These maps show the amount of attention given to each state by the Bush and Kerry campaigns during the final five weeks of the 2004>"/>
These maps show the amount of attention given to each state by the Bush and Kerry campaigns during the final five weeks of the 2004 election: At left, each waving hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate during the final five weeks of the election. (Candidates' visits to their own home states are not counted.) At right, each dollar sign represents one million dollars spent on TV advertising by the campaigns during the same time period. Data from FairVote's report, Who Picks the President.
Data from FairVote's report, Who Picks the President.
In the early days of the nation, there were many ways to slow down the democratic will or whims of the populace. Many states had the legislature electing their governor. Until the ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913, state legislatures elected US senators. And many states had legislators voting for presidential electors. (The US constitution says each state can appoint presidential electors in such a manner their legislature directs.)
Our Electoral College is an 18th Century anachronism. Some people see value in the College as a way to put the brakes on the democratic will or whims of highly populated urban areas. The College does indeed put the brakes on how the president is elected, but in ways its supporters fail to notice.
It?s OK to slow down Democracy. That?s what the American system of government is about. There are checks and balances designed to hold off knee-jerk reactions of the public and legislators alike.
For example, the United States Senate is designed as deliberative body that's supposed to add balance to the populist House of Representatives. Basically, the House represents people and the Senate represents states. The rule is that two senators, serving six year terms, come from each state: regardless of population. This means a state like California, with 36 million citizens, gets as many senators as North Dakota with its six hundred thousand. The Senate is a voice for states with smaller populations. The fear is the national legislature would tend to be more responsive to populated urban areas.
Imagine if the population of one Washington US House district had two members in the US Senate looking over their interests, while the other eight districts in the state still shared two? The Senate has a lot of power. It approves legislation from the House, it ratifies treaties and confirms judicial appointments.
Under the current system, as if the disproportional representation in the Senate wasn't enough, a population the size of a US House district also enjoys three presidential electors!
It's a myth the Electoral College makes candidates for president, or even presidents themselves, pay attention to small states. We need to consider the blue state / red state divide.
In 2004, three states dominated the attention of the campaign: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Florida received 27 percent of the campaign advertising money spent in that election. The 44 other states combined received only 26 percent of the spending. That means Florida, with 6 percent of the US population, got more attention than Blue California, Red Texas and 42 other states all together: hardly providing the balance that supporters of the College claim!
In the '04 campaign the presidential vote here fell into the blue column. People who wanted to be active in the campaign actually traveled to Ohio. These activists could have worked in their own neighborhoods talking about issues important to Washingtonians. But since we were a spectator state, folks who wanted to make an impact had to leave for elsewhere.
Instead of a constitutional amendment, there's a great idea to sidestep the antiquated Electoral College. The way is to create an interstate compact. States have all kinds of compacts or agreements. For example Washington and Oregon have compacts regarding the Columbia river.
Here is the idea. Enough states have to sign onto the compact and agree to give their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. There are 538 electors for president. 270 is the majority. If enough states sign onto the compact to reach the majority, the agreement goes into effect and we have the direct election of president!
The idea is gaining traction. Maryland and New Jersey have signed onto the national popular. It has passed in many legislative chambers. There's a bill in Olympia with solid support.
The redundant Electoral College makes the vast majority of Americans mere spectators in the election of our president. It's time to let the Electoral College go and have Americans directly elect their president.
News: I am honored to announce that I've been elected Chairman of FairVote: The Center For Voting and Democracy. Thank you John B. Anderson for your years of leadership. I look forward to 2008 as a year for meaningful electoral reform to keep moving forward.