Democrat Schneider says abolish electoral college; GOP challenger disagrees

Unhappy with President Donald Trump's win four years ago, Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield believes Americans should elect the president with a popular vote and not the Electoral College, and he supports changing the Constitution to make that happen.

Republican challenger Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee of Northbrook believes the Electoral College should remain in place, saying a straight vote would give population-heavy states like California or New York too much power.

Schneider and Ramirez Mukherjee debated the merits of the presidential electoral system and other issues last week in an online forum hosted by several suburban chapters of the League of Women Voters.

The Electoral College system was created because the Founding Fathers feared political or geographical factions ruling the nation.

When Americans vote for president, they're actually voting for the electors who've vowed to cast their ballots for that candidate in the Electoral College. The number of electors in each state is based on population. The total, 538, equals the number of senators and representatives in Congress, plus three for Washington, D.C.

The first candidate to get 270 electoral votes wins.

All but two states require their electoral votes to go to the candidate who receives the plurality in that state.

The Electoral College is constitutionally mandated, so abolishing it would require a constitutional amendment. Amendments must be approved by at least two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and ratified by at least three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Donald Trump was the fifth president to win the White House despite losing the popular vote, and it was his election that sparked the current debate about whether the Electoral College should be abandoned. George W. Bush took the White House in 2000 despite losing the popular vote, too, as did Benjamin Harrison in 1888, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and John Quincy Adams in 1824.

Schneider, who is seeking a fourth term in Congress, supports choosing the president by popular vote, or what he called a "simple raise of hands."

Schneider described how a president's impact can be felt long after leaving office.

"If Amy Coney Barrett is approved as a Supreme Court justice, five of the nine justices on the court will have been appointed by (presidents) who did not win the popular vote," Schneider said.

Bush named two justices to the court. Barrett could be Trump's third appointment.

Schneider called the current electoral system "simply untenable."

When asked if she favored abolishing the Electoral College, Ramirez Mukherjee said "absolutely not."

"We have to preserve it," she said.

Ramirez Mukherjee, who is making her first bid for public office, expressed concern that smaller or more rural states would "be dominated by others" if the president were chosen by popular vote.

"That was the whole intention of this a long time ago," said Ramirez-Mukherjee, a former resident of both California and New York, as well as other states.

Ramirez Mukherjee said Schneider wouldn't support switching systems if his preferred candidates were losing popular vote counts.

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