On Election Day in 1996, I wrote a guest editorial in the San Francisco Examiner, warning that the Electoral College system of electing presidents could cost Bill Clinton his re-election as president even if he won the popular vote. I was laughed at. Readers commented that the Electoral College hadn't affected the outcome of an election for over 100 years. For anyone born in the 20th Century, the Electoral College seemed like a harmless anachronism - something like powdered wigs or spittoons. And, in fact, it didn't affect the outcome in 1996. Bill Clinton went on to beat Bob Dole, winning both the popular vote and the electoral vote. I was wrong.
But I wasn't wrong for long. Four years later, the Electoral College rose out of the historical dust to bite us. The final vote count in the 2000 election saw Al Gore beating George Bush by 547,398 votes, yet Bush went on to be inaugurated as President. And now, sixteen years later, it's come back for another bite. Hillary Clinton is projected to win the popular vote, but she will still be forced to watch as Donald Trump is sworn in as the next president. That's twice in the last five elections that the candidate with the most votes has been denied the presidency. That's some anachronism. Where I come from, the name for this situation is minority rule. And it's usually a disaster.
The Electoral College was slapped together by the drafters of the Constitutions in 1789 as a sop to the smaller states, giving them some incentive to ratify the document. But that was an era when there was no popular vote for the election of presidents. The idea that the Electoral College would evolve into a sort of a stand-in for the popular vote would have shocked James Madison and the other drafters. Among its other vices, the Electoral College has distorted political campaigns. Candidates practically camp out in "swing states" and ignore the voters in the other "safe states" entirely. And it affects the way that issues are raised in the campaign. In years when the electoral votes of Iowa are in play, you can practically see the candidates inhaling the Ethanol fumes.
But the biggest vice of the Electoral College is its blatant unfairness to voters in the bigger states. As a resident of the largest state, California, I look at the residents of the smallest state, Wyoming, with particular envy during election season. Each vote cast in Wyoming is worth 3.6 as much as the same vote cast in California. How can that be, you might ask? It's easy to see, when you do the math. Although Wyoming had a population in the last census of only 563,767, it gets 3 votes in the Electoral College based on its two Senators and one Congressman. California has 55 electoral votes. That sounds like a lot more, but it isn't when you consider the size of the state. The population of California in the last census was 37,254,503, and that means that the electoral votes per capita in California are a lot less. To put it another way, the three electors in Wyoming represent an average of 187,923 residents each. The 55 electors in California represent an average of 677,355 each, and that's a disparity of 3.6 to 1.
This has to change. Each resident of the United States should have the same voting power. The simplest way to achieve this is to abolish the Electoral College and insist that everyone's vote stand on its own. That would constitute true electoral reform. You can call our current anachronistic system many things, but you can't call it a democracy.
In a democracy, the election is awarded to the person with the most votes.