Electoral College


"...the electoral college, the systematic mishmash that has denied the presidency to three popular-vote winners over the years...

"Has the Electoral College, a vestige of American colonial thinking, exhausted its value? Should we simply abandon it in favor of the most obvious alternative -- the direct, popular-vote election of American presidents?...

"...the winner-take-all capture of a state's electors by the candidate who receives a majority, or even a plurality, of the state's popular vote...

"...a candidate could theoretically win only the 11 most-populous states -- California through North Carolina -- again by just a single vote eah, yet still collect 271 electors and the White House without so much as appearing on the remaining 39 state ballots...

"Let me be clear: The Electoral College is not without merit. Statistical minorities that might otherwise be marginized can prove pivotal if they are concentrated on voters in key states, such as African-American in the Southeast or Latinos and Native Americans in the Southwest. Those who drafted the Constitution were not concerned about ethnicity, but they did want to prevent economic groups, states and regions from being ignored altogether" ("The Electoral College Is Seen By Many As the Deplorable College." Washington Spectator, June 15, 2004: 1-4).


"...the complicating factor that the population advantage to small states is largely canceled by the faact that all states, by law or custom, still award their Electoral College (EC) votes winner take all, which benefits large states. To wit, if a presidential candidate wins North Dakota by 537 votes this year, he gets three EC votes. But if the candidate wins Florida by that number, as Bush did in 2000, he gets twenty-seven.

"That is why Gore almost won the 2000 election, even as Bush carried thirty states, including most small states. Gore carried such large states as New York, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Michigan, with their big blocks of electoral votes, which brought him within one EC vote of victory.

Presidential candidates don't campaign in small or large states particularly anymore. You won't see either of them in Wyoming or New York this year. They campaign in close states, again owing to the winner-take-all feature of the Electoral College. West Virginia has only five electoral votes. But polls indicate that it is closely divided, and its votes could be decisive. So you will find Bush and Kerry there, plenty.

"Historically, the winner-take-all feature benefited Democrats, because if they were going to win at all, they would win in the big Northeastern and Midwestern "industrial" states. But now conservative big states like Georgia and Texas are gaining people and EC votes and the old industrial states are losing them, which will help the GOP, unless the Democrats can break the Republican hold on the Sun Belt. In any case, by these strange balancing anomalies, the EC vote count still usually agress with the popular vote. The 2000 EC vote did not. But it should be noted that the popular vote was also essentially a tie in 2000 and thus that either result in the EC would have been regarded as unfair by the losers. But Pollitt is right that misguided small states continue to love the Electoral College, and thus that it is likely to be with us forever" ("Letters." The Nation, Sep. 20, 2004: 2).


Colby Glass, MLIS