Politics Magazine

Last Electoral College Post Till the Next One

Posted on the 18 November 2012 by Erictheblue

I've been thinking more about the electoral college--almost necessarily, for I sent an edited version of my last post to the Star Tribune, which published it as a rebuttal to the familiar defenses summarized, neatly but without irony, by D.J. Tice, and I have in the aftermath been hearing from people.  Thirty-one comments to the online version of my article!  I think that equals the number of all comments ever submitted to this years-old blog.  Who says traditional media is finished?  Not those of us airing our obsessions in the exurbs of the Internet.

I disagree with some people who seem to think of themselves as being on my side.  Keeping the electoral college, but dividing up the state-by-state award of electoral votes by congressional district (as Maine and Nebraska currently do), is neither a remedy nor a fair compromise.  In the real world, it would penalize Democrats for clumping together in the urban centers of the northern tier of states.  When all this year's presidential ballots had been counted in my district (Minnesota's Fifth, which includes the entire city of Minneapolis) and the one that adjoins it on its most northerly border (Minnesota's Sixth, represented by Michele Bachmann), Obama was ahead by well over 100,000 ballots.  But in the congressional district version of the electoral college, the count that mattered would have been 1 to 1.

Putting aside considerations of fairness, battleground districts are not an improvement upon battleground states, especially when there is an obvious remedy at hand--every vote counts the same, and the candidate who receives the most wins.  It's as if the electoral college is a bad habit that we can only hope to ameliorate.  No.  Just dump it.  Most votes wins.

I confess to being surprised when smart people think this question of the electoral college is a close call. Here is the usually sensible Michael Tomasky performing the on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other dance.  His major point is that a national popular vote election would have a polarizing effect, since both sides would strive to "turn out the base."  But it's not as if both sides do not now attempt to turn out their respective bases.  The question is how many people are in those bases, and what do those who aren't in either one think?  It seems to me that statewide races, especially in large states, are an experimental laboratory that disproves Tomasky's theory.  As I pointed out in my article, Hillary Clinton, when she was running for U.S. Senate in New York, did not confine her effort to Manhattan.  Instead, she devoted most of her attention to parts of the state where her support was much lower than in New York City.  If you consult your own experience and observations, I think you'll conclude that my Clinton example is the rule--one for which exceptions are difficult to discover.  Why would a national popular vote election be different?


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