Electing Presidents – Part I: Time to Change the Process

The reason many people give for not voting is that it doesn’t make a difference so they consider it a waste of time. They have a point. Why doesn’t their vote count? First, the Electoral College winner-take-system recognizes only those who voted with the majority in a state. Opposition voters in reliably red or blue states rarely, if ever, see that casting their vote makes a difference.

Second, because of these reliably Democratic and Republican states, due in large part to gerrymandering and increased partisanship, there are only a handful of “swing” states. These states are where Presidential candidates and their campaign surrogates focus while ignoring the rest of the country, or more accurately, taking their vote for granted.  Citizens are less likely to engage in the political process when they feel they have no stake in it.

The Electoral College is an antiquated construct for deciding the outcome of Presidential elections.  The current winner-take-all system of awarding votes in every state—except for Maine and Nebraska, where electoral votes are apportioned by district—lacks fairness and fails to accurately represent the percentage of votes each candidate received from the general population. There has been a push over the years, and currently, to use the popular vote to remedy this situation.

Over the past couple of weeks, it has been reported that some GOP-led swing states—those in particular that awarded Electoral College votes to President Obama the last two election cycles—are considering reworking the electoral votes in their states to advantage Republican candidates. This is a highly cynical move because it is only these battleground states being targeted, not all states, nor any conservative states. (Fortunately, some legislators in these states are now rethinking this strategy.)

What is attempting to be done? These Republican-led legislatures are trying to change the winner-take-all Electoral College system to a proportional system, but not one based on the popular vote. Their goal is to distribute electoral votes based on state congressional districts. All one needs to do is look at the composition of blue versus red districts in states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio to see that this strategy only serves to game the system to favor GOP candidates.

 GrandTheftElection_fig2-12 AA

Center for American Progress

Graphic pulled from Business Insider, January 24 article: Republicans are Getting Slammed for Their Plan to Rig the Electoral College

How does this game the system? Pennsylvania provides an example. Obama won the state by approximately 390,000 votes in 2012. However, if the 20 electoral votes had been allocated by district, Obama would’ve won Pennsylvania’s popular vote, but would’ve only received 7 electoral votes, while Romney would’ve received 13. The repercussions at the state level are stark, but look at the impact this plan would have had nationally.

In the 2012 Presidential election, Obama won by 5 million popular votes, but had the GOP’s plan to allocate votes by congressional district been in place, the Electoral College would’ve given the presidency to Romney with 282 electoral votes to Obama’s 256. Would that have been the appropriate outcome? George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by 500,000 votes in 2000, which is the major reason many saw his presidency as illegitimate. The Supreme Court appointed him President, yet under the proposed GOP congressional district plan, he would’ve easily defeated Gore in the Electoral College—no recount required.

Business Insider did an assessment of how this GOP Electoral College scheme would have played out in the last eleven elections, with some interesting results—even to the benefit of Democratic candidates. However, with Republicans benefiting most from gerrymandering over the past few years, particularly after the 2010 mid-term elections, this idea is unfair and is highly advantageous to their party; especially in light of, and it bears repeating, they are targeting only a few battleground states, not all states.

These examples shed light on the deficiencies of the current Electoral College system as well as the egregious vote-rigging scheme cooked up by GOP state legislators, a scheme even endorsed by the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and other leading Republicans. So, what is the solution? In my next post, I will present a few ideas to transform the presidential electoral process with the goal of increasing voter turnout.

For more information on this topic, read The Center for American Progress’ Report: Grand Theft Election—PDF

This post also appears on Deborah Ludwig’s blog, The Feisty Liberal.

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2 thoughts on “Electing Presidents – Part I: Time to Change the Process

  1. Excellent. I would quibble on only one point: the reason many viewed Bush as illegitimate. I think it had a lot more to do with the not-unfounded perception that the election was stolen in FL through vote-rigging by Jeb and Katherine, a violent mob in FL, and an illegitimate intervention by the Supreme Court. It’s always been possible to get elected with a minority of the popular vote, and everyone knew it. If Bush had won by a minority vote but had been perceived to have nonetheless won fairly, very few would have questioned his legitimacy.

  2. Pingback: Electing Presidents – Part II: Change the Electoral College | Everblog

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