NYTimes.com Article: Abolish the Electoral College

From: Arthur Keller <arthur_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Sun Aug 29 2004 - 13:06:35 CDT

The editorial below from NYTimes.com

Abolish the Electoral College

August 29, 2004

When Republican delegates nominate their presidential
candidate this week, they will be doing it in a city where
residents who support George Bush have, for all practical
purposes, already been disenfranchised. Barring a tsunami
of a sweep, heavily Democratic New York will send its
electoral votes to John Kerry and both parties have already
written New York off as a surefire blue state. The
Electoral College makes Republicans in New York, and
Democrats in Utah, superfluous. It also makes members of
the majority party in those states feel less than crucial.
It's hard to tell New York City children that every vote is
equally important - it's winner take all here, and whether
Senator Kerry beats the president by one New York vote or
one million, he will still walk away with all 31 of the
state's electoral votes.

The Electoral College got a brief spate of attention in
2000, when George Bush became president even though he lost
the popular vote to Al Gore by more than 500,000 votes.
Many people realized then for the first time that we have a
system in which the president is chosen not by the voters
themselves, but by 538 electors. It's a ridiculous setup,
which thwarts the will of the majority, distorts
presidential campaigning and has the potential to produce a
true constitutional crisis. There should be a bipartisan
movement for direct election of the president.

The main problem with the Electoral College is that it
builds into every election the possibility, which has been
a reality three times since the Civil War, that the
president will be a candidate who lost the popular vote.
This shocks people in other nations who have been taught to
look upon the United States as the world's oldest
democracy. The Electoral College also heavily favors small
states. The fact that every one gets three automatic
electors - one for each senator and a House member - means
states that by population might be entitled to only one or
two electoral votes wind up with three, four or five.

The majority does not rule and every vote is not equal -
those are reasons enough for scrapping the system. But
there are other consequences as well. This election has
been making clear how the Electoral College distorts
presidential campaigns. A few swing states take on
oversized importance, leading the candidates to focus their
attention, money and promises on a small slice of the
electorate. We are hearing far more this year about the
issue of storing hazardous waste at Yucca Mountain, an
important one for Nevada's 2.2 million residents, than
about securing ports against terrorism, a vital concern for
19.2 million New Yorkers. The political concerns of
Cuban-Americans, who are concentrated in the swing state of
Florida, are of enormous interest to the candidates. The
interests of people from Puerto Rico scarcely come up at
all, since they are mainly settled in areas already
conceded as Kerry territory. The emphasis on swing states
removes the incentive for a large part of the population to
follow the campaign, or even to vote.

Those are the problems we have already experienced. The
arcane rules governing the Electoral College have the
potential to create havoc if things go wrong. Electors are
not required to vote for the candidates they are pledged
to, and if the vote is close in the Electoral College, a
losing candidate might well be able to persuade a small
number of electors to switch sides. Because there are an
even number of electors - one for every senator and House
member of the states, and three for the District of
Columbia - the Electoral College vote can end in a tie.
There are several plausible situations in which a 269-269
tie could occur this year. In the case of a tie, the
election goes to the House of Representatives, where each
state delegation gets one vote - one for Wyoming's 500,000
residents and one for California's 35.5 million.

The Electoral College's supporters argue that it plays an
important role in balancing relations among the states, and
protecting the interests of small states. A few years ago,
this page was moved by these concerns to support the
Electoral College. But we were wrong. The small states are
already significantly overrepresented in the Senate, which
more than looks out for their interests. And there is no
interest higher than making every vote count.

Making Votes Count: Editorials in this series remain online
at nytimes.com/makingvotescount.


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424
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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:19 2004

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