How can it be that our electoral system is so vulnerable to the personal fancies of individual plutocrats? I explore the answer in my new book, but the short of it is that our Electoral College was designed for two-party competition and, without modification, cannot adequately handle third-party or independent candidates.
Even worse, as the book explains through its historical analysis, America has become increasingly vulnerable to this “spoiler effect” in the last 30 years, and we ignore at our peril the degree to which our presidential elections are currently at the mercy of a third-party candidate’s caprice.
There is, however, a remedy. States could require the winning candidate to receive a majority, and not just a plurality, of the state’s popular vote in order to obtain the state’s Electoral College votes. (A majority requires more than 50% of the vote, whereas a plurality means winning more votes than any other candidate. In a race with three or more candidates, it often happens that the top candidate has secured less than 50% of the vote.)States could do this by holding runoffs between the top two candidates if neither wins a majority on Election Day. Even better would be for states to adopt ranked-choice voting as Maine recently has done for its presidential elections (and New York City for some local ones), which allows voters to choose numerous candidates in order of their preference.
Both options (holding runoffs or adopting ranked choice voting) cure the “spoiler effect” — allowing multiple candidates on the ballot, as is their right, while eliminating the risk that any of them will distort the result between the two main contenders.Get our free weekly newsletter
State legislatures currently have all the constitutional power they need to do this, as the Supreme Court confirmed in Bush v. Gore (observing that Article Two of the Constitution explicitly gives state legislatures the authority to determine the “manner” of appointing their presidential electors).
If these reforms are not in place by the 2020 elections, then America faces this ugly prospect next fall: After undertaking major steps to secure the electoral infrastructure against foreign attack, the nation is still vulnerable to the subversion of majority rule by a third-party candidate. And it’s particularly easy for a vainglorious billionaire to do so.