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As the mounting electoral college votes for President Barack Obama are shown behind him, a member of the band turns to look at the screen during a Republican Party election night gathering in Denver on Nov. 6, 2012.

David Zalubowski, Associated Press

The Electoral College serves us? Spare us.

  • Article by: ERIC JORGENSON
  • November 12, 2012 - 6:09 PM

It's hard for the Electoral College to lose when its defenders, like D.J. Tice of the Star Tribune, declare it a national treasure just because it did not this year result in a pyrotechnic debacle ("The good 'ol Electoral College comes through for us again," Nov. 11).

By the same logic, we should all take up Russian roulette. Six games would generate five Tice columns celebrating the upside of the new national pastime.

It shouldn't require brain spatterings to persuade us to drop the Electoral College and elect presidents the same way we elect every other office holder -- most votes wins. This year's presidential election occurred in around eight states with less than a fifth of the country's population. For Republicans in California and Democrats in Texas, giving large sums of cash was the only way to have a voice. The all-or-nothing allocation of electoral votes, which according to Tice brings "closure" to a tight election, does achieve something tangible: It disenfranchises millions of voters.

Tice nods in the direction of what ought to be deal-breaking flaws of the Electoral College, then argues that they are trumped by airy nothing. Note that he does not give an example of a presidential election in which the national popular vote was so close that the winner was in doubt. That's because it's never happened, and there are mathematical reasons to suppose it never will. The Electoral College is far more likely to trigger a crisis of legitimacy and public confidence.

What about Tice's notion that the Electoral College "forces candidates to seek broader national support?" Yes, that would explain why President Obama spent so much time stumping among rural whites in Kansas and Nebraska, while Mitt Romney courted voters in the Starbucks shops of Seattle.

The Electoral College has the opposite effect of what Tice claims. It doesn't force candidates to broaden their appeal. It causes them to ignore wide swatches of the electorate.

The best way to force candidates to seek broad national support is to award the presidency to the one for whom the most Americans vote. When Hillary Clinton wanted to be a senator from New York state, she did not confine her effort to Manhattan. Actually, she pretty much ignored Manhattan. Instead, she barnstormed through upstate New York, where her support was weakest. When a vote is a vote is a vote, it makes sense to try to increase your share of it from 42 to 47 percent in areas where you know you will be outpolled.

Were the Electoral College as splendid as Tice says, we would make little Electoral Colleges in all the states so that we could enjoy the undemocratic, distorting effects in our races for governorships and U.S. Senate seats as well. There's a reason no one is arguing for that kind of election "reform." We need the reform represented by the National Popular Vote movement.

Eric Jorgenson lives in Minneapolis.

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