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Strategy
Abolish the Electoral College
By Thomas Ball

America! Greatest democracy on the planet! One person, One vote. Right? Not on your life. It has been no secret since the 2000 "election" fiasco* that the Electoral College system is once again fertile ground for debate. An innate American outrage ensued when we realized that the presidential choice of the American people had been exiled in favor of the election loser, installed as a result of an electoral anachronism. (We won't even address the atrocity of the Supreme Court in this article.) Nevertheless, the extent of the inequity was ambiguous at best until people started poring over the numbers. In the following paragraphs, we'll paint the picture of injustice for all to see and then explore the steps necessary to repaint one that is just. 

I'm sure everyone knows that conservative areas of the nation tend to be more rural while progressives dominate urban areas. Suburban areas tend to be the ongoing battleground for support. This explains the ridiculous "map of red" that republicans use to claim their overwhelming support across America. They obnoxiously point to the massive red zone, which accounts for about 99% of the nations unpopulated regions and instantly claim victory. Shucks! I'm surprised we bother to have an election at all. Yuk. Yuk. Anyway, as you might expect, blue tends to encompass all the metropolitan areas. Indeed, I'm not at all shocked at this republican idiocy. The shock comes along when you start comparing some of these "red" states to some of the "blue" states.

In general "republican" leaning states require a shockingly smaller amount of popular votes to give their preferred candidate an electoral vote compared to "Democratic" leaning states. To illustrate, let's compare the make-up of the 25 most "republican" states to the 25 most "Democratic" states (State classification is based on traditional voting records). Each electoral vote from an average Democratic leaning state is represented by 536,571 citizens. In the average republican leaning state, however, each electoral vote is represented by only 501,699 individuals. This is a 7% disadvantage for Democrats. Is it any surprise that a republican loser replaced the people's choice for president? This isn't Democracy. This is nonsense.

Wyoming: Electoral Powerhouse. As a specific example, let's take a look at Wyoming and California. In national elections each individual in the state of Wyoming has FOUR times the voting power of individuals in California. Why? You guessed it. The Electoral College. In Wyoming, each electoral vote is represented by only 164,594 people. In California, you'll have to scoop together a massive 627,253 members of the populace to give their preferred candidate a single electoral vote. In what society could that possibly be fair? The bottom line is that the principle rationale behind the Electoral College's creation is no longer valid. The technological and communications infrastructure in this country is multiple paradigms apart from those of two-plus centuries ago. So, although the founding fathers may have had valid reasons for instituting this pseudo-democratic method of choosing our nation's leader, If they were alive today, they would certainly call for its abolishment**.

Republicans target Electoral College. In case you haven't heard, the Republican party was so disgusted with the Electoral College process that they had set up contingency plans for the 2000 Election in the event that Gore won the electoral vote even while losing the popular vote to Bush. This philosophy never disappeared even as the Republicans fought tooth and nail to avoid letting the people's votes get counted. After the State Supreme Court ruled that the manual recount should take place, but before the "States-Rights" Republican Supreme Court justices handed the Presidency to Bush, Republican leaders were pushing legislation through the Florida State legislature that would have handed the states electors to Bush regardless of the outcome of the manual recount. With all this in mind, you would think that Republicans would jump at the chance to eliminate the Electoral College. Right? Yeah Right! Not as long as it gives them a grossly unfair advantage in any national election. 

Take Election 2000. No, I mean take it please. Ok then, here's the deal. In election 2000 Gore had to muster 190,997 popular votes to gain each earned electoral vote while Bush needed only 186,185 popular votes for each electoral vote awarded to him. That is a difference of 4,812 popular votes per electoral vote disadvantage for the Democrats. This is roughly nine times the margin of victory that Bush claimed in Florida.

Riddle: How many votes does it take to elect a republican? Answer: Fewer votes than it takes to elect a Democrat to the same office. To illustrate, let's explore another way to see the gross inequity of the Electoral College system. This time through the Senate. In 2000, we saw the Senate achieve a balance of 50-50. What we didn't see is the gross advantage that republicans had in achieving that stasis. As a measure, let's use the electoral votes to guage the popular support for each half of the even senate. Credit each senator with half of their state's allotted electoral votes (state electoral votes divided by 2 senate seats). For example, Trent Lott from Mississippi would receive 3.5 electoral votes, half of the state's 7 votes. Do this for every senator and you get the following results: Democrats -  302.5, Republicans - 232.5 ***. That translates to 6.05 electoral votes required to put a Democrat into the Senate, but only 4.65 electoral votes to put a republican there. In other words, Democrats need to muster 30.1% more electoral vote power than the republicans do just to break even! Now you know why Democrats are struggling despite their clear and further emerging popular majority in this nation. 

Original Intent: Why, you might ask, did the founding fathers jam the Electoral College into the constitution in the first place. We left the "old" world to escape government and various other types of oppression, prosecution and persecution. Why not have the people vote directly for their leaders in our utopian "New" World? Some suggest that America was never intended to be a true democracy, but rather a republic as every republican was quick to remind the world post-Election 2000. Some argue that the Electoral College system ensures that the candidates pay attention to states with small populations rather than spending all their time, energy and policy-making focused on the large states. Well, the fact of the matter is that the founding fathers were still the ones with the power in this new world and its suspected that they were less than confident that the masses were capable of choosing the "right" leaders. The Electoral College offered a safety net in case the populace voted for the "wrong" candidate. For a less controversial argument against the Electoral College, let's look to Senator Dick Durbin.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin originally co-sponsored legislation to abolish the Electoral College in 1993 and renewed his call shortly before the presidential election of 2000. He argued the following:

The Electoral College is an anachronism badly in need of retirement. Created during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the Electoral College was thought to add stability to 13 loosely knit states where communications and travel were slow and illiteracy high. The debate over how to choose a president was perhaps the most contentious one of the Convention and involved a number of fundamental issues: federal vs. state powers, balance of powers between the branches of government, big state vs. small state rivalries, and slavery. Delegates were concerned that voters would lack sufficient knowledge of the candidates to make an informed choice and only local favorites would receive popular support. Proponents of the Electoral College wanted the most knowledgeable citizens from each state to select a president based on merit. For a young country experimenting with democracy and forged in revolution, the Electoral College was seen as less risky than direct elections.

