Politics & Media
Aug 23, 2016, 09:45AM

Get Rid of the Electoral College

End the tyranny of Florida and Ohio.

Colorado voting booths ap.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Every four years, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and Pennsylvania vote for President of the United States. The rest of the country, irrelevantly ensconced in red or blue, watches the media for news of the states that matter. Thanks to the wisdom of the founders and the miracle of the Electoral College, in presidential elections, the vast majority of Americans are assured that their votes are wasted. The nation is split into the small group that count and the big one that doesn't—which isn’t a healthy way to run a democracy.

It's true, as Jonathan Bernstein points out at Bloomberg, that "A national vote for a single office in a nation of some 325 million people just can’t be set up in such a way that one vote makes a difference." The 2000 Florida election was about as close as a national election can get, and the margin of victory was still about 537 votes. No one person changing a vote would’ve altered the outcome. Voting is a very small act of democracy, and its results are correspondingly very small. People who really want to affect elections canvas, contribute money, or organize. Voting in national elections is largely symbolic.

Still, democracy is built on norms and the assent of the governed—which is to say, symbolism matters. The United States' voting rate is abysmal; it hovers around 60 percent for presidential elections, significantly lower than other democracies. There are many reasons for that, including the high rates of inequality in the U.S. and a system of frequently divided government which makes politics feel unusually futile. But it can't help matters that every four years, the vast majority of people in the country who don't live in Ohio and Florida are informed that they're secondary citizens.

The Bernie Sanders campaign indulged in a particularly egregious example of this logic during the primary. Sanders got clobbered in the southeast, largely because of his weakness with African-American voters. In order to justify continuing his campaign, he and his surrogates argued that winning in the South didn't matter, since Southern states would overwhelmingly vote Republican in the general election. As it turns out, Hillary Clinton currently has a chance to win not just North Carolina and Florida, but Georgia and possibly South Carolina; Sanders' reasoning was completely off-base. But the existence of the Electoral College gave him an excuse to write off African-American voters.

In addition, the Electoral College can, on rare occasions, differ from the popular vote, as it did in 2000. This wouldn't have necessarily meant that Gore would have won in 2000; politicians tailor their campaign to the Electoral College, and with a different allocation of resources, the popular vote would probably have ended up differently. Maybe Bush would have won by 500,000 votes instead of Gore. But either way, the result would’ve been less tied to a few counties in Florida, and would’ve felt a lot more legitimate, and less alienating for voters.

The Electoral College was put in place to separate the president from the people, to make the choice of chief executive more distant and harder to affect. Electors no longer buck the popular will. But they still, in a smaller way, give people the sense that their votes for president are disconnected from the results of the presidential election. Getting rid of the Electoral College wouldn't immediately increase voter participation, nor would it necessarily eliminate unpleasant discussions about which voters matter. But it would be a statement that every person's vote carries the same weight. In a democracy with a long history of inequality, that's a statement worth making.

  • There have been hundreds of unsuccessful proposed amendments to modify or abolish the Electoral College - more than any other subject of Constitutional reform. To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Instead, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country. Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. No more handful of 'battleground' states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions. The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538. All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority. The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect. http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

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  • Under National Popular Vote, every voter, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would matter in the state counts and national count. National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in presidential elections in each state. Now they don't matter to their candidate. In 2012, 56,256,178 (44%) of the 128,954,498 voters had their vote diverted by the winner-take-all rule to a candidate they opposed (namely, their state’s first-place candidate). And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state, are wasted and don't matter to candidates. With National Popular Vote, presidential campaigns would poll, organize, visit, and appeal to more than 7 states. One would reasonably expect that voter turnout would rise in 80%+ of the country that is currently conceded months in advance by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns.

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