I believe conservative policies — smaller government, lower taxes and strong families, churches and communities — are better for the country. I also believe that the Republican Party and its elections machinery make a poor case for those policies across the country.
I don’t blame the party. Its job is to win elections, particularly the election of the president. I do blame the winner-take-all-laws enacted by state legislatures to appoint presidential electors, pursuant to the mandate of Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution does not mandate a winner-take-all law, but it does mandate the states have a method of appointing electors. And, for the conservative movement, winner-take-all is the worst possible way to implement that mandate.
I believe in the Electoral College. Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution places the duty to enact election law primarily on the states, and the Electoral College keeps it there.
If we ever eliminated the Electoral College, Congress would have carte blanche to enact those laws, and, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you wouldn’t want the other party writing election law at the national level. Both sides would write the law to benefit themselves. That happens at the state level, but the impact of those laws is limited to that state. If Congress were to do it, no matter how unfair it might seem to the other side, it would still apply nationwide. The Electoral College limits the ability of Congress to implement nationwide election laws, and that is a good thing.
However, winner take-all-laws — those laws that say if a candidate wins a state, they receive all of the electors from that state — hurt the conservative movement. That is because winner-take-all laws neuter conservative voices on a national level.
If you live in a reliably red state, like Arkansas or Alabama, national presidential candidates don’t care what you think because those candidates know your opinion won’t change the outcome of the votes in those states. The state will vote Republican no matter what, so neither candidate solicits your opinion, or your vote, in an election.
The same is true if you are a conservative in a blue state, like California or New York. Candidates know your state is going to vote for the Democrat no matter what, so why take the time to get your opinion or your vote.
And what happens in battleground states?
Republicans spend all of their time attempting to persuade moderate voters in narrow regions of the battleground states to vote Republican. We get bad policy proposals from conservative candidates for president to win moderate voters in Cleveland and Miami to win Ohio and Florida.
That hurts the conservative movement and the country. If, in a presidential election, the opinions of conservative voters in the Rocky Mountain, Great Plains, Midwest and Southern states mattered to the Republican presidential candidate, we would see a vastly different candidate and a vastly different election.
Big government proposals would have to pass the smell test in Missouri and Montana before Republicans in Congress would vote for them. Not only is that better for the conservative movement, but it is better for the country.
James Madison opposed winner-take-all in a letter in 1823 because he believed it silenced voters inside the state. He was right then, and he is right now.
A method that preserves the Electoral College and promotes a national popular vote would give voice to conservatives around the country in each and every state. That is good for the conservative movement, the Republican Party and the country.
Ray Haynes is a senior consultant to the National Popular Vote, a non-profit organization. As a Republican, he served in both the California State Senate and the California State Assembly. Haynes was also national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council.