I’ve argued for a short period of national campaigning and a one-day national primary rather than the current series of reality television shows carried out over months. It’s 2016, for goodness sake. Our persistence in clinging to an out-dated system for Presidential elections is the reason we’ve arrived at a place where the majority of Americans are unhappy with their choice of candidates. The only happy people are the candidate’s true disciples and the news media.
So, it was over the Memorial Day weekend, while watching an online video on Vox (http://www.vox.com/2016/5/17/11686328/bad-election-map) that I came to an epiphany- the Electoral College has got to go. The video is about the distortion of the typical red vs. blue superimposed over the United States map – the one seen on news shows all the time now. The video takes you through several maps that are truer representations of the electoral geography.
Guess what? The United States is almost unrecognizable in a form dominated by the states with the most electoral votes. And then it hit me – the Electoral College (that I defended with my life as a teacher) is no longer justified. Even worse, it has been a harmful factor in polarizing America.
A reminder: The number of Electoral votes a state has is equal to the number of representatives it has in Congress. This is determined by the state’s population reflected in the National Census taken every ten years. There are 538 electoral votes divided among the states and the District of Columbia.
As always, a little historical perspective is worth considering. Post-natal America consisted of 13 former colonies stretching over 1000 miles with just a few million people. The geography and the limited travel technology (horsepower literally meant horse power!) made a one-day election by popular vote impossible, as was managing a truly national campaign.
The new states were newly bound together with a national confederation of which they were suspicious. Remember, each colony was a completely separate sovereign entity. The former colonists, who had just fought to escape from a foreign government, didn’t relish a government beyond their own state borders.
To get to an actual constitution, which we now take for granted, huge compromises had to be made. One of the biggest deals was proposed by Madison the so-called “Three-fifths Compromise” that allowed Southern states to count slaves as being 3/5 of a person for purposes of the Electoral College. Since slaves couldn’t vote, this was an early distortion of the population of those states that had large numbers of slaves. It made for more representatives in Congress and buoyed their influence in Presidential elections. There’s no way the Southern states would’ve gone along with a popular vote instead. They were much weaker without the power in the Electoral College courtesy of Madison’s compromise.
So states had a natural suspicion of each other and of national government. They were isolated from each other by geography and technology, and even worse, their leaders weren’t big fans of direct democracy in the first place. They were elitists who believed only property owners and men should vote. They were direct witnesses to the violent French Revolution, so they saw danger in mob rule.
In that historical context, the Electoral College is a brilliant scheme; however, in today’s context, it is just plain antiquated and stupid. Here’s why. With 350 million people, we live in an even bigger country than the first America, but our transportation is super fast and our communication instantaneous. And it has been for more than a century because of radio and television and the advent of the Internet. Most people at all economic levels are connected online.
So a quick primary season and a one person – one vote national campaign and election are absolutely possible.
More importantly, changing to a popular vote for our Presidential elections is essential to our national political health. Think about this: why should a handful of states dominate the upcoming elections? The pundits tell us that the election will come down to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Kind of disenfranchising, if you don’t live in one of those states, eh?
Here’s another example of disenfranchisement: What if you’re a Democrat voting in Alabama, North Carolina or South Carolina? You’re basically not in the Presidential election at all, are you? And forget about it if you’re a Republican in New York or California, Massachusetts or Connecticut.
Maybe that’s why voter participation is so low. Stanford Sociology Professor Doug McAdam reckons that in the 2012 Presidential Election, 4 out of 5 Americans were disenfranchised by the Electoral College (https://news.stanford.edu/2016/04/08/electoral-college-bad-040816/).
I’ll throw one more fact at you (once a history teacher, always a history teacher). If one candidate doesn’t get the 270 electoral votes needed to win, the election gets thrown into the House of Representatives. So the election could be determined “of the people” but not by the actual people! It’s a crazy year and just about anything could happen.
Only four Presidential elections winners in history lost a popular vote and won election through the Electoral College. Three of those were in the 1800s. The last time it happened was when Bush defeated Gore while losing the popular vote in 2000. The electoral vote was disputed and kicked around by a court battle. You could argue, and I am, here, that the massive polarization of the country has its origins in that fiasco.
A one person-one vote Presidential election could restore our national unity to normal American levels and help us all work together for the country. Maybe I’m just scare mongering for effect. I mean, it’s not like a billionaire real-estate developer and self- promoter, an unpopular unindicted criminal, or a Socialist could become President in November. Right?