Confused by the Electoral College? Walgreens run out of safety pins? Read on, get ready to amaze your friends with new found knowledge.
Every four years Americans go to the polls to elect the President of the United States.
Well, not exactly.
Every four years Americans go to the polls to elect Electors that will then vote upon and elect the President of the United States.
It is called the Electoral College and to everyone but political strategists, news anchors, and political junkies it is murky mumbo jumbo.
While we are a union of 50 unique and sovereign States, ask the same group of strategists, anchors and junkies and they will tell you the Office of the President lies with only 10 of the 50. The race for the White House, the Presidential election, is mostly determined by a handful of states and their combined Electoral College votes.
The trick is figuring out which are those ten magical states. The top ten most populous states carry a combined 256 Electoral College votes. Considering that 270 is the winning number that is a significant concentration of power.
The Electoral College (EC) is authorized by the Constitution in Article 2 Section 1 and modified by the 12th Amendment. It attempts to level the playing field between states with high population and those with a small population. The EC is the reason we have had Presidential contenders who have won the popular vote and have still lost the election. One former recipient of that hollow victory was Al Gore. Gore won the popular vote, but Bush won Florida’s EC votes in a recount that went up to the Supreme Court. It held our nation in a standstill as we watched stories about butterfly ballots, hanging chads, and assumed intent.
After the results had been finalized and certified, many called for abolishing the EC and a move to a direct popular vote. Nothing new there. Losers across history have always wanted to change the rules of the game after they wound up with the short end of the stick. Sound familiar?
Not that the EC cannot be improved upon. It can be, and it should be. The question is how? The answer already exists and is in practice.
Your feelings do not trump our rules.
Under the rules of the EC, each state gets one EC vote for each congressional district and one EC vote for each senator. The District of Columbia is also awarded 3 EC votes. The minimum number of votes a state can have is three since it will always have two senators and at least one congressional district.
In total, there are 538 EC votes. One hundred senators; 435 congressional districts; and 3 for the District of Columbia. The number of EC votes for each state can change after each census, and the number of congressional seats for each state is realigned to match any realignment in our population.
When you said, ‘Dakota’ I thought you meant the actress. Now you tell me we have two of them?
During a presidential election, all of the EC votes for a state are awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote in that state. It is a winner take all contest. This is why the top ten states and their 256 EC votes are so important. Also, it is the reason the term “fly over states” is associated with presidential elections.
Except that the winner takes all rule does not apply in all states. There are two states, Maine and Nebraska, where the EC votes are allocated based upon the number of congressional districts won with the 2 EC votes for the senators given to the popular vote winner. This is called the Congressional District Method.
If all 50 states allocated their EC votes as Maine and Nebraska many if not most of the larger states would have split allocations. This is exactly why we should move to the Congressional District method.
What exactly are the benefits and what are the drawbacks of making this change?
Spreading it around
Balance of power. The office of the president and future of the country should not rest in the ten key states but with every citizen. If California’s 55 EC votes are split 40/15 then those votes in states like Montana, Idaho, New Mexico becomes more important.
The way it stands today if you live in those small states the presidential candidates do not care how you vote. Today if you are in one of those Californian GOP strongholds, the other party does not care how you vote. All they need is a majority of the votes in the state to whisk your vote into their column.
By having the states allocate their EC votes by congressional district, you automatically make those votes in the lesser populated states more relevant. The winner of 40 EC votes in California must now figure out how to make up that 15 vote difference. Voters in small states will have new found power and importance, “fly over states” no more.
Dilution of Big Money. I am not going to kid you. Big money will always be with us, at least for the foreseeable future. The FEC reported that it is unable to curb or monitor or control abuses in campaign financing. Most of that money is funneled into those same ten must-have states. By giving new meaning to Vermont, Rhode Island, and Delaware, big money will have a diluted effect. Ground game, neighbors talking to neighbors, will have a greater effect. The laws of economics will eventually kick in and when the return on investment decreases you will get less investment.
Close the Pod Bay Doors, Hal
Containment of Fraud. There are those who will readily tell you that voter fraud does not exist. They will point to an analysis done that proves voter ID is not needed. They will explain to you that voter registration fraud is not the same as voter fraud. Tell that to those currently sitting in jail for voter fraud. It is not important if it is fraud on Election Day, through the absentee ballot, or voter registration fraud. Each of these separate actions is meant to influence in an illegal manner the outcome of elections. If you know anything about our justice system, if they caught one person they missed the other 999.
By moving to proportional allotment, you can contain some of the fraud. In Philadelphia, you had precincts where 100% of the people voted for Barack Obama and not one single vote for Mitt Romney in 2012. In some places around the country, voter turnout was so high, it was a statistical improbability. When contained within a single congressional district or at least isolated to a few districts it does not matter if you have 300% turn out or if you have one candidate garnering 100% of the vote. It will only effect a single EC vote or two, it will have no bearing on what happens in other districts, and cannot sway the state.
Change is the only constant
What are the drawbacks of proportional allotment?
Outside of the ten key states losing their collective power, there aren’t any.
You will have those resistant to change. There will be those whose initial reaction will be to scream “disenfranchisement.” Who exactly is being disenfranchised by an equitable distribution of votes?
Looking at the Electoral College map of the 2016 election it looks like a sea of red with some blue around the edges. It does look like a landslide for Donald Trump, although a Congressional District apportionment map would look much different. It would look more like a mixture of views all across the country. I think such a visualization might actually bring the citizens of this country closer together. We can certainly use some of that.
I doubt that such a system will ever be instituted because I think that California, Texas, New York, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania like being the big dogs in the pound. As usual, power once obtained is not easily surrendered.
Although, as I like to say, government belongs to those who show up.