Democracy: It's still not one person, one vote

I'm taken to task for holding the electoral college in insufficient regard. I don't deny it. The mechanism of this political relic acts as a brake on democracy and, for that reason, has to to go.

Because of the distortions caused by the electoral college, campaigns focus attention on whichever states have electoral votes up for grabs, effectively disenfranchising almost the entire rest of the country. This time, the voters in New York, California, Texas and Illinois, along with those in a large majority of the 50 states, were unable to affect the outcome of the election because polls indicated that unbeatable majorities in those states favored one candidate over another. In reaction, voters who preferred the minority candidates in those locales could be forgiven if they chose to stay home on election day.

With the impediment of the electoral college removed, no one's vote will be irrelevant or diluted any longer. The ballot of the Republican in Massachusetts or California will have the same impact on the choice for president as the ballot of the Democrat in South Dakota or Texas. Everyone's vote will be equal. No one will be disenfranchised.

It is argued that the small states will be disadvantaged by direct election of the president; but at least since Appomattox, if not since Philadelphia, we have been Americans first and only incidentally Vermonters or Virginians. The president is the leader of all the people, and there is no reason the small states should have a thumb on the scale. It is unfair that any American who happens not to be a supporter of the local party in power -- again, the Rhode Island Republican and the Idaho Democrat, alike, should -- like the voters in all the states that under the present accounting are indelibly red or blue -- be unable to cast an impactful vote for president.

It is said, also, that retiring the electoral college will merely skew the contests in a different way: campaigns will be motivated to focus exclusively on the big cities, because, as robber Willie Sutton said about banks and money, that's where the votes are. Leaving aside the antidemocratic assumption underlying that argument, as a practical matter it ignores the fact that all the states, including those that house large cities, are purple. Any campaign with a chance of winning will have to compete everywhere. Such a campaign of necessity will be more centrist than is true now, because it will focus on national issues, no longer be able to get by with satisfying parochial concerns in a handful of battleground states. Energy policy, say, will become a matter of what does the most good for the most people instead of being unduly influenced by a glut of corn in Iowa.

Will the electoral college be tough to get rid of? Sure. The power elites and special interests in the lightly populated states will be loathe to support a constitutional amendment that may cost them privileges. Some never will. But this is a fair country, and once the unfairness of the current system is widely understood, it will be difficult to argue that it isn't time to put this wretched antique out by the curb.

The Founding Fathers were talented politicians, advanced for their day. But their canonization makes it very hard to correct their mistakes. Wouldn't we honor their achievements more by moving closer to realizing the democracy they dreamed of than by setting in concrete the compromises they were forced to make along the way. Until our votes are equal, we don't have the democracy they fought to establish 250 years ago.

As another step along the road they set us on, the electoral college has to go.

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