The Electoral College Needs to Go

Over the past weeks I have been watching CNN for my election coverage. They don’t blatantly ignore facts like Fox News and they aren’t blatantly (even though they are) in the tank for Obama like MSNBC. Once Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee, they began to analyze the various presidential polls.

If you were from another planet and saw the coverage on CNN, you would think the United States was controlled by a handful of states: Virginia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Florida, and Ohio. These are the states that will decide the election. Eventually, CNN managed to whittle this list down to Ohio. I kept hearing that whoever wins Ohio will be President. I thought it was funny when, during one of the debates, CNN had a room full of undecided voters from Ohio and said “These are the people who will decide the election.” I kept waiting for them to find a single undecided voter in Cleveland and ask him/her how it felt to know they were responsible for picking the next President.

I tell you this little tale because I live in the second-most conservative state in the union, Idaho. My vote doesn’t really matter. My state is in the win column for Romney. We have had no campaign events. No chance to meet the candidates or even their surrogates (except for big donors). There is no strong Democratic presence here. The election is basically being decided by people who live far from me and who have different concerns than I do. President Obama talked about how you have to be President for the entire country, not just the people who voted for you, but I can’t seem to remember him ever visiting my state or talking about issues that concern us in the west the most. The reason we get ignored out here is because of our system of voting, the electoral college.

Originally, the plan for our democracy called for Congress to elect a President. Instead, we ended up with the current system, which was born out of the fear of men who met together frequently and secretly to conspire about who would be President; there were concerns about the independence of the man in the office if he were elected by Congress. Instead each state was to send a number of “electors” based on the number of Congressmen they had. After the general population had voted, these electors would be pledged to vote for one candidate. But only 24 states have laws on the books that punish “faithless” electors—that is, electors who don’t vote in the same way as the popular vote. Think about that: even if the person running for office were to win the popular vote, there is very little to prevent some electors from going rogue in a close race and voting for the other guy, thus negating the will of the people.

The electoral college itself may have had its uses in the past but now it is horribly outdated. It is possible, though highly improbable, to win the Presidency with 22% of the popular vote, as shown here.

If that video doesn’t convince you that we need election reform, nothing will. While I admit that the scenario is nigh impossible, the fact that it exists at all is ridiculous. I’m not the only person to think the college needs to go. Several times in United States history attempts have been made to abolish the electoral college. In 1969 an attempt was made that came very close to succeeding. It even had the support of President Nixon, but it died in the Senate thanks to filibusters.

The college has several more negative aspects. First, it suppresses voter turnout. Voters in non-swing states get discouraged from voting because they believe that their vote doesn’t matter. We should be encouraging turnout, not making voting less attractive. Second, it tends to focus the races on a few states only, which is exactly what the college was created to avoid. Those of us who live in the west are sick of hearing about coal and cars when we care more about things like climate and water rights. And last but not least, it also makes it virtually impossible for a third party to break through the two party death spiral we are currently locked in.

So I mailed in my absentee ballot, not because I think it will affect the outcome of the election, but because I had relatives who fought and died for some of the rights we take for granted today.

Let’s do away with the electoral college. Let’s have each voter’s vote be equal under the law. It may not do away with all the issues we have related to elections, but it will make certain that the will of The People determines the outcome!

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