Thursday, November 15, 2012

Electoral College

Ever since the beginning of the United States of America, we've used what's known as the "Electoral College" for Presidential elections. While some states (like Nebraska & Maine) complicate it slightly, the Electoral College is very simple and straightforward. The candidate who wins the popular vote in a state receives the electoral votes that state is worth. For example, Florida is worth 29 electoral votes. Whichever candidate wins the state of Florida receives 29 electoral votes. The candidate to receive 270 electoral votes wins the election. In every state (except Nebraska & Maine), the candidate that receives the majority of the popular vote receives all electoral votes for that state, regardless of their margin of victory. In Florida, for example, a candidate can win by 1,000 votes, or by 2,000,000 votes, and receive all 29 electoral votes - the margin of victory is irrelevant.

This has led to some controversy over whether or not this is "fair," or even democratic. The electoral college system gives swing states a disproportionate ability to influence the election. It's even possible for one candidate to receive more votes, but still lose the election if those votes aren't in the "right states." This has happened four times in history, most recently in 2000, when Al Gore received half a million more votes than George W. Bush, but still lost the election because Bush had more electoral votes.

In the 2012 election, Obama received approximately 61 million votes, compared to Romney's 58 million - which, by the way, is very close. I would argue that it's so close that it's not entirely fair for Obama to claim this as evidence the American people agree with his plan of raising taxes. But, that's a different topic for a different day.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been perusing the web reading about this topic trying to get a feel for what people think. It seems that a lot of people felt that if Romney lost the election but won the popular vote, that would have been the end of the electoral college as we know it. But, now that we know Obama won both the E.C. and the popular vote, it will be interesting to see what happens to this peculiar system of election.

While reading about this topic, I found one individual who calls the electoral college "a form of taxation without representation" - arguing that if you live in a state which is majorly one side or the other (democrat or republican), but you differ from the norm, your vote is meaningless. For example, if you are a liberal living in the state of Texas, your vote in the presidential election counts for nothing, because your state's electoral votes will most certainly go to the republican candidate, and you have accomplished nothing by voting for your democrat-candidate. Likewise, if you are a conservative living in the state of California, your vote counts for nothing, because your state's electoral votes will most certainly go to the democrat candidate. Therefore, a lot of people in these types of states choose not to vote, knowing their vote will not sway the masses, or earn any electoral votes for their candidate of choice.

If the conservative from California, or the liberal from Texas, were to move to a state like Florida, or even Ohio, suddenly their vote is HUGELY important, and a great asset to either side. If we were to abolish the electoral college completely, and have the presidential election be based on popular vote only (like every other election nation-wide), everybody's vote would be an equal vote, and everyone would have an equal say. Wouldn't that be the way to do it in a democracy? I would say, without hesitation, "absolutely."

Interestingly enough, I stumbled across a bill in the House of Representatives that offers an amusing solution. H.J.Res.121 was introduced in October by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) does not abolish the electoral college, but it does award the winner of the national popular vote an additional 29 electoral votes - a huge bonus to the candidate that wins the popular vote. In 2000, Gore received half a million more votes than Bush, but lost the election by 5 electoral votes. The additional 29 electoral votes for popular vote would have led to a Gore victory in 2000.

It's an interesting concept, though I do not believe this will lead to the Constitutional amendment that Rep. Israel is seeking. It's been sitting in committee for nearly a month, still with no co-sponsors. I would suggest that we should just do away with the electoral college completely, and have the presidential election be determined entirely by popular vote.

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