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In the hands of the people

Monday, November 05, 2012 - Updated: 7:11 PM

The Electoral College is best described as a contrivance.

The system gives each state the number of electors equal to the state's representation in Congress. Each elector casts a single vote and the candidate winning a majority becomes president.

If no candidate wins a majority, the issue is decided by each state casting a single vote for a presidential candidate in the House of Representatives.

At its best, this was a complicated way to convert the will of the people into the choice of a president.

Worse, it never really worked as it was supposed to work, which was to depoliticize the presidency.

For the first two presidential elections, George Washington was essentially a shoo-in. By 1796, however, political parties were on the rise and have been with us forever since.

Unfortunately, so has the Electoral College, which every four years skews what should be a national election into a battle over a relative handful of undecided voters in a relative handful of so-called swing states.

Because every state gets two senators, the system also naturally gives greater weight to the votes of citizens in states of small population than those held by residents of states with greater populations. As noted by Carolyn Cocca and Thomas Lily Jr., professors at SUNY Old Westbury, voters in Wyoming get one Electoral College vote for every 189,386 residents, while voters in New York get one vote for every 668,210 residents, making a Wyoming ballot cast worth more than three more than a New York ballot.

And the system of winner-take-all allocation that most states choose effectively disenfranchises altogether, for instance, Republicans in the state of New York, or Democrats in Utah.

In a representative democracy where every person is supposed to have one vote, this system effectively weighs some votes as crucial, while dismissing many, many others as just so much chaff.

Further, while it usually is true that the person who gets the most votes also wins the Electoral College, it is not invariable. Three times a candidate has been elected who received fewer votes -- by which we mean ballots cast by everyday citizens -- than his main rival.

Congratulations, you just won a nationwide vote. And better luck next time.

That's what happened in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote, but, losing in the Electoral College, lost the election. It is not out of the question this could happen again this week -- in another election that is as of today too close to call.

That would be a travesty. It's also completely unnecessary.

It's time to amend the Constitution to put the election of the president directly in the hands of the nation's citizens.

-- The Oneida Dispatch

     

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