Thursday, November 04, 2004

Keep the Electoral College

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:10 PM |  

In the aftermath of two elections where the outcome has hinged on the electoral count in a single state, once again there are calls for doing away with the electoral college system in favor of a nationwide popular vote. That’s a worse idea than campaign finance reform, which proved a disaster.

If you think the country is divided now, try life in a post election world based on popular vote. In that world, President Bush would clearly have a mandate and absolutely no motivation for any kind of conciliatory or moderate action whatsoever. That same scenario would be even more frightening if the country had given Democrat Kerry a majority win. Democrat power is concentrated in a much smaller geographic area of the country. It’s much easier for a Democrat administration to dump money and curry favor in a smaller geographic area in order to buy its base than it is for Republicans.

To understand the moderating power of the electoral college, imagine a three-state union with the following characteristics:

State A: Population 200; 4 electoral votes (1 per every 50 voters)
150 Red Voters; 50 Blue Voters

State B: Population 150; 3 electoral votes
75 Red Voters; 75 Blue Voters

State C: Population 100; 2 electoral votes
25 Red Voters; 75 Blue Voters

In a hypothetical election, Red defeats Blue 250 to 200. There’s little hope for a Blue candidate. Red can preach to its base with total disregard for any Blue positions. Red can focus efforts on turning out its voters in State A and B and virtually ignore State C.

For example, if its efforts pay off and 140 Red voters turn out in State A and 65 in State B, Red garners enough votes to win the election (205-200) even if all Blue voters in all states turn out. The 25 Red voters in state C are virtually a non-factor.

But look at our hypothetical electoral count. Red clearly wins State A with 4 electoral votes. Blue clearly wins State C with 2 Electoral votes. That makes State B, with an evenly divided population, the key to victory. Any candidate with a hope of winning must craft a policy that is, if not totally acceptable to both Red and Blue voters, at least one that is not totally repugnant to either side. The electoral college demands government from the middle -- or better, a search for a third alternative that both sides can enthusiastically support.

Abolishing or tweaking the electoral college would be the worst change in the American electoral system since the direct election of U.S. Senators.