I’m no expert on elections, no constitutional scholar, nothing but a self-interested individual who gets nervous every four years about this time when people, based on the outcome of the presidential election, will declare that the Electoral College should be abolished, and we should elect the President based solely upon the national popular vote. Here is why I think this is a terrible idea, and I think you should, too:
If you live in Iowa, like I do, this is a no-brainer. No one in this state should be against the Electoral College for any reason, not if they understand their own self-interest. Iowa is a tiny state in terms of population, but every four years we become important. The reason for this is that we are a centrist state, politically, or if not actually centrist at least weighted about evenly between our liberal and conservative tendencies. Because of this, we are frequently one of those states that is not always so easily in the bag for one candidate or the other when it comes to the presidential election. The politicos have to earn our six electoral votes. And how do they do this? By spending a lot of time (and money) showing us how much they love us. This is very, very good for the Iowa economy.
Now, keep our electorate the same but eliminate the Electoral College. Suddenly, Iowa becomes almost irrelevant. If you get rid of the Electoral College, you can kiss goodbye most if not all of those political visits and political ads that put dollars on the bottom line of Iowa media firms (including the one I work for). Why? Because the dollars and the visits will flow to the major population centers in the country, of which we have exactly zero. The total US population is something around 310 million. The total population of the top ten metropolitan areas in the US is around 81 million, around a quarter of the total. We don’t have a city in the top 80, population-wise. You think candidates are going to pay a whit of attention to the opinions of people in Cedar Rapids (number 196 in terms of city population in the U.S.)? I’m guessing not, but we sure have gotten a lot of presidential candidate love this year.
How about we forget Iowa for a minute? No matter where you are, you have to support the retention of the Electoral College. Why? I give you the 2000 election as evidence. Remember the Florida recounts, the hanging chads, the Supreme Court getting involved and all that? Great, now imagine that on a national level. There were 100,000,000 votes cast. Albert Gore received around 50,996,000 votes—or about a half of a percentage point—more than George Walker Bush, yet Mr. Bush was elected by the Electoral College 271 votes to 266, thanks to the apportionment of electors to states based on their congressional representation. This, and any election in which the EC differs in its final rendering than the popular vote, can be used as an example for getting rid of the Electoral College, but look a little deeper: If you think the circus that was the Florida recount was fun, imagine doing a recount on a national level. With just a half-percentage point difference in the vote, don’t you think a full recount would have been demanded? It would still be being litigated today!
The EC provides finality to the whole thing, which a simple count of the popular vote would not. Only because of the ridiculous “hanging chads” ballots in Florida did the 2000 election drag out. If you want to discuss ballot reform or voting machine security, I am all for it, but let’s leave the Electoral College in place. If you’d like to read a good piece on this topic, far better than the blather I just laid out, check this out: http://discovermagazine.com/1996/nov/mathagainsttyran914