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May 13, 2006

Abolish the Electoral College

Now, clearly I'm not the first person to come up with this one. After Bush won the White House in 2000 having lost the popular vote, a new round of grumbles surfaced which demanded an end to the archiac system by which each state is rationed a certain number of electoral votes that all go to whomever wins the popular vote in that state. Beyond the very real possibility of electing a president that has less support in numbers than another candidate, the Electoral College system introduces all kinds of other problems that could be avoided with a straight popular vote.First, the history. The College was initially put in place because legislators did not trust the American people to vote "correctly". Instead, they were to vote on a certain number of electors in their state that would then cast all the electoral votes for that given state. It became customary for the electors to all vote for the candidate whom had won their state's popular vote; this setup still holds today.The main result is that a candidate could quite easily win a majority of Electoral College votes while still losing the national popular vote. This is done by winning states with a large number of electoral votes (California, New York, Florida) by a slim margin, and losing states with a small number of electoral votes (Rhode Island, Wyoming) by a landslide.Beyond that, the problems are numerous. The electoral votes are not distributed in proportion to population, favoring smaller and mid-sized states, and making some states more influential than their sizes would indicate. Perhaps most importantly, the setup makes votes for a minority candidate in many "traditionally" red or blue states meaningless. Votes for a Republican in New York or a Democrat in Oklahoma mean nothing; it is not possible to have some electoral votes go to your candidate. Combined with our sequential system of primary voting--early primaries have incredible influence in the race, whereas late primaries are often meaningless with the nominee already chosen--some states are made completely irrelevant, and some states become their own special interests, small groups wielding large political influence.An straight popular vote for the general election, along with holding all the party primary elections on a single day, could help avoid most of these problems. Oh yeah: Also make Election Day a national holiday.