A topic of discussion at the faculty table yesterday was whether we should abolish the electoral college. If we only counted popular votes at that table, the measure would have passed... overwhelmingly among the under-30 set, by the way, and with gusto by a nice girl who's an immigrant. Her words: "It would be better if you did it more like the French do...." RIGHT. That's what I want from my government: to be more FRENCH. The two main holdouts to this idea whose time has obviously come were the two of us at the table who actually teach history, government, and/or civics.
Most folks who don't like the EC really just don't like the fact that Bush beat Gore in 2000. What they don't realize is how many times in US History the winner has not received a majority of the popular vote (all but 4 times--1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000--the winner did receive at least a plurality of the popular vote). Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking Clinton twice, JFK in 1960, Truman in 1948, Woodrow Wilson in 1912, and a guy you might have heard of called Abe Lincoln in 1860. All of those folks would have gone to a run-off under a popular-vote system. And some (Truman, Wilson, Lincoln, possibly Clinton '92) would have probably lost.
Here's the deal. Imagine a scenario where a candidate wins a single state, let's say a big one, like Texas, by 50,000 votes. Then he or she goes on to lose the other 49 states by 1000 votes each. So he or she "wins" the overall popular vote by 1000--but the other guy wins 49 states. Which one deserves more to be president of the whole country? I think most of us would say the one who won the broadest support across most of the country, rather than the deepest support in one region. The electoral college measures that, while also adjusting for the relative populations of the states (hence, 55 electoral votes for California, 27 for Florida, 8 for good 'ol SC, and only 3 for near-empty Wyoming). It was one of the smartest things old James Madison ever came up with. Thank goodness that changing the system (for us, unlike the French) requires a pretty severe super-majority to pass an amendment.
NOTE: I realized after writing this that I have spoken of this topic before. My original point, that the Democrats have an electoral advantage this cycle, remains unchanged. They win Kerry's states plus Ohio, and it's over 270 electoral votes. but McCain scrambles things. If he wins Bush's states, loses Ohio, but flips New Hampshire (where they LOVE him), he still squeaks out. There are a million scenarios, of course. But reading my year-old posts about how he's never going to get nominated should serve as fair warning about trying to predict these things.