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The Nation

It Might Save Obama This Year, but the Electoral College Must Go!

Chances are growing that we may very well see a split in this year’s election, with Governor Romney narrowly winning the popular vote and President Obama taking the Electoral College (maybe by a comfortable margin). As I noted yesterday, the media hype over “Mittmentum” was false mainly because of Obama’s continuing clear edge in most of the swing-state polls. But that doesn’t mean Romney won’t win the popular vote. And if he does win, but lose the election, don’t expect Fox and friends to accept that, even though they had no problem with George W. Bush’s “win” in 2000.

So, yes, the old College try may save Obama, but I still think that method of electing our president should be abolished. It would take a constitutional amendment and don’t expect the many, many smaller states that benefit from the current system to go along with it.

At least there’s a partial move today, as Representative Steve Israel, a Democrat, has proposed adding twenty-nine electoral votes in the future, going to the winner of the popular vote. If Romney wins the popular vote but loses the election, perhaps GOPers will flock to such ideas.

Earlier this week there was a weak Ross Douthat defense of the Electoral College at the New York Times site, although even Ross is wavering a bit. My view, which I must express firmly, almost angrily: The current system is fundamentally undemocratic—effectively disenfranchising the vast majority of Americans in any presidential race.

Tens of millions in California, Texas, New York and elsewhere basically don’t count. Rachel Maddow displayed this in a graphic the other night, creating a map of a small nation-within-a-nation made up the handful of battleground states as the only USA that counted in the race for the White House.


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Plus, smaller states not even in play this year get an even bigger sway because they get extra electoral votes because of gaining two votes based on their seats in the Senate. As you may know, electoral votes derive from the number of House reps plus Senate reps. States that deserve one vote, based on population, get their influence tripled by adding the two senators. States with two House reps get their sway doubled. Most of these states are red, but then you have blues states such as Vermont and Rhode Island. Larger states also get those two bonus votes, but that only takes them from, say, sixteen to eighteen.

Just a snapshot (and Repubs are free to submit their own examples, from their side, just as valid): My home state of New York has a 2012 population of about 19 million, or 6.19 percent of the nation. It now has twenty-nine electoral votes. Wyoming has a population of about 550,000 or 0.18 percent of the US total, but three electoral votes. In a true democracy, New York would have about fifty-four times more electoral votes than Wyoming. Instead it has about 9.6. So Wyoming has six times the influence of New York.

Some claim that if we did away with the College no candidate would care about contesting Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, Delaware, the Dakotas, etc. Well, they are not contesting those states now because of the winner-take-all College, plus they are not contesting heavily (and diversely) populated Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and on and on.

I’d love to see Obama going to Texas to gain critical votes, and there’s no reason Romney should not be in upstate New York to harvest the many Republican votes there. That’s called a democracy. But is democracy coming to the USA, as Leonard Cohen once asked?

Richard Cohen of Wash Post joins me in calling for end to our College years.

Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell is the author of a dozen books, including The Tunnels, Atomic Cover-Up and (with Robert Jay Lifton), Hiroshima in America.  His latest book is The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The New Press). 

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