A rumination coming out of our recent general election, specifically the 2008 presidential election.
I’ve never been a fan of the Electoral College, and this election again points out some of the, well, oddnesses of this institution.
A week and a half after the election, Missouri is still inexplicably not called, but let’s pretend it goes to the election’s loser, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
McCain still loses 365 to 173 electoral college votes. This is a landslide of sorts, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) getting approximately 66% of the electoral votes to McCain’s 33%.
Two-to-one margin. Blowout.
But the popular vote is way closer, roughly a 6% Obama win, not a 33% margin.
At the same time, there are a number of reasons the Electoral College is not going to go away anytime soon, and here are some of the reasons I think this is so:
- Whatever party’s in the White House won the electoral vote: So there’s very little incentive for them to address this issue. The only exception would be if Party A is in the White House and Party B wins the election with a really low percentage (I think it’s possible to get ~21% of the popular vote and carry the electoral college). However, in this case, it would be in the midst of a lame duck period and it would look too partisan, even for D.C.
- We’re a Republic, not a Democracy: We democratically elect representatives to govern; we don’t personally vote on every issue. While a bit of an anomoly, the electoral college is just another check and balance, much as the Senate gets to approve a President’s choices of Supreme Court judges.
- States you might expect to be for abolishing the electoral college aren’t: Some argue that one-person one-vote elections would force candidates to court voters in smaller (electoral) states, but this isn’t really true.
Let’s take an extreme example: Wyoming. The US’ least populous state, it has approximately 500,000 people. Wyoming has three electoral votes. Alaska, ranked No. 2 in population, has three electoral votes, as well, but with a population of approximately 700,000 for the same number of electoral votes. Therefore, Wyoming voters each have a larger influence on the state’s electoral vote’s than do Alaskan voters.
In Illinois, where I live, there are 21 electoral votes for roughly 13 million voters, or about 600,000 people per electoral vote. In Wyoming, it’s 500,000/3 = 167,000 people per electoral vote, or about four/five times fewer than Illinois. So, a single user’s vote in Wyoming – at least statistically – is much more influential than same in Illinois.
And you can repeat this exercise around the country, adjusting for voting age/registered population, but the bottom line is pretty much the same: The less electoral votes, the greater the impact of a single vote on those electoral votes.
- It hasn’t broken yet: There really haven’t been any game-changing electoral college votes (that I’m aware of), so it’s an if it ain’t broke don’t fix it issue.
Personally, I’d rather see the primary elections streamlined before we get around to looking at the electoral college; the primaries have become – since 2000, to me – way too long, way too inconsistent (caucus, regular vote, winner take all, proportioned delegates, those oh-so-mysterious Super Delegates) to make any sense. What did we have, like 1000 primary debates? Barack Obama’s been campaigning for almost two years; billions have been spent on this presidential run (all candidates from all parties). We gotta put the brakes on somehow, even if it is just market forces (i.e. no one watches anything other than the first and last primary debate, skipping the 998 betwixt).
But – as with Gore in 2000 – having the presidential loser the winner in the popular vote is, well, disconcerting.