Before March softens into spring, complaints will rain down about President Donald Trump’s most odious ally.
It’s not his lawyer Rudy Giuliani or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. They qualify for no better than dishonorable mention.
Trump, a Republican, might have an edge in this year’s election because of a far older and more controversial part of the U.S. government.
The Electoral College put him in office even though he lost the popular vote in 2016. It could happen again.
It’s easy to criticize the Electoral College, and I’m happy to do so.
Why should the president be elected by units of votes from the states? We don’t pick New Mexico’s governor based on voting units apportioned from counties. The governor is elected by popular vote.
But most people in Santa Fe don’t have grounds to complain, at least not if they’re going to be consistent.
A majority opted for ranked-choice voting in city elections. It’s just as numbing and problematic as the Electoral College.
Ranked-choice voting encourages those casting a ballot to vote for more than one candidate for the same office, most notably mayor.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-place votes, the second-place votes of the lowest ranking candidate are redistributed.
Second-place votes continue to be transformed into first-place ballots until a candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold.
It’s an affront to the system of one person, one vote. But defenders of ranked-choice voting rationalize this process.
They call ranked-choice voting an instant runoff, which it isn’t. They also claim it’s not really casting multiple votes for a single office.
One advocate likened ranked-choice voting to ordering a chocolate ice cream cone. The confectionery is out of chocolate, but you might be able to get vanilla, your second choice, or strawberry swirl, which you ranked a distant third.
Albuquerque, Denver and other cities use a traditional runoff system. If no mayoral candidate cracks the 50 percent mark on Election Day, the top two advance to a head-to-head runoff election.
This eliminates the spoiler system and the reshuffling of second-place ballots.
But Santa Fe voters, like the founding fathers who created the Electoral College, have opted for a system built for controversy. The person with the most popular votes can lose.
With the Electoral College, five men have become president even though another candidate received more votes from the people. Trump could be the first to do it twice.
Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 had almost 3 million more popular votes than Trump.
But he defeated her in the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They provided 75 of Trump’s 304 votes in the Electoral College. He needed at least 270 electoral votes to win.
Had Clinton carried those four states, she would have become president. Her hollow consolation was winning the popular vote.
The challenge for Democrats this time is to nominate a candidate who can do more than win populous states that tilt their way, such as California and New York. They have to find someone to win the battlegrounds where Clinton failed.
Otherwise, Trump might turn another runner-up finish in the popular vote into four more years in office.
Each time a presidential election looks like it will be close, calls for junking the Electoral College come from one political camp or the other.
Republican President Gerald Ford’s backers complained about the Electoral College as he closed the gap against Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Carter ended up winning the presidency by a close margin in the Electoral College. He took the popular vote more handily.
Democrats wanted to eliminate the Electoral College after Republican George W. Bush won the disputed presidential election of 2000. Bush lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore but prevailed in the Electoral College.
Florida, which went to Bush, became the focus of aftermath fighting. But if Gore had won his home state of Tennessee, Florida wouldn’t have mattered.
The Electoral College is a crazy way to choose the president. It encourages the nominees to campaign only in the handful states where polling shows either candidate could win. Everywhere else can be ignored.
Ranked-choice voting is no better a system to elect a mayor. Upgrading second-place ballots is its foundation.
One person, one vote would be cleaner and fairer. That’s not how it works in the dirty business we call politics.