Steve Chapman had a thought provoking column on November 15 at Reason, and he makes a good point – it is time to scrap the Electoral College. It’s an anachronism and it has gotten to the point that it is anti-democratic.
This particular election underscored the absurdity of the system. We have a national election for President in a nation of well over 300 million people, but the election was decided by a just handful of the fifty states – because they are the “swing states” that determine the winner of the Electoral College.
The problem is that this makes the vast majority of the country irrelevant in determining the President. If you are a Democrat in a deep red county in a deep red state, what reason do you have to vote for President? If you are a Republican in a deep blue county in a deep blue state, what reason do you have to vote for President? You are tilting at windmills and your vote is not going to change anything.
Moving to a national popular vote would change that. One benefit is that it would encourage more turnout. Someone living in an area dominated by the other party may not have much hope of changing their local and state government, but their votes added to the pool of votes nationally would make a difference, joined with the votes of like-minded voters in swing counties and swing states, as well as states where your chosen party is in control.
It would also force the candidates to run a truly nationwide campaign instead of a regional campaign that focuses on ten or twelve swing states while ignoring the other forty. Republicans are not going to win California, but Republicans would be foolish not to conduct a significant get-out-the-vote effort to get California Republicans to the polls. The same could be said of Democrats in the Deep South states.
There was a lot of talk about abolishing the Electoral College after Al Gore barely won the popular vote by the slimmest of margins, but George Bush won the election by winning Florida. A significant number of Democrats would already support the proposal, so making this a bipartisan effort would make it much easier. Most voters would approve of the idea that they are voting for the President directly instead of indirectly.
If we’re going to elect a President of the whole country, then let’s have a truly nationwide campaign instead of having the candidates only focus on a few states while either taking the rest of the states for granted or writing them off as unwinnable. We are not the same country we were when the Electoral College was implemented, and now is the time to move past it.