The Electoral College And A Proposal To Bypass It

If the current polling results stay stable through the election there is a real possibility that Romney could win the popular vote while Obama wins the electoral college (and therefore reelection). Romney has gained in the popular vote since the first debate but much of his gains are leading to the likelihood that he will win the red states by even greater margins. He has come closer in the battleground states but Obama still leads in most of them.

The electoral map (based upon polling) doesn’t look that much different now than it did before the first debate. The primary difference is that Florida, which has shifted between Romney and Obama, has moved back to Romney. Obama trailed Romney in North Carolina and it appeared he might take the lead. Instead of moving ahead as it appeared he might do, he is now tied there. Virginia now looks too close to call with Obama still having a strong chance to win the state.  Obama has maintained leads in key swing states such as Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin. Romney is closer in these states, and leads in some polls, but at the moment Obama retains the edge even if the electoral vote will be closer than it appeared to be after the conventions. Of course this lead is far from secure, making it essential that those who support individual liberty, a market economy which provides opportunity for all to succeed financially, science, preservation of Medicare and Social Security, and reality-based public policy get out to vote to reelect Barack Obama. Current polls show a majority of registered voters support Obama, while Romney leads among likely voters.

There are strong arguments to eliminate the electoral college and have the winner of the popular vote win the presidency. Besides being inherently more democratic, it would mean that each party would have reason to try to appeal to voters in every state to increase their share of the popular vote. Perhaps Obama would be doing better in the popular vote nationally if he  had reason to run up the margin of victory more in the blue states and pick up some votes in the red states where he now has no reason to campaign. A Democratic Congressman has proposed an amendment which would make it unlikely that a candidate would win the election without winning the popular vote. Steve Israel would award 29 electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote. This would be comparable to having another Florida or New York, and be worth one electoral vote more than North Carolina and Virgina combined.

This proposal would have given Gore the presidency in 2000, making up for the Republicans stealing Florida, if everything else was equal. It  possible that Obama could win more than 29 electoral votes than Romney and lose the popular vote if his leads hold in the battleground states. It is more likely that if Romney wins the popular vote he will also pick up some of the battleground states where it is now close.

Having an arbitrary number of electoral votes be awarded, regardless of the margin of victory in the popular vote, is a very convoluted way around the problems presented by the electoral college. Why twenty-nine? The electoral college has its problems, but at least there is a sensible way of choosing the number of electors based upon the number awarded to each state, which is roughly proportional to each state’s population. There are conservatives who support the electoral college based upon the concept of each state being a separate entity in the United States. If the goal is to eliminate the electoral college and go to direct election of the president based upon the popular vote, propose an amendment to do exactly that as opposed to such a strange way around the current system and have a debate as how we want elections to be structured.  (At the same time we might consider whether we want to continue the manner in which the Senate gives greater representation to those living in small states as opposed to large states.)

The electoral college this year might even lead to a stranger result than having the loser of the popular vote fail to win the presidency (as this has happened before). It is unlikely but possible that there could be a tie in the electoral college. The House would then pick the president, with the vote based upon the numbers of state delegations controlled as opposed to a vote by each member of the newly elected House. The Senate would pick the Vice-President. The newly elected House could elect Romney president while the Senate, assuming Democrats retain control, could reelect Joe Biden as Vice President. An even more bizarre result would be if the House was deadlocked because of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in some state delegations and unable to elect a President. In that case, Joe Biden, if reelected Vice President, would become President. An election thrown to the House might very well lead to more support for moving to popular election of the president.