One Proposal for Electoral College Reform...
By Bruno Racineux
Jan 6, 2005

Finally, I have been watching a U.S. Presidential Election from the inside for the first time.

Because of the access provided by the Internet, I was happy to be able to watch the results entirely online, saving me the trouble of listening to political analysts and their flawed predictions. The PBS interactive Electoral College map even let me become my own political strategist. While looking at different live electoral maps and waiting for the results to come in, I also took the opportunity to learn more about the U.S. Electoral College system.

After Bush secured the popular vote, it was interesting during that election night (and even more so now with this Ohio recount idea) to watch the hypocrisy of some Democrats. The same Democrats who blamed the Electoral College in 2000 were suddenly eager to the possibility of John Kerry overcoming the election by winning the same Electoral College they previously qualified as illegitimate over the Popular Vote.

On the other hand, I read other statements such as: "We have used the Electoral College vote for 215 years, and the presidents who have been elected have been fine. So, why would anyone want to change the system now? Why didn't people want to change it centuries ago? Why should you change a system that all Americans know?"

The idea of reforming or abolishing the Electoral College has been around even as early as 1801. But since the 2000 electoral debacle, arguments have resurfaced as to whether the Electoral College system should be reformed. Backed by the support of the majority of Americans (according to all recent polls), voters seem to all be asking the same question again: "When is something going to be done about the Electoral College?"

When I first heard about the Electoral College, I was literally stunned that the President of the United States was not fully elected on the basis of a popular vote. But, after learning more about the origins and history of the Electoral College, I can't help but agree on the merits of the system. Nevertheless, serious issues remain about the winner-take-all rule, which ought to be fixed in order to re-enfranchise voters.

In more than 200 years, over 700 proposals already have been introduced in Congress to reform or abolish the Electoral College. Moreover, last month, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) introduced a constitutional amendment to eliminate it and provide for direct presidential elections. Then, in a bipartisan alliance, California Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein and Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee said they also will join this proposal to get rid of the electoral system.

I am not sure whether they have fully considered the implications of their proposed amendment or not. The most disturbing thing is that Congresswoman Lofgren seemed to dismiss her own argument by saying, "If the Electoral College is eliminated in favor of a popular vote, then voters in California and other large states will be treated equally, ensuring that the President truly represents the entire country." I am sure there will be very few states to agree. And if Lofgren doesn't see how it would hurt small states, I feel sorry for her. Even Sen. Chafee acknowledged that the legislation abolishing the Electoral College is not likely to receive serious attention.

Let's be realistic. Electoral College reform never goes anywhere. Reformers have never been able to agree on a plan which would stand the slightest chance of adoption. It's not really surprising, since there are virtually no serious plans proposed other than arguments, "for it" vs. "against it." Between Rep. Lofgren, who is for abolishing the Electoral College, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who introduced a resolution supporting the college and who once stated that, "pure democracy, mob rule, is incompatible with liberty," is there any road towards dialogue in this country?

Frankly, I am tired of this blind-sided rhetoric from both sides. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I do respect Democrats as much as I respect Republicans (even though I often don't understand either one of them). I am a centrist, and I don't like extremists in either side, period. I believe, like Bill Clinton has lately suggested, that "our common humanity matters more" than our differences. As Senator John McCain said in a recent speech, "We've got to stop polarizing ourselves ... in a vain attempt to polarize the nation."

Often, the only way to move forward and get things done is through compromise. The same kind of compromise that every American makes every day, whether the desire is to live in harmony with his or her spouse and family, or to reach a fair agreement in business to the benefit of all parties. Without that kind of compromise, we will fail miserably in addressing the issues that bind us all together in the common goal to make a difference.

