Arguments in favor of the perpetual continuation of that grand anti-democratic institution, the Electoral College, are both ancient and generally (as my college Eric Levitz definitively demonstrated earlier this year) threadbare. But it’s useful to blow them up one by one as they arise, with the latest being a remonstration by Senator Joni Ernst aimed at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s arguments for abolishing the electoral dinosaur:
To state the most obvious issue, there’s something fundamentally stupid about the claim that giving voters everywhere the exact same power to elect a president is going to “silence” anyone. Besides, is voting for president the only way citizens can “voice” their opinions? What the hell is Joni Ernst doing in the U.S. Senate? Are her efforts just a waste of time unless presidential candidates are lusting after Iowa’s six electoral votes every four years?
Now it’s true that the “losers” — relatively speaking — in a shift from Electoral College to a popular-vote system would be closely contested “battleground states” that naturally attract candidate attention more than safely Democratic or Republican states. Presumably, Ernst thinks of Iowa as a battleground state, which it has indeed often been in recent years. But these things change. In the 2016 presidential election, Iowa was ten points more Republican than the nation as a whole. It was redder than Texas. Is Joni Ernst going to urge Iowans to tilt more Democratic so that the state remains a battleground, thus keeping their voice from being silenced? I don’t think so.
But the real howler about this is that Ernst is talking about preserving the power in presidential elections of Iowa, for God’s sake. This is the state where caucuses stand at the gateway to the presidential nominating process, demanding that candidates raise money for the state and county parties; visit likely caucus-goers in their homes, churches, community centers, and pizza parlors; learn all about ethanol subsidies and soybean exports; and attend the dusty environs of the State Fair, consuming at least a corn dog or two and paying their respects to the Butter Cow. This is Iowa, maker of legends and breaker of hearts. Candidates may secretly hate the Hawkeye State for the time and money it consumes, or for the winter weather, but they are going to pay it attention and hear its voters’ voices over and over again.
Generally speaking, Iowa needs the Electoral College to make sure presidents are aware of it about as much as the current president needs more self-esteem. Joni Ernst or whoever runs her Twitter account should take down that tweet before it really embarrasses her.