Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Electoral College

To paraphrase George Orwell's Animal Farm: all voters in America are equal, but some voters are more equal than others.

Many people here in America misunderstand the election process here: when they go to the polls and cast a ballot, they think they are casting a ballot for the presidential election. In fact, this is not the case. They are casting a ballot for a slate of "electors" to represent their state in the Electoral College. The real presidential election is held by the electors in the Electoral College on December 13.

The Electoral College dates back to the founding of the United States. Two hundred years ago, when the United States consisted of 13 distant colonies without modern communication systems, and where it would have been impractical to hold a popular vote, the Electoral College would have made a lot of sense. Today, however, with modern communication mechanisms, it is just as easy to call the other side of the country as down the street, and holding a popular vote would be relatively easy.

For those of you reading this post and scratching your heads, I'll give a little background. Each state has a certain number of "electors" - one for each house member elected that state, plus one for each senator. The District of Columbia (which doesn't get to elect senators or house members) gets three electoral votes. These "electors" are real people picked by the two major parties: if most of the votes in the state go to the Republican party, their slate of electors goes to the Electoral College, and if most of the votes go to the Democrats their slate goes. There are a couple of key problems with this process.

The first problem is a concept called "faithless electors", which is enough to make someone's blood boil. See, the electors don't actually have an obligation to vote for the candidate endorsed by their party - they can vote for whomever they want. Occasionally, you'll have an elector who decides to cast a ballot against the wishes of his/her constituents (i.e.: a Republican elector who votes for the Democratic slate or vice-versa).

The second (and by far the biggest) problem with the Electoral College is that it disenfranchises most of the voters in the United States. Think about this: if you are a voter in Texas, New York, or California, your vote doesn't count at all, period. If you are in Texas, whether or not you like the Republicans, your vote is going to count towards the Republicans, because they have such a large number of supporters they always get the majority in Texas, and thus all the Texas electoral votes. Likewise, if you're in New York or California, your vote is going to the Democrats whether you like it or not - your vote just doesn't count.

Under the Electoral College system, the only votes that really count are those in "swing states" - those states that do not consistently vote Democrat or Republican and which could go either way. The candidates know this too - why do you think they spend so much time kissing babies and having "town hall meetings" in little hick towns in Ohio and Florida, while practically ignoring big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas? Because they already know which way those states are going to vote, and don't need to worry about them. The Republicans know New York and California are not going to vote for them, so they ignore them - meanwhile the Democrats know they are going to vote for them, so they take them for granted and don't pay any attention to them either. The same thing goes in reverse for traditional Republican states like Texas, which both parties routinely ignore. The two parties only really pay attention to the states where there is an actual contest for the popular vote: places like Ohio and Florida.

Allowing this farce called the Electoral College to continue encourages the presidential candidates to heap a disproportionate amount of attention on states that represent a relatively small percentage of the US population, which I do not think is remotely fair. The American society was founded on the principle of equality for all people, and yet every four years we allow this ideal to be corrupted by this useless historical baggage called the Electoral College.

I contend that the Electoral College has long outlives its usefulness, and should be relegated to its proper place in history, along with other relics such as horse-drawn carriages, steam locomotives, and stone tablets. My suggestion for a replacement is simple: one man or woman, one vote - add them up at the end of the day, and whoever has the most votes becomes president.