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High court brings clarity to Electoral College

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The way the nation elects its president — through the Electoral College rather than a direct vote of the people — rubs a lot of Americans the wrong way.

Then again, others see it as a way to ensure small- and medium-sized states have a say in who is elected president as their voice won’t be drowned out by the largest, most populous states or cities.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court made a strong ruling — 9-0 — in regard to the Electoral College that essentially makes clear that each state can establish rules or laws on how its electors must vote.

This ruling, in a Washington state case, brings some needed clarity to the Electoral College and stability to the 2020 presidential election.

The Electoral College was established in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. Each state has as many “electors” as it has representatives and senators in Congress.

It should not be surprising the Founders went this route as the U.S. has never been a direct democracy, but a republic.

The high court said, and wisely in our view, that the Constitution gives states “far-reaching authority” to the states over electors.

“The power to appoint an elector (in any manner) includes power to condition his appointment — that is, to say what the elector must do for the appointment to take effect,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court. “A State can require, for example, that an elector live in the State or qualify as a regular voter during the relevant time period. Or more substantively, a State can insist … that the elector pledge to cast his Electoral College ballot for his party’s presidential nominee, thus tracking the State’s popular vote.”

Washington state established just such a standard.

The electors in Washington signed a pledge to support the candidate who got the most votes, but four of the 12 electors did not cast their ballots for of Hillary Clinton, who won the state’s vote.

As a result, they were fined $1,000. And three of them have been fighting that fine for more than three years.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Supreme Court “reaffirmed the fundamental principle that the vote of the people should matter in choosing the president.”

It is also an affirmation of states’ rights.

Still, as a matter of voter equity, we believe the nation would be better served if the states followed the approach taken by Nebraska and Maine, where the electoral votes are awarded by congressional district.

So in Washington state, with 10 congressional districts, the highly populated (and more liberal) Seattle area would no longer drive the statewide outcome. Eastern Washington would have its own say.

Many states have regional political differences, and that should be reflected in the Electoral College vote.

But nothing will change for the 2020 election. And now, in the wake of the high court ruling, we know states can put rules in place to hold electors accountable.