Op Ed

“Is this fair?” The Campaign Against Electoral College

Taking to the streets for the National Popular Vote.

By - Oct 1st, 2021 02:04 pm
Pegi Christiansen on a zoom call with Congressman Jamie Raskin on September 22, 2021. Photo by Cindy Johnson.

Pegi Christiansen on a zoom call with Congressman Jamie Raskin on September 22, 2021. Photo by Cindy Johnson.

How often do you get to speak with one of your heroes? On September 22nd, I had a fifteen-minute Zoom with Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland). I will remember these fifteen minutes until the day I die. Raskin was the lead manager for the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump this year. The reason Raskin was willing to Zoom with me is because as a state senator he introduced the National Popular Vote (NPV) bill in Maryland, the first state to pass it in 2007.

The NPV is an interstate compact, or agreement, that retains the Electoral College (EC), but the electors in these states will cast all their votes for the candidate who wins the national vote, instead of for the state’s winning candidate. The NPV would guarantee the candidate who wins the US popular election would also win in the EC.

In February of 2019, I listened to now deceased Congressman Elijah Cummings’ closing remarks at the hearing of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Cummings asked, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” What I did was to write and memorize a five-minute piece I titled “Is this fair?” to urge people to contact their state legislators to pass the NPV bill.

I initially practiced at places like the UW-Milwaukee Union and outside the Public Market in the Third Ward. I approached people wearing a purple suffragette apron and hat that three local artists designed and sewed, so I would stand out a bit.

In 2020, my husband sewed a purple facemask for me so I could continue after Covid. Exactly 59% of the time, the people listening took a small card I handed out with the NPV website link to email a message to their state legislators.

The urgency of my efforts increased this year because Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) reintroduced the NPV bill in April. With enough emails to state legislators, maybe the bill could get out of committee. The committee is dominated by Representative Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who has made false claims about election fraud and in August tried to subpoena officials to start an Arizona-style investigation of ballots.

To connect with Republicans, who tend to be most opposed to the NPV, I primarily drove to conservative areas of Southeastern Wisconsin. The Tuesday Thiensville Farmers Market was classic. In a recent visit, the car next to me in the parking lot had a handmade sign in the back window reading “Joe Biden was not elected.” Last year at the same market, a young woman with her mom yelped, “Ewww. No!” when I offered her a card.

I imagined I might get pushed or even hit by someone. In the 623 times I presented “Is this fair?” this never happened. Occasionally people screamed at me, but many more people thanked me. Only sixteen people indicated they knew anything about the NPV.

A number of people have asked why I didn’t use Facebook or YouTube instead. Why drive around to all these conservative places to be scorned? I followed the instructions of Timothy Snyder from his 2017 book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century“: “Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people.”

I thought I would culminate my two-year project doing “Is this fair?” in Lafayette Square across from the White House, but then State Fair actually happened this year (it did not in 2020). I stood outside the fair, along 84th Street, for nine of the 11 days in August and spoke to 463 people. I adore Wisconsin, and was able to embrace the whole state. Everything happened. People brought up the most common criticisms of the NPV. “This will mean New York and California decide who is president.” This is false. There are an almost equal number of people voting in rural districts and dense urban districts. When I told a man how the NPV would make everyone’s vote count the same, he yelled “Screw you!” In 2019, this might have set me back, but not in 2021. I just took a sip of water and gave my next pitch. People insisted that if the EC was what the Founding Fathers wanted, it should remain. I countered, “What the Founding Fathers imagined in 1787 is not how the winner-take-all Electoral College functions today. As political parties emerged, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton all feared the direction states were heading and suggested changes.” One day, I ended up speaking with Robert Spindell, a far-right member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Spindell is one of ten Republicans who attempted to switch Wisconsin’s ten EC votes from Biden to Trump. He gave me his card and told me to contact the commission to present “Is this fair?” at the upcoming meeting, which I did on September 9th.

The NPV is nonpartisan. The Republican party benefitted in 2016 and 2000, when Hillary Clinton and Al Gore won the popular vote, but this could change. Texas has the second largest number of electoral votes. If Texas turns blue, as some predict might happen by the 2028 presidential election, Republicans could have a very hard time winning in the EC for years to come. It still shocked me that Spindell would react positively to “Is this fair?”

The State Fair experience was so fulfilling that I cancelled going to Washington, D.C. The people at State Fair are my people. We Wisconsinites are a special breed. I am analyzing what I accomplished over two years. Certainly, I educated hundreds of people, including a young man I spoke with who had never heard of the EC. I changed some people’s minds. Except for a New York political science instructor I spoke with in the Third Ward, everyone learned something. If we’re lucky in high school, we are taught that the president is elected by the EC, but rarely is any time devoted to how it really functions. I hope some of the hundreds of people who took the card I handed out actually contacted their legislators.

