« Roberts Likely to Uphold Felon Disenfranchisement | Main | Gallup, Newsweek Polls Show Bush at Historic Lows »

New Study Reveals Harm Done By Electoral College

We're stuck with it for now, but as soon as the Democrats win back the white house and get a healthy congressional majority, one of the top priorities has to be getting rid of the Electoral College. True, Kerry might have won the presidency in 2004 if he had carried Ohio and lost the nation-wide popular vote, just as Bush won in 2000, despite losing the popular vote. But a new study by Fairvote: The Center for Voting and Democracy reveals that the Electoral College does a lot of damage to democratic principles and warps political priorities. Among the conclusions:

A shift of just 18,774 votes would have meant an exact repeat of the 2000 state-by-state results.

In the 12 most competitive states in 2004, voter turnout rose 9% to 63%. In the 12 least competitive states, voter turnout rose only 2% to 53%.

Voter turnout among 18-29-year-olds was 64.4% in the ten most competitive states and 47.6% in the remaining states a gap of 17%.

A shift of just 20,417 votes would have given the country an Electoral College tie. An even smaller shift would have thrown the 2000 elections into the U.S. House.

The number of states where there is genuine competition has been steadilly shrinking. In 1960, 24 states with a total of 327 electoral votes were battlegrounds. In 2004, only 13 states with 159 electoral votes were similarly competitive.

It could be argued that keeping the Electoral College, at least thru 2008 is in the Democrats' favor, since demographic trends indicate that there will be disproportionate growth of pro-Democratic constituencies in the 2004 "battleground" states (people of color are currently underrepresented in those states, as a whole). But direct popular election of the President would encourage presidential candidates to campaign everywhere and would likely increase voter participation for all groups. It would help reduce cynicism about the political process and give all voters a sense that their vote is as good as anyone else's. Most importantly, it would end the very real threat of the will of the majority being thwarted in consecutive presidential elections, which could have a devastating effect on voter turnout in the future.

States have the option of making the Electoral College more representative by requiring proportional distribution of votes based on the popular vote, as opposed to winner-take-all. Only Maine and Nebraska currently allocate electoral votes this way. Colorado rejected such a change in November, when many of the state's voters said they didn't want to make their state a "guinea pig." Abolishing the Electoral College would take a constitutional amendment, and there would be some resistance in the larger states. But the improved fairness would benefit everyone, and strengthen the principle of one person, one vote --- which should be a cornerstone of every great democracy.