Taking Issue with the Electoral College

By Kelly Bates

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Our Country can take a simple idea and make it complex. I have a deep abiding respect for our founding fathers that came up with great ideas for how our country should run. But I also recognize they made some mistakes. Certainly making a slave three-fifths of a person in our constitution was one, and denying women the right to vote was another. But I take special issue with the obscure and quite bizarre Electoral College system that we use to elect Presidents.

In just one year, election campaigning will start in earnest for the 2012 Presidential election. It feels like yesterday when Obama and McCain were touting the slogans “Change we can believe in” and “Country first”. Yet in the blink of an eye, a new Presidential season will be upon us.

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that calls on our country to adopt a national popular vote system. Changing this system may prove difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible and it’s worthy of every voter’s serious consideration.

The United States elects our President not by direct election where each voter casts a ballot and whoever gets the majority vote wins. That would be too easy and too democratic. Instead, each state has a number of electors equal to its total Congressional representation. Most states award all electors, usually state elected officials or party leaders, to the winner of the popular vote in their state, regardless of whether the winner was ahead by one vote or by millions. The founders didn’t trust ordinary voters to make their own decisions. They were also concerned about the fate of smaller states that have smaller populations.

Because of this, Presidential candidates only campaign in the states that are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, so called “battleground” states. More than 98% of all campaign events and spending take place in only 15 states. And Massachusetts isn’t one of them. That is not fair to our state, our voters, and our democracy.

Four times in history, the candidate who placed second in the popular vote actually won the presidency under the current system. The most recent example was in 2000, when Presidential contender Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, but ultimately lost to George Bush who had more electoral votes.

In order for the system to change to a popular vote, states representing a majority of the Electoral College will need to pass laws like the bill in Massachusetts. Five states have already passed the popular vote proposal. Every vote and every state should count. Let’s see if Massachusetts agrees.

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