Why a plan to scrap the electoral college is gaining momentum

The electoral college has long been a topic of debate in American politics, but perhaps never more so than in aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory of Hillary Clinton. Despite a significant advantage in the popular vote, the structure of the electoral college saw Clinton lose to Trump in a result that few pundits saw coming.

The closest the United States has come to abolishing the Electoral College occurred during the 91st Congress (1969–1971). The presidential election of 1968 resulted in Richard Nixon receiving 301 electoral votes (56% of electors), Hubert Humphrey 191 (35.5%) and George Wallace 46 (8.5%) with 13.5% of the popular vote. However, Nixon had only received 511,944 more popular votes than Humphrey, 43.5% to 42.9%, less than 1% of the national total.

Representative Emanuel Celler (D – New York), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, responded to public concerns over the disparity between the popular vote and electoral vote by introducing House Joint Resolution 681, a proposed Constitutional amendment which would have replaced the Electoral College with simpler plurality system based on the national popular vote.

With this system, the pair of candidates who had received the highest number of votes would win the presidency and vice presidency providing they won at least 40% of the national popular vote. If no pair received 40% of the popular vote, a runoff election would be held in which the choice of President and vice president would be made from the two pairs of persons who had received the highest number of votes in the first election.

The word “pair” was defined as “two persons who shall have consented to the joining of their names as candidates for the offices of President and Vice President”.

On April 29, 1969, the House Judiciary Committee voted 28 to 6 to approve the proposal. Debate on the proposal before the full House of Representatives ended on September 11, 1969 and was eventually passed with bipartisan support on September 18, 1969, by a vote of 339 to 70.

On September 30, 1969, President Richard Nixon gave his endorsement for adoption of the proposal, encouraging the Senate to pass its version of the proposal which had been sponsored as Senate Joint Resolution 1 by Senator Birch Bayh.

On January 5, 2017, Representative Steve Cohen introduced a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment that would replace the Electoral College with the popular election of the President and Vice President. Unlike the Bayh–Celler amendment 40% threshold for election, Cohen’s proposal only requires a candidate to have the “greatest number of votes” to be elected.