Lower the stakes of the Electoral College

It’s natural that any discussion of changing the Constitution would include a suggestion to abolish the Electoral College, the system that made Donald Trump president even though he got roughly the same share of the popular vote in 2016 as Michael Dukakis got in 1988.

But in a country as geographically diverse and politically divided as ours, suddenly doing away with the Electoral College could have a negative consequence: Presidential candidates, after securing their nominations in the state primaries, would have a huge incentive to focus their campaigns on the nation’s largest cities. The less-populated parts of the country have a disproportionate amount of sway in the current system, but a snap change that would encourage national politicians to essentially ignore those places isn’t necessarily good for our politics or good for either party.

So how about a compromise: Keep the Electoral College but lower the stakes. Make it so that a candidate who wins the most electoral votes but loses the popular vote gets only a two-year term.

If a president elected in that manner gained broader support and won reelection in both the popular vote and the Electoral College, as George W. Bush did in 2004, they’d be rewarded with a traditional four-year term. If they couldn’t appeal to more of the country and again won just the Electoral College, they’d get another two-year term and would have to be done after that.

Shorter election cycles would be exhausting — both for the president and for the rest of us. Even so, that would be better than the prospect of someone like Trump, unable to earn a real mandate, sitting in the White House for eight years.

Brian Bergstein is the editor of Ideas. He can be reached at [email protected].