Commentary

Republicans give three cheers for the Electoral College — again

January 15, 2024 7:00 pm
"I voted" stickers are made available to voters at Givens Recreation Center on Nov. 3, 2020, in Austin, Texas. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans headed to the polls on the last day to cast their vote for incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. (Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

“I voted” stickers are made available to voters at Givens Recreation Center on Nov. 3, 2020, in Austin, Texas. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans headed to the polls on the last day to cast their vote for incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. (Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Lawmaking is a pretty straightforward business. A well-written law lacks ambiguity. If it’s done right, there’s no need to read between the lines to figure out what legislators really meant. That’s not the case with concurrent resolutions, which are meant to offer a snapshot of what lawmakers are thinking about an issue. Since they don’t have the weight of law, it’s OK if resolutions say one thing yet mean another.

Take House Concurrent Resolution 6001, which has already flown through both chambers in this young legislative session. It’s titled “Supporting the Electoral College.” The resolution lives up to its title in the first paragraphs, extolling the virtues of the Electoral College, its balance between rural and urban interests, its preservation of the constitutional separation of powers and its endorsement by the Founding Fathers.

After six paragraphs of love for the Electoral College, HCR 6001 reveals its true nature. At this point it starts to talk some smack about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

When enough states have signed on to the compact so that their combined Electoral College votes tally 270 — the total needed for a candidate to be elected president — they will cast their Electoral College votes for the candidate that has received the most votes nationwide. Compact backers say they are attempting to fulfill the pledge of one person, one vote.

Proponents of the compact say it treats each vote equally instead of giving more weight to votes cast in states with a larger tally of electoral votes. Since all votes would be treated equally, in theory the compact would keep candidates from concentrating all their visits and their advertising dollars on so-called “battleground” states.

There are questions about the constitutionality of the compact. Currently 16 states and the District of Columbia have signed up, representing 205 electoral votes, which translates to 38% of the Electoral College and 76% of the 270 votes needed to elect a president.

While the compact may need more legal scrutiny, it’s apparent that the Electoral College has a few loopholes of its own. Donald Trump’s attempt to game the system with slates of fake electors shows that the Electoral College may not be as secure as HCR 6001 would have us believe.

Under the current system, a presidential candidate need not win the popular vote as long as the candidate accrues enough votes in the Electoral College. In other words, if the candidate wins the right states, there’s no need to worry about winning the popular vote.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the sponsors of HCR 6001 are Republicans. In recent history it’s their presidential candidates, after all, that keep getting elected through the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. George W. Bush did it in 2000. Trump did it in 2016, winning the Electoral College vote while losing the popular vote to Hilary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes. It’s easy to see why Republicans have sponsored a measure that says Electoral College good, National Popular Vote Interstate Compact bad.

Not only that, they have said the same thing before. HCR 6001 is sponsored by Rep. Tina Mulally of Rapid City. She sponsored a remarkably similar resolution, HCR 6003, in 2020. It had the same title. It started out singing the praises of the Electoral College. It ended voicing its disapproval of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The 2020 version proved to be popular with legislators, passing in the House 61-5 and being endorsed in the Senate on a vote of 31-3. This raises a question: If this love letter to the Electoral College was approved in 2020, why bring it back to life in 2024?

Asked about her reasons for a legislative resurrection, Mulally said that she was bringing the resolution back because in 2023 the Legislature experienced an approximately 40% turnover. This raises the question of Mulally’s priorities. Is she in Pierre to educate her colleagues or to work for the betterment of the people who elected her?

Obviously, the Republican super-majority in the Legislature didn’t have any concerns about traveling over familiar ground. The resolution was endorsed 60-2 in the House one day and 26-3 in the Senate the next day. Both chambers waived assigning the resolution to committees and just voted on it, perhaps to save time. Because time, in a legislative session, is in short supply.

During the 2023 session, lawmakers dealt with more than 500 pieces of legislation. Lawmakers promised to get off to a fast start in 2024, and they have. However, with the tremendous press of work that legislators face in each session, it seems like overkill to devote even more time to a resolution that does not have the weight of law and protests a compact that at this point is far from becoming the law of the land.

 

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Dana Hess
Dana Hess

Dana Hess spent more than 25 years in South Dakota journalism, editing newspapers in Redfield, Milbank and Pierre. He's retired and lives in Brookings, working occasionally as a freelance writer.

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