It's time to get rid of Electoral College

Jeff Pozmantier // Published October 26, 2008

We need to vote for change.

No, not the Obama- Whatever-Bush-Was-For-I-Am- Against-Change or the McCain- I-Am-Not-Bush-Change. The change we need is more fundamental.

This election will be a defining moment for our country for generations to come.

America is engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and soon possibly Pakistan, as well as a worldwide boundaryless war against terrorism and we have no agreement, even among those in the same party, on what will constitute the type of victory that will enable us to bring our troops home.

We are battling an economic crisis that threatens to rival the Great Depression yet we focus on assessing political blame before we focus on practical solutions.

We want to prevent terrorism so we make airline passengers show identification and walk shoeless through X-ray machines, but we have allowed our borders to remain porous and largely unguarded. (Even so, in a perverse rejection of who we have become, more and more illegal immigrants are choosing to stay home!)

And we champion and defend the right to get a substandard loan on a home we can’t afford, but we argue over the right to receive a standard level of health care if we’re seriously ill.

So most Americans feel we do need a change of direction. Yet the vast majority of voting-age Americans can’t cast a meaningful vote for their candidate of choice. Yes, we can vote absentee, early, or at the polls. Yes, we can vote a straight party ticket or for an individual politician. But, what we can’t do is make that vote count. We might as well write in “none of the above” or leave a hanging chad. Why? Look no further than the Electoral College.

Unfortunately, because we now use the Electoral College to elect our country’s and arguably the world’s most powerful leader, we have abdicated our right to have our vote count. And what is voting without the right to have that vote impact an election?

In 48 states, including Texas, the Electoral College rules result in all of that state’s electoral votes going to the winner. If, for example, Obama gets 45 percent of the Texas votes he still gets 0 percent of the Texas electoral votes. If Obama wins by 1 vote in Ohio he still gets all of Ohio’s electoral votes. In fact, it is mathematically possible for a candidate to get 49 percent of the popular vote and 100 percent of the electoral votes.

But what this all means is this: If you reside in a state that is reliably Democratic or Republican, and over twothirds of the states would fit in this category in most elections, then your right to vote and have your vote count have been taken away.

And in virtually every presidential election, less than 15 competitive “battleground” states get the candidate’s primary focus.

In a state like Texas, where McCain is likely to easily win, or in New York, where Obama will likely easily win, why even vote for president? All of the electoral delegates get assigned to the winner, the winner is almost certainly known, so what practical effect does a Texan’s or New Yorker’s act of voting for president really have?

Sure, there are down the ballot votes that are decided by — strangely enough! — popular vote, but why should any citizen of any state be effectively disenfranchised when voting for president? Why should a resident of Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico or Indiana carry more voting weight than a resident of California, New York or Texas? Why should a one-vote-win in Ohio mean the same as if a candidate had won all of the Ohio votes?

The National Popular Vote is a national initiative that is working to eliminate the current situation where all of the losing candidate’s votes are effectively nullified by a winnertake- all system and where citizens in a handful of states (and it is largely the same states) determine who wins the presidency. This is not a Democratic or Republican initiative. National Popular Vote does not favor any one segment of the population. But the initiative does favor representative democracy.

Every citizen’s voting rights are affected. What the initiative aims to do (and it has already had success in states representing about 20 percent of the electoral votes) is to work through state legislatures to change the winner-take-all electoral system to one where electoral votes are assigned in bloc solely to the national popular vote winner. The legislation would not take effect until enough states sufficient to cast the winning number of electoral votes pass the legislation. In that manner no individual state is disadvantaged.

While it is far too late this year to change anything, if we want to cast a meaningful presidential vote in 2012, we need to demand that our political leaders in Texas use the next legislative session to restore our right to both vote and to have that vote count. Supporting the National Popular Vote initiative is an important first step.