"I have an op-ed in today's Star Tribune in defense of the Electoral College," tweets one Andy Brehm. Here it is--the op-ed, not the tweet. Brehm is the former press secretary for Sen. Norm Coleman, Chameleon-MN, so the Electoral College is evidently not the only thing he's confused about. Let us examine some of the points he makes.
- "The Electoral College requires candidates to seek the support of a broad cross-section of the national electorate." Well, it is a national election, so it would be somewhat startling if candidates did not feel the need to seek a broad cross-section of support. It seems obvious, however, that direct popular election of the president would make the need greater, not less. The Electoral College allows candidates to ignore the populations of entire states--most states, as a matter of fact, get no attention during the general election campaign.
- "If attaining the most votes nationally were all that mattered, nominees would turn a deaf ear to the rural electorate." Ask the farmers in Alabama, Kansas, and California whether they have in the past few election cycles revelled in the attention lavished upon them by candidates for president. The complaint about "turn[ing] a deaf ear on the rural electorate" is just a kind of linguistic ruse for dressing up the fact that the Electoral College gives more weight to ballots cast in states with small populations--generally, the more rural ones. If Brehm is in favor of that, he should say so. I trust that most Americans believe ballots should have the same weight, no matter where they are cast.
- Then there is the argument that if presidents were elected in the same fashion as senators and representatives and governors and state legislators and mayors and school board members (most votes wins), then "New York, Texas and California would be king." Yes, that would be awful. These three states have more than a quarter of the country's population, but they are ignored by presidential candidates, who spend all their time in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, central Florida, and the southern suburbs of Washington D.C. If Brehm thinks that's better, he should explain why.
- "Even the most orthodox of majoritarians should take solace in the fact that the current Electoral College misfires, so to speak, very rarely." An odd thing to say. Brehm makes of "majoritarian" a silly pejorative. Is it a "misfire" or not when the candidate with the most votes, so to speak, loses? If it is, the remedy, so to speak, is at hand: direct popular election of the president.
- Brehm doesn't seem to be aware of probably the worst thing about the Electoral College: it has the practical effect of disenfranchising perhaps a third of the voting population. If you are a Republican living in New York or Illinois or California, or a Democrat living in Alabama or Texas or Wyoming or Idaho, you have no voice at all. On Election Day, you can stay home or for exercise walk to the polling place and vote--the outcome is not affected by your choice. Maybe Brehm doesn't understand this but the candidates sure do. That is why they spend all their time scrambling and pandering for the only votes that matter.
I think the number of Americans who comprehend what a terrible system we have is on the rise. People interested in an overdue reform should check this out.