Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Electoral College and Us

Having my fate disproportionately in the hands of my relatives just because they live in a "Battleground State" is nothing short of infuriating. But such is the Electoral College. An outdated artifact of the 18th century, the Electoral College has not ever seen the light of day in other democracies. The entire system is based off of an inherent distrust of the voting electorate, and originally allowed an aristocratic check on the will of the people (the land-owning white males that is). Sadly though, it is a system so entrenched that despite repeated attempts, it has failed to get the boot. There is no shortage of viable alternatives, be the instant-runoff voting or direct elections. Sadly, short of a dramatically ridiculous election result, the system is unlikely to see serious reform.

The system has a few saving graces fortunately. It does force candidates to visit voters in small states. Also, for the most part, the Electoral College has merely exaggerated the popular vote. There are four major exceptions however:

-In 1824, Andrew Jackson won both the popular and the electoral votes, but did not secure a majority against his three rivals. Congress convened and named John Quincy Adams, who got about 45,000 fewer votes, the next president.

- In 1876, southern Democrat Samuel J. Tilden lost the Electoral College to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes after some extremely shady political maneuvers by the Republican Party. Tilden had roughly 300,000 more votes that Hayes.

- In 1880, Republican Benjamin Harrison quashed Democrat Grover Cleveland 233 electoral votes to 168 in the presidential election. Cleveland received over 100,000 more votes that Harrison.

- In 2000, Al Gore lost the Electoral College by 5 points to George W. Bush. Gore had over 500,000 votes more nationwide. According to the Bush administration, this was a "mandate" to lead. Retroactive recounts in Florida asserted that Gore should have taken the state and the presidency.

Despite these 4 major hiccoughs, the Electoral College lives on. Also consider that if Kerry had squeaked ahead in Ohio in 2004, he’d have won the presidency with more than a million votes less than Bush. You'd think that given Bush's current rock-bottom ratings and the 2000 election that put him into office, Americans would be clamoring for an end to the system. Sadly, we have short attention spans.

Working within the Electoral College forces candidates to spend a disproportionate amount of time in "Battleground States", states who could feasibly give their electoral votes to either candidate. As such, areas with large populations do not necessarily get much attention. California, Texas and New York have been all but ignored in the last several election cycles. In 2008, states like Montana, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and the Dakotas will probably get far more campaign coverage than California, Texas and New York combined. As such, many in the so-called non-swing states have very little incentive to come out and vote on Election Day. Of first world democracies, we have one of the worst vote turnouts.

If your state is sure to go one way or another, does your vote matter? Sadly, the answer is most often no, and my vote means nothing compared to those of my relatives in Columbus, OH. This is not to say I should withdraw and become cynical. Instead, this is a call to action, to not only vote, but to fight for election reform by whatever means necessary. As an American, my voice should be heard just as loud as my cousin's in Columbus, or my retired step-uncle in Florida. Now is the time for change!

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