October 31, 2004

Electoral College = Genius

How could you not love the electoral college system? I don't have a clue how you could look at it objectively and not conclude that our system for electing the President and Vice-President is amazingly fair and representative. In the same way that the House and Senate strike a perfect state/federal balance in legislation, so does the electoral college system in our elections.

For anyone not entirely familiar with the Electoral College: When you vote Tuesday, you are actually choosing your state's Electors, who will then, in December, vote for President and Vice-President. Colorado, for example, sends 9 electors to Washington, one for each representative and one for each senator in that state. So, pending the outcome within Colorado the Republicans have 9 Electors in waiting should Bush win Colorado, and the Democrats likewise have their Electors should Kerry win. Winner take all. Although the Electors are not legally bound to cast their vote for their party's candidate, this is nearly never an issue as they are handpicked, typically for their financial support or physical labors for the party.

The premise in the Electoral College system is that each state be given weight based on both population (Electors equalling the number of Representatives in the House), and upon an equivalence amongst states in the Union (as in the Senate, 2 per state, large or small). So Rhode Island, for instance, isn't just a couple hundred thousand votes anymore, it is 3 Electors, much more relative weight than say, New York's 31 Electors.

So what's all the fuss, then?

On a few certain occasions the winner of the presidential election actually lost the overall popular vote, as in the year 2000 when Al Gore received roughly 500,000 more votes than the eventual winner GW Bush.

This fact seems to insult the common sense of an awful lot of people. Not just Bush v. Gore, but that the popular vote did not pick the winner. Consequently, over the past century there have been an enormous number of calls for amending the Constitution to drop the Electoral College and choose the Presidency on a straight nationwide popular vote. After all, the United States is unique throughout the world for maintaining such a system.

I'll be blunt. It would be idiotic to drop the Electoral College. The author of this article at least a couple of times says that the Electoral College has "failed" us, meaning, it has produced a result in conflict with the popular vote tally. But this is exactly the point of the electoral college, exactly why this system has in those few times actually succeeded in precisely the way it was intended.

Here's why. California alone, or New York alone, could account for a 2,000,000 vote difference in any given election, meaning that in practice these two states would be the only two states that would ever matter to the candidates. In a popular vote, one candidate may do reasonably well in merely the couple or few largest population centers, and easily win the election despite losing in perhaps 40 to 45 other states. This would be ridiculous. Would you want the Incumbent President and the upcoming challenger to constantly cow-tow to the whims of perhaps 2 big states with precisely zero accountability to the rest? The other 48 states may as well not exist because their populations are absolutely no match against CA and NY. Even if we include the next 3, 5, or 9 states by size below these two, there would be a monstrous weighting of interest against the remaining 80% of the states. Every presidency, looking forward to the next election, and every campaign by both the incumbent and the challenger, would focus on all the biggest cities in the biggest states.


Thanks for playing, Georgia, bye bye Missouri.
Did you say something, South Carolina?



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