Electoral College System Flunks the Fairness Test
By David Page
Special to The Pilot
The United States has come a long way in the past 100 years in making elections more democratic and fair.
Reapportionment, the Voting Rights Act, suffrage for women, blacks and 18-year-olds, and easier registration are good examples of reforms that have encouraged people to feel that elections are fair and that their vote counts.
In presidential elections, however, we have not moved very far toward fairness. Our forefathers were concerned about the rights of those states - especially small states and Southern states - not deciding elections by popular vote. Thus, the requirement for two senators per state, the three-fifths provision, and the election of presidents and vice presidents by an awkward system of choosing electors and having them choose the president.
This system, which we call the Electoral College, is in my opinion unfitting and unfair for the election of presidents in the 21st century.
Consider the following example in which each state gets one elector for each 10,000 people, plus two for its senators. In state A, population 200,000, "Bill" receives 20,000 popular votes. In state B, population 250,000, he receives 70,000 popular votes. His total popular votes are 90,000, with 27 electoral votes (25 plus 2).
"Jane" receives 50,000 popular votes in state A (200,000 population) and 60,000 in state B (250,000). Her total popular votes are 110,000, but her electoral votes only total 22 (20 plus 2). "Bill" is our new president. Fair?
Improbable? Check the presidential elections of 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. Little effect? The election of 1876 probably ended the civil rights movement for blacks in the 19th century. The election of 2000 helped us go to war in Iraq.
Here is an example of unfairness that occurs in every presidential election:
Wyoming (pop. 493,782) has three electoral votes, with the population per electoral vote 164,594. North Carolina (pop. 8,001,024) has 15 electoral votes, with the population per electoral vote 533,401. A vote in Wyoming has at least three times the value of a vote in North Carolina.
This system may have been proper and necessary when the Constitution was up for approval by the states, but not today. The political rights of small states are well-protected by having two senators for each state, regardless of population. This provision cannot be amended.
How can we move the process toward greater fairness? We could reform the system by adopting a popular vote amendment. This is time-consuming and difficult to get Congress to move on. One or the other party always believes that it has the Electoral College advantage. The last attempt in the late '60s and early '70s never got out of Congress.
Another possible reform is the interstate agreement in which each state "holds" its electoral votes until all states have completed the popular vote. Then the state casts its electoral votes for the national winner Eight states have adopted this, but it has stalled and seems unlikely to go further. (A state might have to vote against the preference of its own people.)
The reform that I advocate is allocating each electoral vote by the outcome of the popular vote in the congressional district. A method for allocating the electoral votes for the two senators would be decided by the state legislature (which should be entertaining).
This is a bottom-up reform that would diminish the mathematical probability of electing someone president who had not won the popular vote. But it would not eliminate the possibility.
If this reform is adopted, states need not wait for other states to act and a popular vote amendment could continue without interference. The so-called red states and blue states should get more attention from the candidates. Maine and Nebraska have already adopted this reform.
If you agree, call, write or contact your state representative and state senator and let them know how you feel. A bottom-up reform has to start with the voter - at the bottom. No political party is likely to lead a movement for election reform. But you and I can.
David Page lives in Southern Pines.
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