Friday, November 19, 2004

Is It Time to Abolish the Electoral College?

Bush won 30 States and 271 electoral votes in 2000, while winning a minority of the two-party popular vote. For that fact, Republicans have been blessing the Electoral College.

Although Bush did better in 2004 -- winning 31 States and 286 electoral votes -- Republicans can see how Bush might nevertheless have lost, even while "winning" by more than 3 million popular votes. Kerry could have walked off with an electoral-vote victory simply (?) by rolling up another few hundred thousand popular votes in the right places: Ohio, by itself, or Colorado, Iowa, and New Mexico, altogether.

In sum, Kerry came fairly close to trumping Bush's feat of four years earlier. But before Republicans panic and jump on the bandwagon to abolish the Electoral College, they should consider two reasons for keeping it.

The most obvious, and oft-cited, reason is that the existence of the College narrows the scope for decisive electoral fraud to those "battleground" States whose electoral votes might tip the balance in a close election. Deciding presidential elections by the popular-vote count is an invitation to fraud in every precinct in the land.

A less obvious, but -- to me -- equally compelling reason is that the abolition of the College would encourage more voters to vote. Think of all those abstaining Republicans in places like Massachusetts and New York and all those abstaining Democrats in places like Texas and Utah. Why do they abstain? Because they know that their votes won't make a difference. Many of the abstainers would vote if they thought their votes might affect the outcome. But the act of voting might also lead them to expect something in return from the federal government: prayer in public schools, less gun control, more gun control, a ban on gay marriage, support of gay marriage, and on and on. In other words, they would swell the ranks of those who have a stake in the centralization of political power. That's the last thing we need.

Contain electoral fraud, contain mobocracy -- retain the Electoral College.