In an attempt to reflect the politics of compromise and address Electoral College reform, why don't we start by eliminating the winner-take-all rule? Let's assign the percentage of the popular vote each candidate received in a state to the state's electors. In other words, let's split the amount of electoral votes of each state in proportion to the popular votes. Under such a scenario, the results for California in 2004 would have been 25 electoral votes for Bush, and 30 for Kerry (out of 55 total electoral votes). I believe the problem of "faithless electors" would be therefore resolved since the popular vote would decide the outcome instead of delegating electors pledged to vote for a candidate.

Another dilemma in regard to voters is the amount of congressional apportionment and its direct impact on electoral votes. To consider this issue, we need to highlight and stress the fact that the United States Census, conducted every ten years, is indirectly responsible for the distribution of Electoral Votes among states. Apart from the three minimum required electoral votes per state, the United States Census allocates the number of electoral votes accordingly to the apportioned number of representatives. The question is how far does the population of each state represent the interest of voters?

The general sense we get in elections is that every vote matters. It certainly does; however, the link between population and electoral votes still interferes in this system.

For example, the 2000 census data indicated a California state population of 33 million. And the voter turnout in 2004 was approximately 11 million. This appears to make each participating voter have a voice for three people. On average, besides the voters' own voice, that would represent one voice on behalf of those who do not care to vote, and one for those who are ineligible to vote (whether it's the children, resident aliens, temporary residents or even illegal immigrants).

While I would concede allowing children to be included in the census figures to determine the number of electoral votes, and somehow have the parents' votes decide for them, the problem of illegal- and non-citizens would still remain and thus would also have to be addressed seriously.

Nevertheless, the important element to highlight is that the population of a state has an impact in terms of electoral votes whether the people vote or not. While the voter turnout percentage currently seems to be similar from state to state, the situation could, however, become problematic if the voter turnout were to differ from state-to-state. What if, for example, the voter turnout based on eligible voters of one state was 50% higher than all other states? It would be very unfair for the voters of a small state with a larger turnout percentage to be influenced by a large state, with a smaller turnout percentage (the large state carrying some influence indirectly through the "non-voters").

Therefore, the second amendment I would make would be to compare the voter turnout data, during the election results as the vote came in, with the Electoral College data, so that if the voter turnout differs from state to state, a state could gain electoral votes during election time.

For example, if a state like Texas were to have a voter turnout higher than the state of California, then the superior proportion of Texan voters would likely total the equivalent amount of population required to gain a popular vote, then California would loose an electoral vote to Texas, which would gain one.

While it may sound complex, it's a very similar approach to the Census method in allocating the number of electoral votes. But most important is the fact that it also resolves some irregularities not fully addressed by the census. And I think this is only fair to empower the voice of those who have an opinion and express it in a voting booth.

2004 Electoral College Hidden Colors
Under such reform, the Electoral College system would no longer ignore the popular vote and no longer discourage voter turnout. On the contrary, it would encourage voter turnout more than ever and would empower the popular vote. It would also empower third party and independent candidates. And it would end, or at least address, the demagogy of presidential campaigns, and stop the candidates' focus of the campaigns on only a few key "swing'' states, such as Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico, which end up deciding for the whole country.

The country is not nearly as divided as the red and blue states on the Election Night map might suggest. As far as I am concerned, the election map is purple, with a lot of red in the middle.

To the strong advocates of a popular vote, as well as the reform skeptics, I have to tell you that even by eliminating the winner-take-all rule and changing the Electoral College in that way, it would still be imperfect. But it would at least be fairer and more democratic. And it's doable. Ideals are transcendently nice but they unfortunately never fully apply in real life, which by design is made to change and grow along with evolution.

What matters here is to find the most truly effective voting calculus to secure the U.S. presidency under the current circumstances. The Electoral College was created at a time when Americans did not directly vote for U.S. Senators or President. It was established before women and minorities were granted the right to vote. The direct election of Senators was fixed, and it's about time to fix the other.

And back to my computer, on election night, I can already imagine how fun it would be to watch the election unfold under such an Electoral College reform.

Copyright © 1998-2006
View this story online and more at: