The other day I caught an editorial in Forbes about the electoral college. With the 2006 election day being less than a month away, this seemed like the perfect time to resume seriousness with blogging.
Being more than a few years out of high school civics class, I was a bit rusty on the exact definition and purpose of the electoral college, as are most Americans.
So, after a little bit of research, the simplest description I can muster is that the President and Vice President are elected indirectly by “electors.” Granted, at polling day, citizens cast their votes for Prez and Veep (known as the “popular vote”) but those votes are tallied per state and the winner of the individual state gets that state’s electoral college votes. To further complicate things, electoral college votes are equal to a state’s total number of federal congressmen combined (so therefore California carries the most electoral college votes with 55, followed by Texas at 34, and so on down to Wyoming at 3). Traditionally, the system is that simple: the people vote, the state’s winner takes the electoral college votes, and the majority electoral college winner is our President.
Notice, friends, I said the majority electoral college winner is our President. Yes, this is what the bruhaha was all about in 2000; the President was elected by the electoral college, but not by the popular vote. This is the fourth time in history (1824, 1876, and 1888 previously) where the President was elected but did not also win the popular vote. And yes, those election years are seriously old… the electoral college can be traced back to Article II, Section 1of the Constitution, and more recently (1845) in 3 U.S.C. § 4. So, that’s the quick version of the electoral college.
Ok… so let’s get down to business. This editorial in Forbes highlights the pressure to change the system to a direct election system (effectively abolishing the electoral college). Maine has a unique system (also adopted by Nebraska) that I cannot accurately describe nor understand, but it doesn’t seem to impact the electoral college that much. However, the crux of the inquiry is what California is advocating.
Far beit for California to do anything mainstream. But the Golden State is mixing the pot again (for all my law school friends, does this shock you that Cali law is once again absolutely nuts?). Well, to be perfectly fair, the state is following Colorado’s move in the same arena. “The California legislature recently passed a bill that would award that state’s 55 electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide.” (Steve Forbes, Forbes, Sept. 10, 2006).
Now, I could be way off base here, but this sounds to me like California (and Colorado) are trying to trump federal law by passing their own version of election rules. Is this their backdoor attempt at destroying the electoral college? At the end of the day, it would take a Constitutional Amendment (the most recent being in 1992 limiting congressional pay raises), and ratification by 2/3 of the states to eliminate the electoral college.
And I find it hard to believe that the smaller states (New Hampshire, Wyoming, Rhode Island, even Alabama and New Mexico, among others) would want to give up their distinctive voices in the Big Election. California and Texas have such great weight in these elections, but they are only 2 states. There are far more “smaller” states than there are big behemoths. But where do the big behemoths get off trying to override the federal constitution? Did they miss the memo that they are but a state in a union of other states, united under one supreme law of the land?
My gripe today isn’t so much about the electoral college (although I am a fan). My problem is with California and Colorado for their underhanded attempt at controlling the electoral process. I suppose we will just have to wait for 2008 and see what the outcome will be… and if it is really as polarizing as it hints at being.