Why abolish the electoral college
What would it take for the US to abolish or reform the electoral college?
The electoral system is defined in the Constitution (Article II and Amendment XII). A constitutional amendment would be required to completely abolish it. This can be done technically in several ways (see Article V), but in practice it requires two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of states, so it is very difficult. Nonetheless, such changes have been proposed and were last tabled today.
Your second suggestion (or something like that) is much more workable. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is a state law that awards all voters of a state to the winner of the national referendum, but only if enough states have joined the pact to achieve an electoral majority.
Article II provides that the legislature of each state regulates the selection of the state's voters so that they are in their power to change that mechanism, and the NPVIC only requires enough states to represent a majority of the electoral college, which is much lower is cash than the three quarters for a change.
Currently, 165 of the 270 votes are required to take effect. However, crossing the 270 threshold requires some states that are currently Republican controlled. With only Democrats ever burned by the electoral college, Republicans have little incentive to change the status quo. Most Americans, however, support a national referendum for the president, so maybe the political will is there.
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