October 24, 2012


Get Rid of the Electoral College

The Electoral College map in 2008.

The presidential election is in full swing. Let me clarify: It is in full swing if you are a member of the small slice of America that lives in a swing state. For the rest of us 200 million Americans, the election was over long before the campaigning began.

Sure, we watch the candidates duke it out in stump speeches, sound bites and debates. We absorb the flood of information that flows from our TVs and computers, and we evaluate which candidate is most deserving—or least undeserving—of our vote. There is plenty to digest: gaffes, scandals, secret recordings and lies (or malarkey, if you prefer). Election Day is fast approaching; the gloves are off and the fight is on.

But for the majority of Americans, there is no fight. On Election Day, we might as well stay home and organize our sock drawers.

I live in the state of Georgia. Whether or not I go to the polls on November will have no bearing on the outcome of this election. Georgia is a red state, so the Republican candidate—in this case Mitt Romney, but it might as well be Donald Trump or Donald Duck—will emerge victorious in Georgia and take all 16 of the state’s electoral votes. It will not matter that millions of Georgians, 40 percent or more, will cast their votes for President Barack Obama. When the state’s votes are tallied, Obama will have received somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million votes. But there will be a big ZERO in his column when it comes to the only votes that matter—electoral votes.

The Electoral College that chooses our president every four years consistently delivers a huge slap in the face to democracy. It has produced victors who did not win the popular vote, and it has made losers out of candidates who did win the most votes.

The results of U.S. presidential elections are not without consequence: In 2000, had the candidate with the most votes become president, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would never have set foot in the White House. Regardless of your political persuasion, an Al Gore presidency would have resulted in significantly different economic and foreign policy agendas during the first decade of the new millennium. One can only imagine how different the world might be, if only Americans had been allowed to decide the 2000 election via true democratic process—one person, one vote. (Of course, we also would have been spared the frenzied Florida recount, and the dubious Bush v. Gore Supreme Court ruling, because Gore indisputably won the national popular vote by more than 500,000 votes).

Instead, we allow the perpetuation of  an antiquated election process, a process that effectively disenfranchises the majority of American voters. In a democracy, our vote is our representation. Once upon a time there may have been legitimate justification for the existence of the Electoral College. But in the modern era, it serves no valid purpose. It has been argued that the electoral voting system ensures residents of sparsely populated states don’t get left out of the political process. That seems like a good enough intention—we don’t want our presidential candidates to ignore their constituents in Wyoming, North Dakota and Vermont. Unfortunately, the system has backfired, and now four out of five states are being routinely ignored by presidential candidates because their winner-take-all electoral votes are a done deal.

The idea that tens of millions of people in 40 states will cast their votes for a candidate, and then have those millions of votes cumulatively represented as ZERO in the national tally, is a farce.

Consider the very concept of battleground states. Should not EVERY state be a battleground state?  Should not every eligible voter have an equal chance to effect the outcome of an election? How can we call ourselves a democracy when voters in 40 out of 50 states are stripped of any real power?

Incentive to vote should be a top priority in a country that claims to be a leader among democracies. But there is little incentive to vote in the U.S. presidential election unless you live in a swing state. If I and my 100,000 closest liberal-leaning friends stay home on Election Day, the vote tally for the state of Georgia will still be the same: Romney 16, Obama 0. Why should I waste my precious time going to the polls, just to be represented by a zero? And if you’re one of the millions of Romney supporters who happen to live in Illinois and New York, you already know that your guy is going to come up with a big fat ZERO on Nov. 6.

Is this what the founding fathers envisioned when they declared independence and created the Land of the Free?  Is this what women’s suffrage was all about? Is this what people died for in the Civil Rights Movement?

The disempowerment brought about by the electoral voting process affects a huge majority of Americans on both the left and the right. How is it that we allow this system to remain in place? Among mainstream politicians and media, there is scant talk of changing the system. Why do we let the cycle of disenfranchisement repeat itself every four years?