Jesse Wegman demystifies the Electoral College in his new book, Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College. No, really. He lays out all the myths I thought were true and some I didn’t. Then Wegman puts every one of them in perspective, clearly and even humorously. I finished the book ready to explain and argue points that previously felt unexplainable.
As so many recent political books do, Wegman begins with the post-election fugue state of late 2016. He reminds us of that possible option called “faithless Electors,” who are members of the Electoral College who decide not to vote as expected. Not that it actually went down that way. But for some, it was the most coverage of this voting scheme they’d seen.
Despite the reference to 2016, Wegman makes clear that the issues of a Presidential popular vote aren’t partisan. Different folks embraced this change at different times. For example, Democratic Senator Birch Bayh worked on changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then Democrats tried after the Bush v. Gore election in 2000. Next was Republicans during the eight years Obama was in office. Both sides of the aisle see the downsides to the Electoral College.
Part of the reason for its bipartisan nature is that the history of the electoral college encompasses various belief sets. To help readers understand, Wegman uses documents from America’s founding fathers. I remember a fair amount about Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. But James Wilson was essentially new to me, even though he played a big role in this story. The idea of more than just two political parties makes an appearance here as well. As do issues of slave holding, rural voters, and enfranchisement of Black people and women.
Wegman also reminds us that virtually every other type of election is won or lost on the popular vote. We elect Governors, Senators, U.S. Representatives, and even school board members that way. It’s only the Presidential election that steps out of the pattern. Some smart folks found a way revise our voting without amending the Constitution. Wegman explains that too. And, his case for letting the people pick the President is airtight.
I read a lot of political books. Rarely are they this down to earth and approachable. If you espouse a popular vote methodology, you must be sure all kinds of people can grasp the change. So, Wegman writes with humor and straightforward explanations.
One of the reasons I read this book was because of We are Indivisible, which I read a few months back. In that book, they also make the case for abolishing the Electoral College. But it’s just one portion of a much larger narrative. I wanted more, and Wegman delivered in spades. In fact, I could easily read it one more time to commit the details to memory more completely.
As it happens, I listened to the audiobook for part of my reading. Wegman does a great job of using inflection and tone to convey his meanings. His narration makes the details easier to digest.
I recommend this to all my political wonk friends and readers. But what I really want is for every voter, or potential voter, to read this. If you feel like your vote doesn’t count, here’s the solution. Plenty of states are on board with the changes that Wegman explains. And isn’t it time our Presidential choice reflect the will of all the people, not just some of them?
Pair with We are Indivisble: A Blueprint for Democracy after Trump by Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg. For an alternate political escapade, try The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory. It will remind you why our founding fathers rebelled against England’s monarchy.
Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free digital ARC of this book in exchange for this honest review.