When the masses rush to the polls this November, they won't be voting for president. Thanks to our nation's prehistoric system known as the Electoral College, you and I will be voting for electors, who in turn vote for the president. So after enduring months of endless campaigning, we can't even directly vote for the president. Talk about an anticlimactic ending to months of nonstop campaigning.
The Electoral College was born out of our Founding Fathers' fear of direct elections. They worried that popular regional candidates who lacked broad geographical appeal could divide the nation's vote and thus fracture the newly-formed republic. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Delegate Gerry remarked, "The people are uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing men."
Two hundred years ago, in a nation without high-speed Internet and 24-hour news, that was a perfectly valid fear. But today, it is more reasonable and rational to fear the indirect election process we currently have, especially after the 2000 debacle. Shouldn't we trust our citizens to elect the president more than, let's say, a handful of biased Supreme Court justices?
The Electoral College's purpose has waned to nil as American politics and government have evolved over the centuries. It wrestles power from the people and places it in the hands of 538 electors, thereby suppressing the popular vote. In the elections of 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000, the candidates who won the popular vote failed to win the presidency. Al Gore notably received 543,816 more popular votes than George W. Bush in 2000, but alas, we laypeople do not have the power to control our nation's destiny.
Our current system makes the presidential election not a national event, but one in which only a few states are in play -- those "swing states" we watch CNN analyze and re-analyze ad infinitum. Most analysts agree that this election will come down to key states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and, of course, Florida. So while the election is still more than a month away, many states are locked in, and Election Day will serve as little more than a formality for them. Arizona is McCain Country by most accounts, a deep crimson red on CNN's map, so should I even bother to vote? Even if Obama loses by only one vote here, McCain will capture all ten of Arizona's electoral votes.
Consequently, the winner-take-all system most states employ is frankly unfair. This strategy discourages voter participation since it is irrelevant whether a candidate loses a state by a million votes or just a handful. As law professors Vikram David Amar, of the University of California, Davis, and Akhil Reed Amar, of Yale, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Even today, a state with low voter turnout gets precisely the same number of electoral votes as if it had a high turnout."
One of the goals of the Electoral College is to ensure candidates pay equal attention to each state's needs regardless of population, a reflection of small states' demand for a voice equal to that of the more populous states. But today, candidates must pick and choose in which states they will concentrate their efforts, thereby neglecting many states and issues, a stark contrast to the intent of the Electoral College.
Some states, however, have adopted methods to modernize this archaic system. Maine and Nebraska divvy up their electoral votes proportionally based on the candidates' performances in individual congressional districts. If Obama loses Maine overall, for instance, but still performs well in some areas of the state, he can still claim some electoral votes. If more states adopt this type of proportional allocation, the presidential campaign will become a more national contest and not just a swing state boanza.
Maryland may be the first state in the union to scrap the College altogether after passing a law that delivers all of its electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote. "Actually, Maryland will drop out only if a lot of other states do, too. Maryland's new law will go into effect only if enough states pass similar laws to total 270 electoral votes - the number needed to elect a president," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said. Thus the move in Maryland is largely symbolic, but the significance is profound, for it highlights the need for reform.
Our current system for electing the president is broken and requires extensive reform in order to meet the current and modern needs of the American people, whose voices this crippled method silences. After all, the presidency should be a national battle in which every vote counts equally, not a contest in a few distant swing states whose citizens are able to outvote those in noncompetitive states. At the end of the day, we should be the electors, not simply voting for them.