The results of the 2016 presidential election -- with Republican nominee Donald Trump securing nearly 80 more electoral votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who won nearly 3 million popular votes more than Trump -- have revived ongoing debate over the value of the Electoral College in 21st century politics, with many citizens, academics and politicians calling for its abolition.
Jack Rakove, a Stanford University historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, falls in that camp. He will speak about the history of the Electoral College and the implications of the system in today's world at a free talk at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills on Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m.
The talk, "Can We Ever Get Rid of the Electoral College?" is co-sponsored by Congregation Beth Am, Beth Am Women, the League of Women Voters, Avenidas and the American Association of University Women.
The goal of the event, Rakove said in an interview with the Weekly, is to provide historical context to help people think critically about the Electoral College, which gives each state as many votes as it has members of Congress, and encourage open dialogue about a thorny political issue.
"Everybody is curious to know about the Electoral College," Rakove said. "Not many people really understand its origins or how it evolved. There are a lot of reasons to think critically about it today, especially when you have a disparity between the electoral and popular vote."
That disparity played out in two of the last five presidential elections, in 2016 and in 2000, when George W. Bush was first elected.
Rakove, whose "Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution" won the Pulitzer, is a leading advocate for doing away with the Electoral College. The framers of the Constitution created and adopted the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as a compromise between those who supported electing the president by popular vote and those who favored a Congressional appointment.
Rakove would like to explore what it would take to determine the nation's president by the outcome of the national popular vote -- a reform that was proposed but failed once before, in the Senate in 1970.
"You do have the 'one person, one vote' problem, which is that votes have a different weight in the states which they're cast" because of how the Electoral College is structured, he said. "If you believe as I do that each vote should have the same weight wherever it's cast, that's troubling."
The logic of the Electoral College -- that smaller states need a "senatorial bump" to get greater electoral weight -- is at odds with the fact that people don't vote in presidential elections based on the size of their home state, Rakove said.
"If, say, environmental sustainability or abortion or the Second Amendment is your dominant concern, it does not matter whether you live in Wyoming or California, Pennsylvania or Delaware," he wrote in an August 2016 piece in Stanford Magazine. "The size of a state does not affect our real political preferences, even though the Electoral College system imagines that it does."
But what would it take to eliminate the Electoral College? Rakove believes the only successful path would be a constitutional amendment. He's critical of an alternative proposal that has been floated -- to "impose" a national popular vote by getting a simple majority of states to commit to cast their electoral votes for whichever candidate won the popular vote.
A national popular vote could, Rakove said, help mitigate an increasingly divisive electoral process.
"If we come to think the nation is divided into blue states and red states with a fraction of battleground states, that compounds the adversarial nature of what already an intensely partisan political process," he told the Weekly.
With an election by national popular vote, however, "The parties (would) have a strong incentive to turn out their votes wherever their votes are. It doesn't matter whether you're in a battleground state or not. A vote is a vote is a vote."
Admitting that there is no "happy solution" to the Electoral College question, Rakove said, "My basic advice is: We need to talk about this."
For more information about the talk, go to betham.org.