The Electoral College is under fresh assault on the heels of Donald Trump's victory last November—the second time in five presidential races the popularly elected candidate lost the election—but it's not due to any groundswell in Congress for a constitutional amendment to adopt a national popular vote. Instead, the most viable campaign to change how Americans choose their leader is being waged at booze-soaked junkets in luxury hotels around the country and even abroad, as an obscure entity called the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections peddles a controversial idea: that state legislatures can put the popular-vote winner in the White House.
It was mid-February, inside a four-star resort in a third-world country, when I heard the pitch to transform American democracy. The institute flew 11 political journalists to Panama for an “educational seminar” on election reform. (My peers included reporters representing outlets ranging from Breitbart to U.S. News & World Report.) The trip presented a bargain: three days of sunshine, sightseeing, fine dining and free cocktails on the institute's dime, in exchange for being educated by seminar coordinators in the pool, at the bar, overlooking the Panama Canal—and most aggressively, during the five-hour workshop in a windowless conference room—about the history and weaknesses of the Electoral College, and the potential of a radical alternative.