Thursday, February 1, 2007

Electoral College Thinking -- or lack thereof

"Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools?"

Occasionally one encounters a piece of illogical thinking that is truly impressive.

A bill that would join a national movement to bypass the Electoral College was apparently introduced into the state Senate. The bill would award Montana's 3 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Republican Sen. Rick Laible and other supporters said the change would make Montana and other sparsely populated states more of a factor in presidential races...

The fact that this is being championed by a Republican (Sen. Rick Laible of Darby) bodes ill for the future of the GOP in Montana.

While it is expressly against the intent of the Constitution, there is some logic to awarding the presidency to the winner of the national popular vote. It is a clean, easily understood concept, and appears fair.

But to contend that turning the U.S. Presidential election into a national plebiscite would make sparsely populated states more of a factor in presidential races makes no sense whatsoever. The current electoral college system requires a winning candidate to have support across a wide swath of the nation. A direct election would encourage candidates to make every attempt to "run up the vote" in heavily populated areas, ignoring the hinterlands and their concerns.

The current system gives disproportionate electoral power to states like Montana. The 2000 election could have turned on a single small state voting for Al Gore rather than George Bush. Had Gore been able to appeal, just a little more, to people other than his urban and coastal base, he would be President today.

The proposed bill would essentially give Montana's electoral college votes to the candidate who was more wildly attractive to voters in California and Chicago. As it is, candidates have to win the vote here to get those electoral college votes.

The Electoral College also reflects the founders' principle of having a mix of representation based on population and representation based on one's state, as discussed here before. Things of national importance often require Senatorial approval -- such as court nominations, nominations of certain high officials, treaties with other nations, etc... Montana has two votes in such decisions, just like New York.

Awarding Montana's electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote would, in essence, be the equivalent of reducing Montana to one Electoral College vote from three. Do the math.

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