House Joint Resolution 19 and the long struggle to reform the electoral college

by | Feb 8, 2017 | Elections | Comments

Currently, there’s a large amount of focus on certain United States bills (ie, House Bill 175: ObamaCare Repeal Act) but less on others, like United States House Joint Resolution 19, which proposes an end to the electoral college via constitutional amendment.

The electoral college has been on shaky ground before. Springing into existence in 1787, the college was created to insulate the Executive Branch from the masses, creating one last point at which a faction-driven president-elect, or someone picked by a majority that would be likely to oppress the minority, could be stopped. It also allowed for more power to go to smaller states, as the number of electors is population based-plus-two, or the total number of congressmen and senators a state holds.

The vast majority of states have a “winner take all” system, in which the winning candidate gets 100% of the electoral votes for that state, even if they only won by a small margin. Two states, Nebraska and Maine, have proportional systems, in which their votes are split between the two, or more, top candidates.

Joint Resolution 19 was introduced on January fifth of this year, and was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, and then to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. It is sponsored by Representative Steve Cohen, a democrat from Tennessee, and cosponsored originally by Representative Jim Cooper (D, TN), and has since added two more cosponsors: Representative Darren Soto (D, FL), and Representative John Garamendi (D, CA).

This bill follows the election of President Trump, who won the electoral college, while losing the popular vote. And this is not the first time that this has happened. In fact, it has happened five times previously.

  • In 1824, John Quincy Adams became President, following his loss to Andrew Jackson in the popular election.
  • In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes (R) lost the popular vote, but received one more electoral college vote than his opponent, Samuel Tilden (D).
  • In 1888, Grover Cleveland (D) received the popular vote, but Benjamin Harrison (R) received far more electoral college votes.
  • In 2000, Al Gore (D) won the popular vote, but lost the election to George Bush (R). The 2000 election remains the “most highly contested election in modern history.”  

There has been talk about changing the electoral voting system, or disbanding it all together, before. In fact, following, and preceding many elections, there has been call for change, sometimes with many different proposals all being considered at the same time. However, it has always survived, due to the difficulty of determining what the best replacement policy would be.

Another note on the difficulty of passing electoral college reform currently falls to the fact that, historically, the Republican Party has benefitted more, with the Democratic Party never winning the electoral college despite losing the popular vote. The current US Congress, with Republican controlled House and Senate, is not likely to want to change what has worked for them for so long.

photo credit: The Library of Congress Vice Pres. Marshall receives Cal. Vote (LOC) via photopin (license)