Practicing for the Zoom with Raskin I kept crying and worried I would make a terrible presentation, or that Raskin would be tied up with other things and would cancel. However, he appeared right on time. I told him about driving to 2014 Center Street where his father, Marcus Goodman Raskin, who helped found the Institute for Policy Studies, lived as a youth.

Since the NPV bill passed in Maryland in 2007, I thought Raskin’s interest in the compact would have waned. This proved not to be true. He gave me his current top three arguments for the NPV. As things stand now, “the loser can win.” He pressed, “The Electoral College renders irrelevant the voice of the country.” And referring to the January 6th insurrection, the EC “is an invitation to strategic corruption and violence. There are booby traps in the Electoral College that bad faith actors can use.”

The Zoom with Raskin was the perfect closing. However, the interaction that made me the happiest occurred in July in Shorewood. There was a block party on part of Oakland Avenue. After my presentation, a mother with two kids took a card and patted me on the shoulder. There was a certain look in her eyes.

That woman saw that she could do something like “Is this fair?” too.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op Ed: “Is this fair?” The Campaign Against Electoral College”

  1. Catman says:

    Bless you! Can we get this on the ballot as a statewide referendum?

  2. TransitRider says:

    The article says some claim we shouldn’t change today’s Electoral College because it’s “what the Founding Fathers wanted”.

    Do they know that today’s Electoral College was actually not designed by the Founders (those who wrote the Constitution in 1787)? Today’s Electoral College arrived a generation later via the 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804.

    The Founders’ design for the Electoral College proved unworkable in 1800 when BOTH Jefferson and Aaron Burr were “elected” president via the original Electoral College design (the way the “Founding Fathers wanted it”).

    Clearly, people who support today’s Electoral College because it’s “what the Founding Fathers wanted” have no idea what they’re talking about or what’s actually in the Constitution.

  3. Pegi Christiansen says:

    I was glad I got to counter the argument about, “this is what the Founding Fathers wanted” for two years.

  4. Pegi Christiansen says:

    Catman, it does not need to be voted on by the whole state. It needs to be passed by the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly. At this point, it needs to get out of committee. The most effective thing now is to get people to contact their legislators to push for passage of the National Popular Vote bill.

  5. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Electoral college as much as the police are a relic of pre civil war America. The only purposes was to appease slave states and round up escaped slaves.

  6. TransitRider says:

    GodzillaKing is right. Slavery was a HUGE part of “what the Founding Fathers wanted”. If people really want “what the Founding Fathers wanted”, they also want slavery and not allowing women to vote.

    Because of the Constitution’s infamous “three-fifths” rule (Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3—which counted each black slave as “three-fifths” of a person), states were awarded House seats (and therefore ECVs—Electoral College votes) based on how many slaves each held. Initially, states got one House seat (and 1 ECV) for each 34,500 free men (or 57,500 slaves).

    Most people don’t know that slave importation is the ONLY personal right guaranteed by the original Constitution. The Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1) grants citizens the right to import slaves (subject only to a $10 tax—no other restriction) for our first 20 years—i.e. until 1808. This right was considered so important that it could not be revoked, even by a Constitutional Amendment; the Constitution explicitly states (Article V) that no amendment can revoke the right to import slaves before its scheduled 1808 expiration.

    No other personal rights (free speech, assembly, religion, gun ownership, etc) were included in the original Constitution; the Constitutional Convention didn’t considered them as important as slave importation. Those rights were only added later (via amendment) and, unlike slave importation, have never been protected against subsequent revocation via Constitutional Amendment.

  7. Pegi Christiansen says:

    Not all the delegates wanted slavery. There were 55 delegates with differing priorities. The National Popular Vote website has lots of information. Another key source for me is the excellent book by Jesse Wegman titled Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College.

  8. David Coles says:


    ^ This is a great podcast episode on the topic. No reason this can’t be a non-partisan push. Republicans can get screwed by the electoral college, too. In 2004, Ohio was something like 100,000 votes from going for John Kerry, which would have made him president despite losing the popular vote by a big margin.

  9. Pegi Christiansen says:

    I just finished listening to the podcast. It presents some of the criticisms against the National Popular Vote. Thanks for suggesting it. For a full explanation of how the Electoral College has become “entrenched minority rule” and the work Senator Birch Bayh did, I again recommend Jesse Wegman’s book Let the People Pick the President.

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