These concerns have largely disappeared and, 200 years later, the rationale for replacing the Electoral College with a direct popular vote is clear and compelling. The Electoral College is undemocratic and inherently unfair. Wyoming, for example, has 160,000 people for each electoral vote, while Illinois has more than 550,000. Awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate with a popular vote plurality in the state means millions of voters are disenfranchised. Essentially, votes are taken away from those supporting the losing candidate and added to those supporting the winning candidate. In comparison, a direct popular vote - with its one-person one-vote system - is the foundation of democracy. 

Many argue smaller states have an advantage under the current system. Yet, the winner-take-all ballot in each state means less populous and uncontested states are largely ignored. Campaigns primarily focus on battleground states with the most electoral votes. Hence, a few thousand votes from key states can have a disproportionate impact. This system also invites undue influence by third party candidates. The Electoral College now has produced four presidents who lost the popular vote but still won the election. There have been seven other close calls. The danger in this situation is a president who lacks a mandate from the people, especially during a crisis. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."

Throughout American history, there has been an inexorable march toward one-citizen, one-vote. As the 13 colonies were debating if and how to join a more perfect union, only a privileged few - those with the right skin color, gender, financial status, and religion -  enjoyed the right to cast votes to select their leaders. The people did not gain the right to choose U.S. senators by popular vote until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913.

Today, we rely on the popular vote for nearly every election in America. As the world's first and greatest modern democracy, it is time to fully trust the people and allow them the right to choose their president.

A supporter of the Electoral College, John Samples, Director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute has this to say

What about the Electoral College? Madison thought it embodied the federal will of the nation. By that he meant the Electoral College included both the will of the nation as expressed in the popular vote and the will of the states in a federal system (every state large or small gets two electors) [Actually they get three. Bozo.]. As Madison knew, this amalgamation gave small and medium-sized states more leverage in presidential elections than they would have in a popular vote. He found that to be only fair given the influence of large states elsewhere.

In our own time, we can see other advantages of the Electoral College. Under direct popular election of the President, candidates might try to roll up large majorities in their strongholds and ignore other parts of the nation. In contrast, the Electoral College forces all candidates to seek support throughout the nation. Thus our last election found Mr. Gore looking for votes in Florida and Mr. Bush doing the same in Michigan and Oregon. By making presidential candidates look for support beyond their strongholds, the Electoral College produces a leader with broader support throughout the nation than would be the case with direct election of the president.

So, should some voters have more influence simply because they live in sparsely populated states as Mr. Samples suggests? Are they more important than those who live in populous states? I don't think so. One person. One Vote.

In addition, the argument that the Electoral College ensures that "presidential candidates look for support beyond their strongholds" is beyond ludicrous, it's simply wrong. Candidates actually tend to ignore their strongholds, assuming that they will remain with him/her throughout the election. The true targets are the toss-up areas where additional votes can be harvested. You certainly didn't see Gore focusing on Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and this wasn't because they have very few electoral votes, it was because there was no hope of picking up any votes in these states. The bottom line is that candidates will always campaign most where they think they can pick up the most votes in addition to their base, Electoral College or not. 

There is, of course, no doubt that campaign strategies would change in a post-Electoral College world. But the general idea would remain the same. Candidates are going to focus on those areas where the most independent/undecided voters live. This is where the greatest return on campaign investment will always be made. The difference will be that instead of focusing on the confines of states' borders, candidates would concentrate on regions (e.g. farm belts, steel producing regions, bible belts, mining regions, etc.) The benefit would be that everyone's vote would count as much as anyone else's.

So what is the solution? You know as well as I do that the only way to ensure a just electoral system consistent with the American ideal is to get rid of the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote. "One person. One vote."
 

Strategy: 

  • Relentlessly promote the mantra "One person. One Vote." and point out the gross inequity of the current system.
  • Stress that the original intent of the Electoral College is no longer relevant.
  • Note that we should always strive for a complete democracy in spite of critics' claims that the US is "only" a republic.
  • Be aggressive and express outrage!
* All data used is based on the popular vote totals and electoral vote allocation as of the 2000 election cycle. See below for data summary.

** Invoking the founding fathers is a tried and true strategy used by the right. Here, you can see how truly baseless and ridiculous such a tactic is.

*** Although Washington DC has 3 electoral votes, it has no senate representation. Thus, the electoral vote count for the senate adds to 535 instead of the national total of 538.
 

Data Summary:
 
Candidate
Popular Vote
Electoral Votes
Popular/Electoral
Gore
50,996,116
267
190,997
Bush
50,456,169
271
186,185
Other
3,874,040
0
-
Total:
105,326,325
538
195,774 

 
Party
Senators
Electors
Electors/Senator
DEM
50
605
12.1
GOP
50
465
9.3

 
 
Electoral votes
Population
Population/Elector
25 most Republican States
208
104,353,452 
501,699
25 most Democratic States
330
177,068,454 
536,571

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