Our Editorial: Reconsider how we elect presidents

The Detroit News

President Donald Trump has a way of dominating the news cycle even when seemingly in stream-of-consciousness modes. This week on “Fox and Friends” he digressed into arguing that the United States should determine its president based on a popular vote, not the Electoral College, even though he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes and would not be president under the system he advocates.

But his off-the-cuff comment should restart the conversation about how we elect presidents.

Critics have long been upset about the disconnect between the popular vote and the electoral vote, arguing presidents Trump and George W. Bush took the office without winning a majority at the ballot box. Those elections have helped erode confidence in the electoral process.

And while designed to ensure less populated states are not ignored in the campaigning, there is good support for the argument that a popular vote election would force candidates to campaign more broadly.

The goal of compiling the 270 Electoral College needed to win the presidential election gives most of the influence to a few battleground states — places like Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan that tend to see most of the campaign activity.

In fact, in 2016, 273 of 399 general election campaign events were held in just six states: those mentioned above along with Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Most of the advertising dollars were spent there as well.

Attention given to battleground states doesn’t end after the election. They receive 7 percent more federal grants than other states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, Superfund exemptions and federal education law exemptions.

Alternatives have been suggested. One such proposal, the National Popular Vote, would not require a constitutional change; states would simply have to agree to give their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution says states have exclusive control over how they award their electoral votes.

Once enough states to total 270 votes agree to that system, it would automatically take effect.

And every vote in every state would count. As it stands now, voting on the west coast is often suppressed because voters know the outcome before their polls close.

Upending that system would give back voters in disadvantaged time zones their power, and generally reignite voter turnout throughout the country. It would distribute the importance of campaigning to every single vote in America, not just those in a few key counties.

The idea has gained traction. Jurisdictions and entire states have joined the compact, enough to comprise at least 61 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to trigger it. Connecticut is considering joining.

There will never be a particularly easy time to change how we elect presidents in this country. But realigning the will of the people with victory is an important issue, and a way to restore voters’ faith and interest in our critical elections.