In his latest for Slate, Timothy Noah calls for abolition of the Electoral College in the selection of the President. That thought has been on my mind these past few days, but for different reasons than any mentioned by Mr. Noah (though I think his are pretty good).
I object to the Electoral College at this point for purely selfish reasons: I live in California, a state that in electoral terms is a foregone conclusion. The state has such a decided Democratic (or Democratic-leaning) majority at this point -- at least in part due to the extreme incompetence and tin-eared nincompoopery of the state Republican Party's leadership in the past few decades -- that it is virtually beyond question that Californians will choose to direct all of the State's electoral votes to Senator Kerry, and by a large margin. (As a reminder: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only ostensible Republican [he seems a fine example of Republicanism to me, but the more socially conservative strains in the party at large look at him askance] holding statewide office, and he only obtained that position through circumstances that, though legitimate in my view, were undeniably freakish.)
The upshot of this single-party dominance: if come November, as I am still inclined to do, I cast my vote in favor of the reelection of President Bush, my vote will count for precisely nothing in the selection of the next President. The winner-take-all electoral system will treat that vote, and every other California vote for anyone other than Senator Kerry, as if it did not exist. By gum, the Founding Fathers have disenfranchised me and I don't like it!
I actually moaned and groaned about this issue in passing nearly a year ago, during the gubernatorial recall campaign. In this post commenting on the 9th Circuit's en banc decision to allow the recall to proceed -- despite the ACLU's statistical argument that unreliable punchcard equipment could preclude the count of as many as 40,000 legitimate votes -- I wrote:
It is right and proper to be concerned, as the ACLU was, that 'every vote should count.' But that concern cannot blind us to the way that elections actually work. Elections are by definition a zero-sum game: for each candidate who prevails, every other candidate must lose. In the end, the only votes that individually 'count' -- that actually affect the big-picture outcome -- are the votes equal to the number by which the winner’s total exceeds the totals of the losers. Every other vote ceases to count when it is cancelled by a countervailing vote for some other candidate. (And if you throw in the federal electoral college system, the losing candidate’s votes count for even less. No one who voted for George W. Bush in California had any say whatever in the selection of the President, because California’s electoral votes went 100% for Al Gore, as they would have done had Mr. Gore’s total in the popular vote exceeded Mr. Bush’s by even one.) So, each voter who voted in favor of the winning candidate can indulge in the fiction that his or her individual vote was one of those that actually produced his candidate’s victory; the losing candidate’s voters are all effectively nullified, like subatomic particles meeting their opposites, and 'count' for nothing.
(Emphasis added.) Even a proportional allocation system, in which a given state's electors were appointed in proportion as the candidates finished in the popular vote, would be an improvement, but if we move in that direction there is no particular reason not to go the whole way, eliminate the "rough justice" of even a proportional system by going straight on to direct election. "One voter, one vote" is good enough for every other office, it should certainly suffice for the Presidency.
As an added bonus -- or a caveat to be careful what you wish for -- we Californians and the citizens in other electorally lopsided states would finally get the candidates' attention again for some purpose other than our cash contributions. (Senator Kerry has received contributions from my fellow Californians beyond the dreams of avarice, enough to buy small state outright or at least to afford another posh vacation home. But is he required to care about us if elected? Nope: we're too much the sure thing for him.) Right now, California is so very "not in play" that our airwaves are essentially free (free!) of advertising for either candidate. All the advertising dollar are being spent in those "battleground states" of which we hear so much. I demand my opportunity as an American to be as wearied by the process as the Ohioans.
So count me in on this quixotic bandwagon and let us join together to demand that our Congress consider a Really Useful amendment to the Constitution for a change: It is high time to tell the Electoral College that "School's Out."
[There. Now I feel better.]
Comment -- from both sides of the Red-Blue Divide -- on the Electoral College in general and a proposed reform measure pending in Colorado at The Southern California Law Blog and TalkLeft.