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March 27, 2006
Strib: Let's Ignore The Constitution

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune once again demonstrates why it remains on the fringe of the newspaper industry. Their news section shows flashes of brilliance, but their editorial board continues to display the lunacy of the political outliers, and today's editorial gives a great example. The Strib today argues to allow a handful of states to hijack the Electoral College, defy the Constitution, and capture the presidency for the most populous states:

This country could form a more perfect union by accepting a novel idea: that the president of the United States should be elected by the people of the United States.

That's not the way it's done, of course, and, given the Constitution's enshrinement of the Electoral College, things aren't likely to change. To quit the college would take approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of state legislatures, so fuggedaboudit.

But now comes a gaggle of bipartisan reformers with a cheeky idea worth considering. What if legislatures, one by one, entered their states into an interstate compact under which members would agree to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote? The compact would kick in only when enough states had joined it to elect a president -- that is, when a majority of the 538 electoral votes were assembled. As few as 11 states could ensure that the candidate with the most popular votes nationally would win the presidency. As a result, the Constitution and the Electoral College would stay intact, but the college's fangs would be removed.

The Strib's editors need a history lesson. The Constitution established the Electoral College as a means to ensure that the most populous states would not control the presidency. Those states had control of the House and the federal pursestrings. The EC gives populous states more votes but the structure keeps them from absolute control over the election of the head of state. This arrangment has worked well for over 200 years, during which only two elections ever came into dispute because of a difference between the EC and the popular vote: the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden and the 2000 Bush-Gore election. (Ironically, both hinged on Florida's electors.)

This Strib idiocy shows that three recounts and six years later, the editorial board still hasn't recovered from seeing its endorsed candidate lose the election. Now, instead of using the system that has guaranteed all states a voice in selecting the president, it wants to dump it. And does it advocate doing so through the channels established in the Constitution itself? No indeed. They endorse an end-around by states to undermine the Constitution and the creation of a compact that puts the most populous states at odds with the rest, committing a conspiracy to strip them of their ability to affect presidential elections.

This should come as no surprise. The Strib has shown remarkably little affection for the Constitution in the past, pushing for gun control and outright abolishment as well as their more recent amnesia regarding war powers. They regularly oppose judicial nominees who aim to rule on the actual text of the Constitution as "extreme" while extolling those who find emanations from penumbras, or penumbras from emanations, or just plain whole cloth instead of the Constitution itself. However, their distaste for Constitutional law seems to have reached its apex in this bald effort to simply ignore the plain and clear language of the founding document of the Republic.

If the Strib wants a different president, it should implore the opposition party to nominate better candidates. The 2000 election came down to which candidate could carry his home state; had Gore managed to do that, he would have easily won the presidency. If it wants a change in the Constitution, then it should endorse an amendment ending the Electoral College. If it wants to be taken seriously, it should stop encouraging states to act unconstitutionally and endorsing the capture of the electoral process by the nation's most populous states. Shame on the Strib, its editors, and the McClatchy newspaper organization for this "cheeky" idea from the nation's premier collection of asses.

UPDATE: The 1876 election pitted Rutherford B. Hayes against Tilden, not Harrison (1888). Several CQ readers caught that one -- my apologies, and I've corrected the text above. I also heard from CQ reader Bruce B, who reminds me that Article I, Section 10 forbids compacts between the states without Congressional approval. It would appear that the founding fathers suspected that states might be tempted to form syndicates to undermine the federal system and ensured that they included a restriction against it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 27, 2006 7:11 AM

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