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Why we need to eliminate the electoral college for future elections

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Illustration by Caitlin Shieh

 

The presidential election is finally over, as Barack Obama took more than 300 electoral votes. While many voters casted their ballots with excitement Nov. 6, the sad truth is that for a vast swath of the electorate, their votes simply did not count – at least not in the way that they should have.

I did not vote for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, but for a third-party candidate. When I casually mentioned this to a colleague before the election, I was told it was a stupid thing to do because voting outside of the two parties was like throwing my vote away.

What struck me was the irony in the situation. The person who criticized me was invariably going to vote for Romney. In California, any vote for Romney is an effort in futility – my colleague’s vote did not count, just like my third party vote did not count.

This is due to our system of voting using the Electoral College. Its intent is admirable, but its execution has been anything but positive in recent years.

The Electoral College had a time and place in our history. It was laid out in Article II of our Constitution and was designed so that the number of electoral votes is equal to the number of representatives in Congress. The total number of votes currently stands at 538, which breaks down to 435 for the number of members in Congress and 100 for the number of senators and an additional three for the District of Columbia. To win the presidential election, a candidate has to reach a minimum of 270 electoral votes.

This often means that states like Ohio, Florida and Colorado become key battleground states as their political landscapes do not inherently lean Democrat or Republican.

The original purpose was to allow smaller states and rural areas to have a fair say in the major election. Some point out the good that the Electoral College has done in our history. In our 56 presidential elections from 1789-2008, there have only been four instances of the popular vote winners losing the electoral vote.

But the impact of the popular vote / electoral vote split is greater today. The most recent instance was in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and then Vice President Al Gore. That election came down to  the 25 electoral votes representing Florida, that at the last minute, tipped the scales in favor of Bush.

The electoral college could have made political campaigning  and vote counting much easier back then, but today’s world is considerably smaller due to advancements in technology. Getting the word out is one tweet or Facebook post away, and political ads can be run in newspapers, TV or online. The need to level the playing field when it comes to the presidential election is no longer as important.

Candidates know the playbook ins and outs and almost universally ignore solid red or blue states; the only time they campaign in them is for the party nomination or to rake in more money for their political war chests.

In California, we are relegated to the status of in-the-bag for Democrats, resulting in a lazy election strategy for both parties.

Getting rid of the electoral college could lift our political process out of the two-party entrenchment. Because of the hurdles it takes to get the electoral votes, any substantial third-party candidate only acts as a siphoner of votes from one of the two parties.

If we could change to simple majority vote wins, other parties could help to sway the voting populace. It would help to fix our broken political system rife with corruption and gamesmanship, and introduce substantive ideas into the political conversation.

 

-Nathan is a senior majoring in journalism. He likes to throw away a multitude of ideas and initiatives along with his vote. Trash is fun.

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Nathan McMahon

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6 Comments

  1. toto Nov 7, 2012

     

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the
    candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

     

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in
    presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state
    maps. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters
    and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states
    that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

                                                   

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the
    electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all
    the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the
    presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and
    DC.

                                                       

    The
    presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated,
    or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of
    evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and
    enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less
    endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in
    the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President.
    Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the
    President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial
    property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have
    come about by state legislative action.

                                                                                  

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported
    the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the
    presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with
    about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote
    is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as
    every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent
    closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO –
    70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and
    WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –
    75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK –
    81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern
    and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%,
    SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ –
    67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.
    Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

                                                                                 

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill
    has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions (including California) possessing 132 electoral votes – 49% of the
    270 necessary to go into effect.

     

    NationalPopularVote                                           

    Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

  2. cat Nov 7, 2012

    It’s a shame that only a few state’s votes counted.  It’s too late for this election, but I would love to see that changed as well. It’s disheartening when you go out and vote and the news announcers say that it’s all up to Ohio. And of course Florida where they don’t even know how to vote.  THESE are a couple of the states that determine the president?  Something’s definitely wrong with this picture.
     

  3. JDDisqus Nov 7, 2012

    Time for this system to go..it had its purpose back in the 1800’s but now it makes political elections open to even more corruption, Popular votes across the nation should determine the outcome for a presidential  election and it would promote candidates campaigning across the country versus in key states who are going to swing the electoral vote–It’s ridiculous…    

  4. David Nov 7, 2012

    So how can we legally divest ourselves of the electoral college?

  5. April Nov 7, 2012

    I agree but let’s DO something about it. What can we do to abolish it? Can we get enough signatures to get it voted upon by the PEOPLE?

  6. Gavin Collins Nov 7, 2012

    i completely agreeve. i hate how this electoral college it only forces the canidates to win about 13 of the 50 states. lots of people talk how… o repulicans say their canidate is more popular but the midwest is very scarcely populated. truth is Mitt Romeny would hav won with out this stupid system.

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