Saturday, January 26, 2013

What About That Electoral College?

Ahh, the Electoral College, the real way that our president's are elected.
It has been a source of angst since, well since the founding of the republic.
Many people on both sides look at the Electoral College and think, may it is time to just get rid of it. It is of a bygone era. We should just elect our president by popular vote.
After all, senators used to be appointed by state legislatures per the constitution. Now they are directly elected by the people in every state.
Why not presidents?
Well, firstly the Electoral College is in place primarily to keep a check and balance. The check is on the larger populated states. The balance is that no state no matter how small or large is at a disadvantage when voting for president. In other words, Wyoming counts as much as California. In theory.
The election in 2000 was the first time since 1888 that the Electoral College truly decided a presidential election.
In 2000, Republican George W. Bush received less of the popular vote than Democrat Albert Arnold Gore. But, Mr. Bush won the Electoral College by the barest of majorities, 271-266 and 270 is the magic number. It is why when the Florida presidential vote became agonizingly close the whole Electoral College concept was being debated itself. Once that election was settled, the trend became clear that both the Republican and Democrat parties started with a certain amount of states that were going to be in their corner and those that neither party wasted much time or resources in. That left basically a handful of states determining the winner of their state and thus the electoral college.
So, how does it work?
Well, on presidential election day, we are not really voting for the candidate of our choice directly. We are voting for a candidate to win the most votes and thus win that state's electoral votes.
So let me use my state of California as an example.
California has 55 electoral votes. They are distributed as follows: 53 votes based on the 53 congressional districts in the state. The remaining two votes equaling the number of senators. And there are 55 electoral votes. Who ever wins the most votes in this state gets all the electoral votes.
Since 1992, California has voted for Democrat candidates and thus the 55 electoral votes have gone to the Democrat candidate, win or lose the majority of electoral votes nationwide. So in 2000 and 2004, while a Democrat won the most votes in California, it did not matter because the Republican won more in other parts of the United States. When the Electoral College meets later in the election year, California's votes go to the Democrat candidate because the Democrat won the most votes in the state.
It is primarily the way it works in 48 of the 50 states. Unless one wants to count the seven add-ons courtesy of then presidential candidate Sen. Messiah Barack.
Yes, I jest. But it is fun to watch our constitutional scholar prez not know quite how many states there are in this union!

Two states, Maine and Nebraska, apportion their electors not state-wide but by congressional district. Thus, and few people know this, very Republican Nebraska actually was able to award an electoral delegate to Barack Obama. Because he won the most votes in the congressional district in and around Omaha, the state's largest city. And the last three elections saw Republican candidates try to win the Maine 2nd congressional district as it is more Republican friendly in an equally Democrat state as Nebraska is Republican.
And both states made the change by initiative asking the state voters to decide the question.
Now, some states in which the Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, lost are trying to come up with similar electoral vote distribution as do Maine and Nebraska.
Now, the rich claim of the Democrats is that, why by golly, the Republicans are trying to steal elections. Because in Virginia, where the Dear Leader, President Obama won the 13 electoral votes, that would not have happened in the last election. If Mr. Romney won the majority in the 11 congressional districts, he could have won the state based on the distribution of the electoral vote. Instead of all 13 votes going to Team Obama, maybe only five of the 11 would have gone their way. Team Romney could have won six electoral votes and thus the state.
So, do the Democrats have a point?
Not really.
Because each state can distribute the electoral votes as they want to.
And if one thinks that they don't have a trick up their sleeve to totally undermine the whole concept of the Electoral College, there is the so-called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
And it is doozy.
So, remember how in 2000 and 2004 California voters voted for the Democrat for president and the Republican won?
Under this scheme, if enough states were to follow suit, California's electoral votes could have been given to one Republican George W. Bush.
That truly undermines the intent of the Electoral College. Not whether or not a state chooses to distribute the vote by congressional district or not. And that is the intent. And yes, this is an idea passed in Democrat-controlled states.
So, if one wants to be truly cynical, both political parties want something that they  believe will give them a perpetual advantage.
And the whole concept of the Electoral College is to not have that happen.
At least the Republicans want to keep the Electoral College. The Democrats see that as I noted something old and not suitable to the times.
But the fact is that if more states went to the congressional district distribution of electoral votes, it would make both political parties expand the map. Right now, they both seem to like that the presidential race boils down to less than 10 states and they can micro-target and all that in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida.
To regain a competitive two-party system in California, right now there are 15 Republican congressional districts. And the Democrats have the remaining 38. More than a two-to-one advantage. But in a close race, California Republicans could actually see their candidate at rallies and the like. Now, all they do is come in for a fundraiser and leave. It would give the state party a needed boost. And the Democrats do the same thing.
And one can use that same scenario for a Republican state like Utah. Yes, now with four congressional districts, there is one that is held by a Democrat. Why it would have been possible for the Dear Leader, President Obama, to have actually campaigned in Utah to try to win that electoral vote.
Under this system, the electoral map is expanded and a presidential campaign can really be a national one.
And we should let the constitution be the guide. Let the state determine how to distribute the electoral votes.
And no, the sky has not fallen because two states already have such a plan in place.
The Electoral College is needed more than ever today. For a nation that values the role of state government as being the best way to govern, it avoids the potential tyranny of a majority either way. It is a safeguard that not one state will be more powerful than another in the most important duty of the citizen. The way we elect a president.

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