Elections 2012: On Election Eve – Rethinking the Electoral College

Mark Trahant
11/5/12

 

In a few hours, across the country, there will be winners and losers. Some will claim a mandate. Others will have won by a few votes and will be unable to claim a mandate. But either way: What of the American-style of democracy? Does it deliver? There are many problems, starting with the idea that all votes are not created equal, a system that is cemented into place by the Electoral College. It’s a convoluted system designed to give additional power to small states. Every state gets two votes plus one for each Congressional district. So California has 55 electoral votes while Wyoming has three. That means each citizen’s vote in Wyoming is worth 15 times as much as California’s votes. But the real issue is more complex. Because some states favor Democrats, or Republicans, they are ignored by the candidates. CBS NEWS reviewed Barack Obama and Mitt Romney schedules since Romney clinched the Republican nomination in late April “reveals that except for fundraisers, the candidates have not campaigned in roughly 40 of the 50 states, but those 10 anointed ‘swing states’ are graced with public appearances over and over again.” One reason for the interest in this system is the potential for Obama to lose the popular vote – and still win the election. And, according to Gallup Polls, 62 percent of all Americans would prefer a popular vote to the Electoral College. “Americans show relatively little attachment to this unique invention of the country's Founding Fathers,” Gallup reports. “The system was devised as a compromise between those who wanted Congress to select the president and those who favored election by the people, and it has resulted in a highly state-based approach to presidential campaigning. Those who advocate abolishing the Electoral College often do so on the basis that the system puts undue emphasis on a small number of swing states. Whether Americans as a whole are concerned about that byproduct is unclear. However, they broadly agree that the country should adopt a system in which the popular vote prevails. While Republicans are less supportive of this than Democrats, 11 years after the 2000 election politicized the issue, the majority of Republicans once again favor the change.” Many say the danger of a national popular vote is that large urban areas, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, could replace the swing states in terms of importance. However another fix would be to award Electoral College votes by congressional district instead of a winner-take-all in the state. Then the liberal states, such as California, would have districts that would be competitive. Already two states – Maine and Nebraska – use this system. But neither state has ever split its votes (the winner of the state’s votes won all congressional districts). Moreover, according to Fair Vote, this “does not address the disproportional aspects of the Electoral College. Using Congressional districts to determine each elector would also draw more attention to the way districts are drawn, already a hot-topic in politics today. The vast majority of districts are drawn as “safe zones” for one of the two major political parties. For this reason, basing electoral vote allocation on Congressional districts as well would raise the stakes of redistricting considerably and make gerrymandering even more tempting.” And on top of that congressional districts are even less competitive than swing states. According to ABC News, one reason to keep the Electoral College in place is it increases the influence of minority voters. “Supporters also argue that minority interests are better served. Minorities can sway the outcome of elections better under the system. They also contend the Electoral College serves the Founding Fathers' intention that states retain key political powers.” I have my own far-fetched plan. Add Indian country to the Electoral College giving a vote to tribal nations based on population. Indian country has a larger population than Wyoming, Alaska, or actually, about 15 states. Imagine what elections would be like if candidates had to campaign on reservations or Alaska villages to win. Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

 

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