the Founding Fathers got it right," said Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. "It would obviously diminish the role of states like Arkansas if you did away with the Electoral College."

All six members of the state's congressional delegation are Republicans. They aren't expecting to see the electoral system abandoned or overhauled.

"I don't think it will be dropped, and I think it's very important that it shouldn't," said U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers.

"It's just another check and balance."

Democratic National Committeeman Dustin McDaniel, a former state attorney general, agrees.

"I think the Electoral College is a brilliantly conceived mechanism to make large and small states both relevant in the election of our president," he said. "I think it's important for states like Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Wisconsin and Oklahoma to get the attention of the candidates."

That doesn't mean he's always pleased with the outcome. "It is frustrating when you see a candidate win the popular vote and not win the election because of the Electoral College," said McDaniel, who supported his party's presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Under Article 2, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution, each state appoints electors "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct."

The Constitution essentially lets the states select the electors as they see fit, although federal officeholders are barred from serving.

Most states, including Arkansas, are winner-takes-all, giving all of the electors to the candidate who receives the most votes in that state. In Maine and Nebraska, a candidate who carries a congressional district but loses statewide is still allotted an elector.

But there's nothing in the U.S. Constitution that would prevent states from agreeing to award their delegates to the candidate who receives the most Election Day votes nationwide.

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Four times in U.S. history, the loser of the popular vote has won the presidency anyway: 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. Monday would be the fifth time.

The debate over the Electoral College was largely academic for more than a century because the winner of the popular vote also was the winner in the Electoral College.

But the arguments escalated in 2000, after Democrat Al Gore carried the popular vote while narrowly losing in the Electoral College to Republican George W. Bush.

Some Americans have been arguing ever since that the system should be changed.

In 2005, a group named National Popular Vote opened a nationwide campaign to ensure that the winner of the popular vote wins the White House from now on.

In 2006, the group began lobbying state legislatures, asking them to agree to award their electors to the top vote-getter nationwide.

The group's proposed National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would go forward only if the number of states agreeing to participate in it can provide a total of at least 270 electoral votes. That's the minimum number of electoral votes required for a candidate to win election.

The proposal wouldn't abolish the Electoral College, but would require a majority of Electoral College members to cast votes that reflect the popular vote.

Thus far, the District of Columbia and 10 solidly blue, or Democratic-leaning, states have enacted the National Popular Vote Law. Their combined electoral votes equal 165 -- 105 short of the number that would trigger the law. No red, or Republican-leaning, states and none of the purple battleground states have signed on.

Back when Democrats controlled the levers of power in Arkansas, there was some support for the concept. The state House of Representatives passed the legislation in 2007 and 2009, only to have it die in the state Senate.

The measure encountered strong opposition from the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, which made defeating the legislation a "priority issue," officials said at the time.

In a recent interview, Randy Zook, the group's president and CEO, said the chamber's position hasn't changed. "We would continue to oppose any change in the Electoral College because otherwise [in] Arkansas, we'd never see a presidential candidate again."

Monty Davenport of Yellville, the Democrat who sponsored the 2007 bill, no longer serves in the House and declined to comment about the legislation.

Eddie Cooper of Melbourne, the Democrat who sponsored the 2009 legislation, also has left the House, and the phone numbers he had listed have been disconnected.

Several co-sponsors did not return phone calls. One declined to comment.

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Vince Insalaco, who announced Thursday that he will not be seeking another term, was unavailable to discuss the Electoral College.

But Sam Kauffman, second vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Pulaski County, said the current presidential selection process doesn't make sense.

"To me, it just goes back to the concept of one person, one vote. Every vote should be equal to every other when it comes to selecting who our common leader is," he said.

But the chances of changing the system are "fairly slim," he said.

"Unfortunately, I do not see that as something that Arkansas is likely to sign onto in the near future," he said.

Hal Bass, a professor of political science at Ouachita Baptist University, said he doesn't envision Democrats or Republicans agreeing to give up the disproportionate power that the current system gives the state.

"I don't think it would be in Arkansas' state interest to do it," he said.

While efforts to change the law have stalled in Little Rock, others have taken the fight to Washington, D.C.

Some activists are calling for the U.S. Constitution to be amended so that the popular vote winner never loses again.

At least four resolutions have been filed in Congress this session calling for the Electoral College to be abolished.

The proposals face opposition from all four House members from Arkansas. All of them are Republicans.

The current system "was a carefully crafted compromise between [James] Madison and [Alexander] Hamilton to make sure the interests of big states and small states were balanced," said U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock. And it's worked well since the 1700s, he said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro said the odds of amending the Constitution are long. "That's not easy. It's only been done 27 times," he said. An amendment proposed by Congress must be ratified by three-fourths of the legislatures before it can take effect.

Changing the Electoral College would be unwise, Crawford said.

"If we do away with it, I think we fundamentally redefine what a representative republic is," he said.

Without it "what you end up with, for lack of a better term, is almost mob rule and that mob resides in major metropolitan areas, places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, that would have an inordinate amount of input as it applies to presidential elections."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers calls the Electoral College "the protection that our Constitution gives a lot of the flyover country in our nation."

Attempts to abandon the system are "foolish," he said.

"If you don't have the Electoral College, you're going to end up with a lot of the built-up areas of our country running the show," he said.

The same principle that gives small states an outsize role in the Electoral College also allows them to have disproportionate representation in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs said.

"If we were just going by popular vote, then we would probably have a parliament and a prime minister but that's not how our government was founded. Especially being from a rural state with a small population, the Electoral College is a very good part of our Constitution," he said.

SundayMonday on 12/18/2016

Print Headline: Electoral College likely to stay


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