By Nancy Jane Moore
An op-ed in the Dec. 15 New York Times suggests that states need to apportion their presidential vote by congressional district, so that in a state where, say, a winning candidate carried 8 districts, and the loser 7, the loser would end up with some votes.
The author, Randall Lane (editor of a slew of magazines for the affluent), says this would put more votes in play and be fairer, and suggests that red and blue states of approximate size -- say Texas and New York -- agree to do this together, so that nobody feels like they're giving up their power.
I say there's a much more practical solution: Abolish the electoral college. It's a relic of a time when even those who advocated democracy wanted to keep it in check.
Lane pooh-poohs the idea of abolishing the electoral college, saying the small states with clout will never give up their power. But his plan has even less chance -- the odds that a fractious body like the Texas Legislature will do something in coordination with an equally fractious body like the New York Legislature are very, very long. A few more states might join Maine and Nebraska, but I wouldn't bet on a wholesale response.
Lane's plan would increase the number of votes in play, true, but that's all it would do. It wouldn't address the basic unfairness of a system in which the winner of the popular vote loses the election. It wouldn't do a thing to stop the problems we've had in the last few elections -- Republican election officials making sure there are too few voting machines in Democratic districts, defective voting machines, and the more blatant vote count frauds. In fact, it would probably increase them, since it would increase the number of jurisdictions that political campaigns would have to monitor for fraud.
Electing the president by the popular vote wouldn't get rid of fraud, but it would make it a whole lot less useful. Switching a few votes one way or the other in close jurisdictions wouldn't have much effect.
And every vote in the country would be valuable to the candidates. True, they might focus on high-population areas -- i.e., big cities -- to the exclusion of places where there are more mesquite trees than voters, but that aligns with the current population pattern of the United States. Let's face, we aren't a rural nation anymore.
There's one thing Lane's plan would do: If enough states actually adopted it, it would make an overcomplicated system even more overcomplicated, providing lots of work for lawyers, lobbyists, and political operatives. The last thing this country needs is another "reform" like that.
Let's not waste time on half-baked ideas. Abolish the electoral college. Elect the president by popular vote, like a real democracy.
After all, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000.
[cross posted on Open Salon.]