Electoral College Dropouts

3 comments April 2nd, 2007at 12:24pm Posted by Eli

E.J. Dionne has an interesting column in today’s WaPo about a strategy to short-circuit the Electoral College:

As someone who lives in Maryland, I am proud that my state may pioneer a process that could lead to popular election of the president. The state Senate passed a bill last Wednesday that would commit Maryland’s 10 electors to voting for the winner of the nationwide popular vote. The bill is expected to pass in the House of Delegates this week, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign it.

The law would not take effect unless states representing a 270-vote electoral college majority pass similar laws. The idea is to create a compact among states genuinely committed to popular rule.

Yes, this is an effort to circumvent the cumbersome process of amending the Constitution. That’s the only practical way of moving toward a more democratic system. Because three-quarters of the states have to approve an amendment to the Constitution, only 13 sparsely populated states — overrepresented in the electoral college — could block popular election.

Remember, states get one electoral vote for each member of the House of Representatives plus both senators. No matter how small, every state has at least three electoral votes. The three electors from Wyoming, with an estimated 2006 population of 515,004, represent 171,668 people each. California, with a population of 36,457,549, gets 55 electors, each representing 662,865 people. A presidential vote cast in Wyoming thus has nearly four times the value of a vote in California.

The democratic solution is for legislatures to agree to use their electoral votes to support the winner nationally. Devised by John R. Koza, a consulting professor at Stanford University — he also invented the scratch-off lottery ticket — the idea has been advanced by the National Popular Vote campaign and, in Maryland, by state Sen. Jamie Raskin, a longtime champion of more democratic election and campaign finance laws. Comparable bills have been approved by one legislative chamber in Arkansas, Hawaii and Colorado.

I really like this idea. Not only does it break the power of the Electoral College, but it also breaks the veto power of the small-population states who benefit disproportionately from the Electoral College, and would therefore block any reform.

Yes, I know it could potentially result in candidates simply playing to maximize their vote totals in states like NY, CA or TX, but even if so (which I doubt), is that really any worse than the situation that we have now, where voters in those states (and other solidly red or blue ones) have absolutely no say at all in who gets to be president? I think this would improve turnout, especially in non-swing states, and allow voters across the country to really participate in the presidential election process, rather than simply going through the expected motions.

Entry Filed under: Constitution,Elections,Politics


  • 1. Syd B  |  April 2nd, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    This is a great idea – thanks for posting about it.

  • 2. Donna  |  April 3rd, 2007 at 12:12 am

    I’d rather see them do away with the electoral college altogether and just go by the votes. I realize this would also mean amending the constitution and therefore not feasible. So yeah, I’m just flapping my gums…er…fingers.

  • 3. Eli  |  April 3rd, 2007 at 9:35 am

    As long as the Electoral College gives the small states disproportional power, they’ll vote to preserve it. But if this reform makes the EC de facto irrelevant, maybe they’ll be more willing to go along with official abolishment.

    Probably not, though.

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