For as long as I can remember, there have been complainants about the Electoral College – America’s system for officially selecting its President. Without going into too much detail about the Electoral College (click on the two links) each states gets a certain number of votes equaling their representation in Congress – 2 for the Senators and 1 for each Representative (so each state is guaranteed at least 3 electoral votes). This system was settled upon by our founding fathers as a compromise between those who wanted a popular vote (large states like Virginia New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) and those who wanted equal say regardless of size (smaller states like New Hampshire, Georgia, Delaware and Rhode Island). Essentially, it was an extended outcome from the decision to have a bicameral legislature – which had the exact same arguments. Since the 2000 election when Al Gore won the “popular vote” but George W. Bush won the Electoral College, the cries for the popular vote determining the Presidential Election outcome have seemingly increased.
In the past few months, this movement has gained momentum once again. While it takes a constitutional amendment to formally change the election process, some states are trying to circumvent the process by passing bills in their legislature which dedicate their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how the citizens of their state voted (example – President Obama could take 65% of the vote in Oregon, but if Oregon passed a bill like this and the GOP candidate had won the National vote, then Oregon’s electoral votes would go to the GOP candidate, not the person who the state’s voters actually voted in favor of). That actually seems somewhat backwards – an ANTI-popular vote measure created out of the popular vote group-think mentality…”it doesn’t matter what you think, people of our state, everyone else has spoken and our votes have to go to this person, regardless of how you cast your ballots”. Members of both parties are embracing this renewed movement although neither party has officially sanctioned it. Saul Anuzis, a prominent Republican from Michigan and one-time candidate for RNC chair, is a proponent of this plan and details it in the Washington Times.
Unfortunately, in their quest give people a greater voice in our election process, they could end up doing the exact opposite. By ceding all of a state’s votes to the winner of the overall popular vote you give more strength to the political parties and their turnout models. Candidates will continue to ignore the “fly over states” in search of larger media markets they can populate with TV radio and print ads. While every vote is technically “in play” with this method, the overall scheme doesn’t change because under our current method, every vote is “in play”. Yes, you can point to some weirdness that has transpired the past couple of elections with the popular vote totals and not adding up with the electoral votes. However, the method being discussed further minimizes the less populous state in favor of the top-tier like California, Texas, and New York. using past election result disparities to advocate for a complete overhaul is faulty logic. Candidates campaign for electoral votes currently and the popular vote is merely byproduct, not the true intended result.
If we really that the Electoral College is antiquated, then I suggest updating it rather than killing it off in favor of something that is ultimately untested in our National History. I had thought of and idea which would give more power to our smaller states, essentially redistributing the Senate allotted electors from our top 25% to our bottom 25% thus balancing out the population inequities between some states in my belief that while our President should represent all American’s it is more important to fairly represent all of America instead. After thinking this over though, it simply is not feasible – the outcry from our larger states would be too great and in the end it is essentially a partisan ideal as states like Wyoming and Alaska tend to be more GOP friendly than California and New York. When talking with my wife about this the other evening, she brought up another idea I had toyed with awhile ago and which is based on a plan that has worked very well throughout our history – the Congressional District process.
Two states, Maine and Nebraska, have each electoral vote tied directly to the outcome of the Presidential Race results within each Congressional District and have the winner of the popular vote within the state take the two votes tied to the Senate. So, if the GOP candidate won the Nebraska 1st by 10K votes and the 2nd by 2K while losing to the Democrat in the 3rd by 13K votes, the GOP would get 2 electoral votes while the D got 3 electoral votes. While the Republican won a majority of the districts, the popular vote swayed the outcome to give a majority of the electoral votes to the Democrat who won 1 district. If the Republican had either closed the gap in the 3rd a bit or widened it in the 1st or 2nd, they would have received all 5 votes. Where a concept like this gets really interesting is when you get to larger states where it would be mathematically possible for a candidate to win the popular vote in the state but have a minority of their electoral votes. Of course, that leads us into a discussion about Congressional District mapping and how it could/would/should be overhauled (we will cover this another time, don’t worry).
The example of Nebraska shows us that this type of system allows for a more competitive field by doing away the winner take all system and showing the truer reflection of the will of the people. States that would be overlooked in the past because the majority of the state is Republican or Democrat now is in play as Congressional districts are a draw. In my opinion, if we are going to overhaul the Electoral College, a system like this makes a lot more sense than a straight popular vote where urban areas and large media markets would continue to enjoy the overwhelming presence that already do in today’s Presidential General Election Seasons.