Sunday, January 6, 2008

Electoral College

We all know, there are problems with the Electoral College system of presidential elections in the US. Low voter turnout, focus of candidates on 'states' vs. 'voters', disparity of popular vote and states votes, to name but a few. But the Founding Fathers had antipathy against direct popular vote, devising this system. Some have urged to abolish it. Interestingly, the Electoral College has worked to the advantage of the Republican party in the last two elections. You get many solid 'red' states voting Republican, but many 'blue' states turn into battlegrounds where the swing voters all of a sudden are bombarded with campaign ads. These swing votes become determinative of the elections. Hence, we have had pretty tight races, where the Independent parties took away many of the swing votes from the Democrats. Therefore, really the Republican party has been using the Electoral College to its major advantage.

Of course, the most funny thing is when the popular vote does not coincide with the Electoral College votes. It has happened:

• In 1876 there were a total of 369 electoral votes available with 185 needed to win. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, with 4,036,298 popular votes won 185 electoral votes. His main opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote with 4,300,590 votes, but won only 184 electoral votes. Hayes was elected president.
• In 1888 there were a total of 401 electoral votes available with 201 needed to win. Republican Benjamin Harrison, with 5,439,853 popular votes won 233 electoral votes. His main opponent, Democrat Grover Cleveland, won the popular vote with 5,540,309 votes, but won only 168 electoral votes. Harrison was elected president.
• In 2000 there were a total of 538 electoral votes available with 270 needed to win. Republican George W. Bush, with 50,456,002 popular votes won 271 electoral votes. His Democratic opponent, Al Gore, won the popular vote with 50,999,897 votes, but won only 266 electoral votes. Bush was elected president.

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These battleground states also have major voting irregularities and computer 'glitches', so to speak, making people wonder, whether things really work smoothly or the way they should work. Cynical people stop voting because of these problems. The Florida 'nightmare' of 2000 has made many of us very cynical of the electoral system.

Another anomaly of the Electoral college is that it is possible for a candidate to not get a single person's vote -- not one -- in 39 states or the District of Columbia, yet be elected president by winning the popular vote in just 11 of these 12 states:
New York
New Jersey
North Carolina

Of course, many of these things change with changing demographics and voter characteristics. Voter turnout in light of this system is a subject of extensive studies in political science. Sometimes one wonders whether the whole system that was devised in the late 1700s is necessarily the right one for our modern times. America has changed dramatically and perhaps we can think of making some incremental changes without departing from the general vision of the Founding Fathers.

(above are the results of the 2000 presidential elections)

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