Public Comment

The Electoral College Has Gotta Go

By Bruce Joffe
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:00:00 PM

With the final vote count now certified, we can be very thankful that the victor’s margin was more than 8,500,000 votes. Had it been a closer election, with, say, a 500,000 vote margin, the wrong candidate—the one with fewer votes—might have been elected, once again. We know the terrible costs of this flaw in our electoral system: more than 4,000 American soldiers dead, 60,000 severely wounded, and three trillion dollars wasted on a war brought on by hubris and deception. This, plus 4 million Iraqi people displaced from their homes and over a hundred thousand killed. Now, in the twilight of this disastrous presidency, we are suffering an economic recession, a flat-out theft, of so many billions of dollars that one’s sense of outrage is numbly anesthetized.  

This calamity must never be repeated. We must transform our method of self-governing into a democracy in which everyone’s vote is counted equally. The current Electoral College system gives voters in sparsely-populated states like Wyoming, for example, one elector for every 82,110 voters—almost three times California’s ratio of one elector for every 226,622 voters. This disparity enables the candidate with fewer popular votes to win an electoral majority, thereby defeating democracy. The Electoral College system only accounts for the bare majority of the votes in each state, the candidate that receives one vote more than the opponent garners all of the state’s electoral votes. The surplus votes don’t count at all. In 2000, California’s margin of additional votes for Gore, 1,293,744, put him ahead of Bush nationally, but those votes were irrelevant once the electoral votes were determined.  

Objections to abolishing the Electoral College include the notion that without it, candidates would not campaign in states with small populations, and therefore those states would not have political influence. First off, this is a fallacy, because states shouldn’t count as campaign units, only people should count. Secondly, most states, both small-population and large, have a significant majority of voters who are committed to one party or the other. They don’t receive much campaign attention now, under the current system. Only a dozen or so “swing states” get most of the attention.  

Look at a map of red states and blue states on the county level, and you will find red counties in the blue states and blue counties in the red states. Break it down further, to the city level or neighborhood level and you will see even more mixture. All those blue people in the red states, and all those red people in the blue states, are ignored when the election is decided by statewide electoral votes.  

Without the state-based Electoral College, undecided or “swing vote” communities anywhere and everywhere would be suitable recipients of political campaigns. There are many ways that a candidate could build a coalition of like-minded voters. For instance, appealing to suburbanites, or to urbanites, or to small town residents; appealing to angry people, or to hopeful people, to salaried workers or to business owners. People, not states, should be the building blocks of political coalitions.  

What about farmers? They accounted for less than 2 percent of the employed population in 2000, and most food production is actually conducted by a handful of gigantic farming corporations. Ours is no longer a country where most of the people live in sparsely-populated agricultural states, as it was 220 years ago. If the Electoral College was established to protect the interests of farmers, it is obsolete now. Sure, the dwindling number of family farmers need protection, but from the farming mega-corporation lobbyists that run their states! 

We need our democracy to reflect our current era, a time in which every person in this country, whether located in the farms of Nebraska or the towns of Alaska or the cities of New York, can engage in the political process through many different channels—print media, radio, television, internet, as well as community meetings, precinct walkers, supermarket petition solicitors, leafleteers, and of course, bumper stickers. Every registered citizen can vote in this country, no matter where that citizen lives, and every vote can be counted. Every person’s vote should be counted equally. Our votes do not need to be filtered and discounted by a flawed, historic electoral system from a bygone century.  

We now know the consequences of the lesser candidate gaining the presidency. We are paying the price. We cannot afford to risk the calamity of another election stolen from the majority of voters. We can demand our legislators vote a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College, making the United States a fully democratic republic that is accountable to a majority of its citizens. When the Electoral College becomes a ceremonial anachronism of the past, then the threat of the lesser candidate gaining the presidency will be a thing of the past as well.  

Amending the Constitution is a difficult process, requiring the assent of two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states’ legislatures. Another method for modernizing our electoral system, the national popular vote, may be more practical. This campaign encourages each state to pass a law binding the award of its electors to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally, rather than to its statewide winner. This provision would only go into effect when enough states agree, so that their total electoral votes equal the 270 majority of the Electoral College. When that happens, the candidate who wins the total popular vote will automatically have a majority of the electoral votes. The national popular vote could take effect as soon as enough states pass laws agreeing to this interstate compact. Currently, four states (New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii) have enacted the national popular vote into law, the legislatures of four more states (Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California) have passed the compact, and those of 38 states are considering bills that would put into the law the national popular vote. The full text of legislation, together with legal discussion and current updates, are available at 


Oakland resident Bruce Joffe works as a consultant to city, county and state governments on the effective use of geographic information systems.