Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Yale Lecturer Todd Cort wants to discard the electoral college system, because it gives rural voters the voting power to challenge the dominance of the coastal elites. But in my opinion, Todd’s focus on minutiae of the electoral system misses the big picture.
The electoral college is thwarting our ability to battle global warming
Who (you might ask) is David Brearley?
Brearley plays a critical, and entirely accidental, role in climate change because of his position as the chair of the Committee on Postponed Parts within the Constitutional Convention of 1787. While drafting the U.S. Constitution, the convention left several “sticky questions” to Brearley’s Committee, such as the manner by which U.S. presidents would be elected. Brearley and the Committee were stuck between two difficult choices: election by the U.S. Congress or election by the voting public. The committee opted for a middle ground solution – an electoral college that would vote on behalf of the citizens, but which would be populated based on the number of congressional seats assigned to each State in the Union.
It is this solution, brilliant at the time, that leads us to Brearley’s legacy on climate change. Because over the course of the last 200 plus years, the electoral college, which provides for stronger voting power per person in more rural and less populated states, has elected four U.S. presidents who clearly lost the popular vote (1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016). Two of those elections have occurred during the period in which we have known about the causes and impacts of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change and in both cases, the impacts of those elections have very likely had profound impacts on our actions to address the challenge.
The Obama administration did not solve climate change, but it did make significant strides both domestically and in international agreements. Obama signed the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 and his EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan in the United States. Perhaps more significantly, President Obama opened the doors of politics to embrace what is a known fact in the scientific community, thereby allowing climate change to be mainstreamed for a wider swath of the country.
Which brings us to November, 2016. Once again, the electoral college system has elected a U.S. president in opposition to the popular vote in the form of Donald Trump. Hindsight in four years will tell us of the legacy of the Trump administration on climate change, but, despite a recent pledge to keep an “open mind” on the subject, the statements and commitments from the administration to date provide strong reasons for anticipating which way he’ll go.
Did the electoral college system deliver an unfair victory to Trump? The following is President-elect Donald Trump’s response to this suggestion;
If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in N.Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2016
Both candidates knew the rules. Nobody would have given Trump any quarter if he won the popular vote, but lost the electoral college. Trump campaigned to win, under the rules of the system as it stood. Hillary made plenty of mistakes – she reportedly derided her husband Bill Clinton, when he warned her she needed to spend more time chasing rural voters, rural voters who ultimately swung their support behind Donald Trump.