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.

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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.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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(9) comments

Linda Garrido

Milan's explanation of ranked-choice voting is inaccurate. Not enuf room to explain it here.

And the movement in the U.S. for electing President by Popular Vote means states would agree to cast their Electoral College votes for the candidate that receives the NATION-WIDE popular vote. So say NM's voters choose the Democratic Nominee, but the Nation-wide voters choose Donald Trump, then NM's Electoral votes (we have 5, I think) would go to Trump. New Mexico has already signed-on to participate in that use of Electoral College, but I believe we need about 6 other states to achieve the majority of electoral college votes.

So, don't discount either Ranked Choice voting (which saves tax dollars that fund run-off elections) or using the National Popular Vote solution to electing our Presidents with the Popular Vote.

Barry Rabkin

I think it is quite likely that the SCOTUS will state that the National Popular Vote is unconstitutional. Our Founding Fathers intended the US to have a check-and-balance system which includes the Electoral College.

Mike Johnson

Well said, Ranked choice voting is undemocratic and unconstitutional, it should be banned.

Dan Three

Mr. Siminick states that with the Electoral College candidate’s only campaign in states that are needed to win. Not true if you eliminate the EC you only need to win CA, NY and TX. NM would never see a Presidential candidate again. Here's an example of what could go wrong with eliminating the EC. Comrade Bernie gets elected by popular vote and decides to make all farming communal. I don’t think the farmers in the middle of the country would be real happy about that. This push to do away with the EC and with many states passing laws mandating their EC votes go the winner of the popular vote will certainly be regretted in the future. Just look at how Harry Reid’s Nuclear Option has made it so easy for the Senate to confirm President Trump’s judicial selections. Ranked choice voting is a joke and in no way can it be compared to the Electoral College. In our “Republic” each state votes for the President as a state that is part of the union of states. Now with these new laws mandating that a state’s EC votes must go to the winner of the popular vote they are telling the voters even though candidate X won our state we must pledge our EC votes to candidate Z. Why have states?

Linda Garrido

"Why have states?" There are MANY other reasons to have States!!!!

Barry Rabkin

One person, one vote might be fairer in the eyes of many people. That is irrelevant.

Our Founding Fathers did NOT create our country as a republic governed by a direct democracy. Not when it comes to electing a president. Our Founding Fathers created our republic as a representative democracy. That includes the Electoral College.

Feel 'rankled' about it? Read more about how our country is governed and structured.

Jeff Hayduke

What is the concept of change? What's an amendment? (Rhetoricial food for thought for you, Barry)

Robert Ball

States' Rights were strongly defended during the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in order to safeguard against a centralized power. That's why so little of the Constitution delegates powers to the federal government. I would not recommend taking away States' Rights and starting another Civil War. If I vote republican and NM votes for a democratic presidential candidate, then I don't want my state to help determine the outcome of a presidential election just because New York City and the Left Coast also vote for the democratic nominee. Take away those two areas of the country and Trump wins the popular vote too. Historical thought for you Jeff.

Barry Rabkin

The opportunity to change the Constitution is available. Just proceed along a legal, constitutional process to add or change an amendment. However, it is likely that the SCOTUS will determine the National Popular Vote to be unconstitutional.

Welcome to the discussion.

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