As the presidential election looms, we again face that antiquated, ineffectual bane of American politics, the Electoral College.
Every four years, its defenders trot out this old gray mare and ply us with their myriad of reasons (weak excuses) for its continued existence. They tell us it was created to prevent urban dwellers from asserting their superior strength over rural voters, to ensure broad support from all regions of the country, and to help preserve the “federal character” of the nation (huh?).
Supposedly, it strengthens the voice of small states, promotes national cohesiveness, and enhances the voting power of minority groups that might otherwise be ignored.
I'm not certain, but it would surprise me to learn that this last item was truly a concern of the Founding Fathers. The rules did favor voters in slave states, whose slaves were each counted as three fifths of a person in population figures. However, the slaves were not given a vote. So, it seems doubtful that the federal government really had major concerns about minorities then as it does today.
They also tell us that it makes the process of a recount easier. At least this part make some sense: imagine the debacle of having had to recount the entire U.S. popular vote in 2000? Counting hanging chads in Florida would seem like simple child's play compared to the mind-numbing process of a national recount.
However, most of the aforementioned reasons seem pretty soft, even nonsensical, and pale in comparison to the fact that this process renders tens millions of votes worthless. The end result is that we all, as a nation, end up losers. Our election process reminds me of the cartoons of the late Rube Goldberg, whose sketches depicted laughable, complex, man-made gadgets that performed mundane tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. He would have been proud to call the Electoral College his own, I'm afraid to say.
Many think that the real, unstated reason for the Electoral College's formation was to keep the election of our leader in the hands of the few. The framers (perhaps correctly) felt that the masses did not have access to important information needed to make a rational decision when voting. The common people certainly did not have the news streams full of political facts, opinions and innuendo we have today, though many would argue that we now have too much such information. Either way, it comes to a simple question: Should we continue this archaic and disenfranchising method of presidential selection that negates the votes of millions or do we need a new set of rules? A replacement would seem in order.
In the past, and most recently in 2000, we've had “winners” who lost in the general election to the top vote-getters (the “losers”), but became presidents by the vote in the Electoral College. Sadly, this may happen again next week. If so, people will again be howling in righteous indignation as they have before.
However, for those who will object, I think they should be more alarmed at the process than at the end result; if you acquiesce to the former, you have no business panning the latter. It was designed so that the president was elected by the states, not really by the individual citizens.
During the early process of forming our nation, our forefathers envisioned a functional union of independent states, as opposed to the one united country we have today. The framers wanted to give assurances to all individual states that they would each have a strong voice in the newly forming government, and felt that, by giving the smaller states extra leverage, they would be more inclined to comfortably join the union. They apportioned electors based on the number of congressmen from each state (which is, of course, based on population), then added two extra votes per state for each senator (not based on population). These extra votes gave the smaller population states a big edge in terms of voting power per person.
For example, California now has a population of 38 million and 55 Electoral votes; this results in one vote for every 691,000 people. Wyoming, with a population of only 568,000, has three votes, resulting in one vote for every 189,000 people. Thus, the vote of each Wyoming resident is 3.65 times more powerful in the Electoral College than that of each Californian. It's just simple math.
Why should Californians accept the fact that their votes are worth less than one third of the votes of Wyomingites in electing a president? Believe me, they are not happy about it. On the other hand, the Wyomingites correctly feel that having the more powerful vote is their constitutional right. It sounds like a setup for the perfect storm, and we may certainly get one on Nov. 6 if there is another mismatch between the popular and electoral vote.
We now have a system that gives extra voting power to many by unfairly diluting the voting power of many others. The whole silly contraption (remember Rube Goldberg?) is made even more ridiculous by the “winner-take-all” system in which all electoral votes go the winner in that state, no matter how close the general election results.
In 2000, 2.9 million Democrats in Florida and 4.5 Million Republicans in California had their votes completely negated by this inequitable system, simply because their candidates lost in their respective states. In fact, if you add up the voters who voted for the losing candidate in all states, it comes to to 44.5 million voters whose votes were not tabulated by the Electoral College.
The electors used the 57 million votes that were cast for each state's winner to determine who the president would be using only 56 percent (57 million/101.5 million) of the electorate to make the decision. They threw out the other 44.5 million votes like they never ever mattered. Talk about disenfranchisement, that is highway robbery.
Don't get me wrong, I’m all for states’ rights, minority representation, rural strength and even national cohesiveness (I'm still a little shaky on the “federal character" business), but this arrangement represents the most egregious form of voter fraud imaginable — and it's legal. It's even mandated by our Constitution!
There are many who think this rotten arrangement should be tossed into the trash heap and replaced by a simple tabulation of the national vote, me among them. Unfortunately, this will probably never happen, since it takes a two-thirds vote of Congress (in joint resolution) to pass an amendment to the Constitution, then three-fourths of the states must ratify it. The small states, given their weighty clout in the Senate (and, thus, the Electoral College), will not easily surrender their position of power. Who would expect them to gladly give up their mantle of strength and influence without a slugfest? It's just not in the cards.
As a plausible alternative, perhaps the states could ratify an amendment stipulating that Electoral College votes be mathematically divided based on the popular vote in each state. At least, in this way, all votes cast would be important, and all voters might feel that they had some stake in the process of electing the president. This would more closely mirror the will of the American people, who would then have reason to return to the polls in droves.
Ultimately, we are stuck in the quagmire of a system that silences the choice of tens millions of voters, but, sadly, can probably not be changed. Many who feel that their votes are irrelevant will not bother showing up at the polls. Why should they put forth the effort if their vote can't possibly have any effect?
Politicians will continue to ignore the nonswing states, leaving more and more people feeling as though they are not really part of the political process. It feels hopeless to many Americans. The less populous states will continue to have voters with a “bigger” vote and the “will of the people” will continue to be diminished.
If we end up next week with another “winner” who should have been the “loser,” a political and social donnybrook will, no doubt, ensue. If so, I urge the citizens to stand up and shout about the ludicrous and absurd system we are stuck with, and make sure that this is the last time we endure such travesty.
In Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, he eloquently spoke of “…ngovernment of the people, by the people, for the people….” I guess he was only referring to some of the people.
Article II, Section I of our Constitution spells out the creation of the Electoral system. Its usefulness has come and gone. It's time to put this tired old horse out to pasture and get us all a fresh ride. We all deserve it.
Mark Artusio, Frederick