The horse-race has been underway for months now and coverage of presidential caucuses and primaries headline the news every evening. We are forced to listen to blow-by-blow mis-steps, adoration over small victories from candidate campaigns or predictions from ‘talking heads.’ We too proclaim our favorites and make disparaging remarks at cars which tout the wrong bumper sticker.
Yet we are all accepting a bit of a fantasy. We assume as long as our votes are counted, that they all count the same. WRONG. If you remember how the Electoral College works you know it is inequitable. Most people don’t think about this except for one night every 4 years when the Electoral Counting Game replaces network shows on TV coverage. Then folks sigh ‘oh yeah, now I remember, that’s how it works.’
We don’t have a direct election by the people for president (although we do for every other elected seat in the nation). There is an historical reason for this unusual approach and some staunch traditionalists cling to that. But did you know that well over 70% of Americans believe we SHOULD have direct elections for the big seat. Tell me where in this polarized nation you have witnessed over 70% agreement on anything.
It’s not that Americans don’t like their ‘representative democracy,’ nor do they mistrust the party-loyal representatives in the Electoral College to perform their pre-ordained role. They prefer direct elections because of what results from the current system. What is that, I hear you ask? Some incredibly unfair and unseemly situations; almost hard to believe.
Most of us live in ‘Fly-Over’ states in which candidates don’t pay attention to us either because they have no chance of winning in our state or have it totally sewn up. Worse than the lack of attention is the increase influences those in the very few lucky swing states have over the rest of us in our ignored fly-over locations. This special status and influence over most of us occurs in more than just the campaign election season. It plays out during governing terms as well, with favoritism and back-room deals of all kinds. And saving the best for last (read that as ‘the real bad’ thing) is that a candidate can receive the most votes and still lose. And it’s legal. It has happened at a ratio of 1:14 presidential elections and is at risk of happening more often as our national election results become more narrow. Additionally, all the favoritism, corrupting antics and electoral games are not confined to any one type of politics or party.
Before I sound like too big a drag on your optimism, there is a very viable solution to this situation – and one that can be accomplished without a hard-fought constitutional amendment. It’s called National Popular Vote. It has lots of steam behind it, not to mention that the steam comes from both Democrats and Republicans. I ask again, how often nowadays is there such agreement across the range of political spectrum. It’s infrequent.
To briefly explain National Popular Vote, willing states enter into a legally binding agreement with each other (an interstate compact). The agreement says that when enough of them have signed on that together they represent the magic 270 number (the amount of electors needed to win in the Electoral College) it will go into effect. At that point, these “compacting” states agree to give all their electors to the candidate who really won. That isn’t just who won their states, but all 50 states and DC. Very altruistic of them – mostly because they would like to see a true democracy in the presidential election. Ah, but there is more. Indeed politicians and lobbyists on the right think that the nation is right of center, and those on the left think it is left of center. Despite either belief, a popular vote lets the people decide.
Are you thinking ‘pie-in-the-sky’? Well that pie may be on our dinner table sooner than one might think. Actually we are 61% of the way there. 11 jurisdictions (10 states and DC) have signed on and currently have the law waiting in a closet (figuratively) until it is time to take it out and use it – meaning when their 270 collective electors will make the results decisive.
Most of us are tired of an election system that takes its cues from horse-race doping to fix the outcomes. Instead, we just want a fair and unadulterated horse-race, not one where some votes are on downers and others are on stimulants. The National Popular Vote (which can be seen on line at www.nationalpopularvote.com ) does not cure cancer, stop climate change or put food on everyone’s table. Still, it does take a great step toward a real state-by-state democracy where every vote in the nation is counted equally.