If the tables had been turned in 2000 and Al Gore had won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote rather than George W. Bush, I believe Republicans would have launched a huge campaign to do away with the electoral college. A constitutional amendment to do just that would have breezed through the Republican-controlled House and Senate and a state-by-state campaign to get it passed would have been backed by every right-wing radio host along with the rest of the VRWC.
And I would have joined in as well.
Driving to work this morning I overheard the end of an interview on NPR with Texas A&M political science professor George Edwards about his new book “Why The Electoral College Is Bad For America.”
Edwards evicerates the lame arguments put forward by people like George Will who fret that straight popular voting would not provide enough legitimacy for a strong government.
Drawing on systematic data, Edwards finds that the electoral college does not protect the interests of small states or racial minorities, does not provide presidents with effective coalitions for governing, and does little to protect the American polity from the alleged harms of direct election of the president. In fact, the electoral college distorts the presidential campaign so that candidates ignore most small states and some large ones and pay little attention to minorities, and it encourages third parties to run presidential candidates and discourages party competition in many states.
Edwards demonstrates effectively that direct election of the president without a runoff maximizes political equality and eliminates the distortions in the political system caused by the electoral college.
I would love to get this book sometime soon and read it. In the meantime, here are some articles that extrapolate on the ideas in Edward’s book.
Second-Guessing the Founders, Dissing the Electoral College
Mr. Edwards’ greatest objection to the Electoral College is that it violates the principle of political equality. His case is compelling: Since the electoral votes of each state equal the number of Congressmen and Senators from that state, small states have a much larger percentage of the electoral vote than larger states. Nor does every ballot carry the same weight. In 2003, one electoral vote in Wyoming corresponded to 167,081 persons, and to 645,172 folks in California. What happened to the Supreme Court doctrine of "one man, one vote"?
The winner-take-all system in place in every state but Maine and Nebraska (where a few electors are chosen in districts), Mr. Edwards adds, disenfranchises millions of voters and depresses turnout. What incentive was there, really, for a Bush voter in New York or a Gore voter in Texas to come to the polls? In effect, their votes went to the winner.
This is exactly right. There is not much incentive for me to vote in the presidential election other than the satisfaction that it will help drive up Kerry’s popular vote total.
The Indefensible Electoral College
Most of the original arguments in favor of an electoral college system are no longer valid. The electoral college was partially a concession to slaveholders in the South, who wanted electoral clout without letting their slaves actually vote. (Under the electoral college, slaves counted towards a state's electoral vote total.) The framers also thought that ordinary people wouldn't have enough information to elect a president, which is not necessarily a concern today.