Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Just Count Votes

Once in a while, it’s nice to be able to share some thoughts with a wider audience than those who normally read my postings here. So I sent a Letter to the Editor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in response to executive editor David Shribman’s August 8, 2010 column, Rethinking Elections.

Some people who didn't like the way the 2000 election turned out are trying to overturn the Electoral College with a power sweep around the Constitution.

[A]s the country contemplates fiddling with the Constitution while Rome burns, six states have enacted the National Popular Vote plan to pack the Electoral College (with the measure having passed both houses of the legislature in an additional four states). This accounts for 73 electoral votes, more than a quarter of those required to activate the plan, which would go into effect when enough states adopt the measure to account for the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president.

One of the arguments for the measure is that it would make the votes of all Americans, not just those in states with big electoral-vote totals, more meaningful.

A copy of my response printed in the Sunday, August 15, 2010 edition of the Post-Gazette appears below. An additional point I wanted to make but couldn’t due to space limitations was that nowadays with our present Electoral College system, the only ‘meaningful’ voters in our presidential elections (the ones who get almost all of the attention from the candidates and media) are those who happen to live in the so-called swing states with competitive races.

Just count votes

In response to David Shribman's Aug. 8 column,
"Rethinking Elections," I am a person who deeply distrusts simplistic thinking. But nonetheless, here is my simplistic view of the electoral process -- including presidential elections.

Whoever gets the most votes should win. Any electoral process that undermines this is fatally flawed and should be replaced!

Admittedly, the end-around that some states are using to try and nullify the Electoral College is a bit underhanded. The chances of doing this by passing a constitutional amendment would be non-existent since the Republicans are happy with the system the way it is.

I suspect that in 2000, Bush supporters didn't feel too bad about their candidate winning despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore. But had John Kerry not lost Ohio by a razor-thin margin in 2004, he would have won despite President Bush winning the popular vote. And then it would have been the Republicans who would have joined the chorus to get rid of the Electoral College.

All this can happen because a candidate winning a state by, say, one vote gets the same result as winning that same state by a million votes, which makes the additional margin of victory effectively meaningless to the national result. Why should some votes count more than others?

I believe that dumping the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote would indeed be positive reform that would have far fewer unintended (and negative) consequences than the system we have now.


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