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Springville Journal editorial: The dinosaur in the room

SPRINGVILLE — Trolling the land of Twitter on Nov. 6, I almost laughed out loud, when the following tweet flashed into my feed, moments after several media conglomerates called the election: “And again, people in Alaska are like, ‘um, yeah, and what about us?’”

I voted in a presidential election for the first time, this year. But it wasn’t because I thought my vote would actually count. As the same Twitter contributor quoted above put it, earlier on election night, “Obama projected to win New York, media outlets reported years ago.”

America’s resident dinosaur, the Electoral College, handily separates the 50 states, plus Washington D.C., into three categories: those that will, no matter what, go Democrat, those that are guaranteed to swing Republican and the few – 10 or so – that are worth campaigning in.

According to Fox News contributor William La Jeunesse, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent 95 percent of their campaign time and money in those 10 states and neither stepped foot in Kansas, Alaska or North Dakota.

It is pretty hard to argue with the “my vote doesn’t count” sentiment when so many entire states completely fail to factor into the election.

George W. Bush was the victor in the 2000 election, despite winning approximately 500,000 fewer popular votes than his opponent, Al Gore. That was not the first time a candidate actually lost an election, vote-wise, but won the presidency.

The founding fathers created the Electoral College for a country that lacked television stations, the Internet, motorized vehicles and telephones. This process was established as a compromise between the election of a president by a vote in Congress and the election by a popular vote of qualified citizens, according to the United States National Archives and Records Administration.

This method eliminated the possibility that a candidate, who was virtually unheard of in one part of the country, could nab the presidency by trumping up votes in another, more highly-populated section of America.

Today, though, I can browse world news on my smart phone and watch live sessions of Congress from my laptop. National candidates plead their case in lengthy messages on my voicemail and my mailbox gets crowded with political fliers, come election time. We no longer have a lack of information about presidential candidates, yet the Electoral College remains.

“I feel the Electoral College discriminates geographically,” said Forbes contributor Taylor Brodarick. “Major candidates should have to pander appeal to everyone and not just voters in the so-called ‘swing states.’ Living in Ohio or Florida shouldn’t increase the value of your vote, but right now, it does. Does it seem fair, that the candidates are basically ignoring New York, California and Texas – or nearly 30 percent of the population?”

No, it doesn’t. And I agree with Brodarick’s calling for more nationally-focused campaigns. “Imagine Barack Obama speaking to crowds in Dallas or Mitt Romney campaigning in New York City,” he said, adding that a presidential election determined by a popular vote would engage more Americans in the national debate.

The Electoral College is antiquated and tired. It does not keep candidates from concentrating in specific areas, as is often presented, in defense of this process, but actually allows them to focus on the states that are electorally hot, that year.

I believe that politicians are reluctant to speak up against the college, because they have grown accustomed to focusing campaign dollars and time in just a few, key areas. They would need to work so much harder, if they were to campaign in all 50 states.

“The current system has the problem that ... at least four out of five Americans are left out of the process of deciding who their president should be,” said John Koza, a former Stanford University professor and chairman of National Popular Vote, a corporation that seeks to eliminate the Electoral College.

“The 2012 election has been the worst one, yet,” said Vermont Legislator Christopher Pearson. “Twelve of the 13 smallest states are on the sideline. Here in Vermont, if you want to participate in the presidential election, you drive to New Hampshire.”

While voters see the names of presidential nominees on their ballots, come election time, they are actually casting their votes for their chosen candidate’s electors. Those individuals cast yet another ballot, in mid-December, this one actually for the president.

When one party edges out the other in a presidential election, in all except two states, all votes for the losing party are thrown away. The winning team, alone, gets to represent that state at the meeting of the electors.

The National Popular Vote Bill, an initiative set forth by a group by the same name, on whose board sits Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, among others, has been endorsed by 2,110 state legislators and several political action committees. This bill seeks to reform America’s election process, by ensuring that the presidential nominee who receives the most popular votes wins the presidency in states that pass the initiative.

So far, nine states – Vermont, Maryland, Washington state, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, California and Hawaii – have supported this possibility, by joining the National Popular Interstate Compact agrees to replace the electors for a candidate with the most popular votes, in all 50 states. Under the bill, the states that have enacted it will count the popular votes directly, rather than applying them to instating an elector. The bill will be effective only if the states that currently garner the majority of electoral college votes, which are allocated based on their census numbers, get on board. Otherwise, those states will still carry the election.

The bill currently has 49 percent of the 270 electoral votes it needs to take effect. The New York State Senate passed the bill twice, in 2010 and 2011, by a large majority, but the initiative has failed to garner enough support to be brought up for a vote in the Assembly.

“The New York State Legislature has a chance to withdraw from the archaic and unfair way this country picks its chief executives,” said a New York Times editorial contributor. “The Electoral College was established by the nation’s founders, in part, to appease slave-owning states. It is based indirectly on population and slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person.”

Reminding visitors to its website that “41 spectator states don’t matter, in presidential elections,” National Popular Vote recommends contacting representatives to ask them to pass the National Popular Vote Bill.

For more information about this initiative, or to plead its case before your local representatives, visit www.nationalpopularvote.com.

Although the Electoral College can be eliminated only via constitutional amendment, calling its existence into question, like the National Popular Vote Bill is doing, is a step in the right direction. Only then will our votes truly count.
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