The Electoral College – why we still need it

2012-10-29T08:00:00Z The Electoral College – why we still need it Albany Democrat Herald
October 29, 2012 8:00 am

As you read this, we’re just a little more than a week away from Election Day, Nov. 6.

So, a couple of reminders: First, vote. Pull out that ballot from underneath that stack of papers on your desk or kitchen table, mark it as you will, and return it. As soon as you drop off your ballot, you can move to the next item on your list:

Enjoy the next week. It could be many years until we see a similarly compelling presidential election, and one that’s so close. Even the national polls can’t seem to agree about which candidate has the momentum going into the race’s final week.

And see if this scenario seems familiar: It’s possible that Mitt Romney could win the national popular vote and still lose in the Electoral College.

So this is a good time to review the case for the Electoral College, which we’ve long supported on this editorial page.

The Electoral College is part of the compromise the nation’s founders made as they tried to split the difference between presidential elections based on the popular vote and elections decided by congressional representation. In essence, the people of the United States do not vote for a presidential candidate; instead, they vote for electors who in turn elect the president.

Each state has a certain number of electors, based on the number of representatives and senators it has in Congress. So, Oregon has seven electoral votes.

To be elected president, a candidate must win 270 electoral votes. Most states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis.

So the Electoral College tends to give states with smaller populations such as Oregon a bit of influence in the presidential race that they otherwise would not have. If only the popular vote counted, candidates surely would focus their efforts in the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas — and eventually government policy would ignore the interests of rural and suburban America.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced a constitutional amendment that would give the winner of the popular vote an additional 29 electoral votes. The idea is to make it harder for the winner of the popular vote to lose in the Electoral College.

It’s a bad idea. The Electoral College has endured all these years because of exactly the reason the founders intended: It ensures a voice for those Americans who choose not to live in the nation’s most populated areas. (mm)

Copyright 2015 Albany Democrat Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. toto
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    toto - October 29, 2012 3:01 pm
    A survey of Oregon voters showed 76% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
    Support was 82% among Democrats, 70% among Republicans, and 72% among independents.
    By age, support was 67% among 18-29 year olds, 68% among 30-45 year olds, 82% among 46-65 year olds, and 76% for those older than 65.
    By gender, support was 81% among women and 71% among men.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium, and large states. On March 12, 2009, the Oregon House of Representatives passed the National Popular Vote bill by a 39-19 margin. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

  2. smontanaro
    Report Abuse
    smontanaro - October 29, 2012 2:04 pm
    Residents of the most populous states actually have little to say about the outcome of the election. Four of the top five most populous states (California, Texas, New York and Illinois, nearly 31% of the electorate - 95.7 million people) are safely "red" or "blue". Of the top five, only Florida is in play. Looking at the state-by-state probabilities in Nate Silver's blog on the NY Times website, note that all but five states are pretty safely red or blue. Those states (Colorado, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Virginia) account for about 9.3% of the electorate (29.1 million people, less than California).

    So, while big vs. small was the intent of the framers of the Constitution, that's not the case today. California and New York have about as much to say about the outcome as Montana and Wyoming, which is to say, just about nil.
  3. Ray Kopczynski
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    Ray Kopczynski - October 29, 2012 9:33 am
    On this issue, I'm in full agreement with the editor[s] & Mr G...!
  4. Mr G
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    Mr G - October 29, 2012 9:09 am
    There is a more practical reason why the Electoral College will not be abolished.

    To change Article II of the constitution an amendment would have to be proposed and approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate. To be enacted the amendment would have to be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.

    Possible? Yes. Probable? No. This isn't a serious issue. Now, let's return to editorializing on wasteful local spending....
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