Even in a redrawn electoral map, I'm (sort of) disenfranchised – updated

I’ve moved from Massachusetts to Texas in the last few months and nothing’s changed as far as my vote is concerned.  My home has changed, but this year as in 2004 and 2000, my home state still hasn’t gotten so much as a sniff of Presidential campaign appearance.  That’s because when I lived in Massachusetts, the Bay State’s electoral college’s votes were a lock for the Democratic Party’s candidate and now that I live in Texas, the Lone Star State’s electoral votes are a lock for the Republican Party’s candidate.  When I lived in Massachusetts, I tended to vote Green anyway, in an effort to build not a third party, but a viable SECOND party in what amounts to one-party Democratically run Massachusetts.  The need for such has been brought home by the ethics scandals rocking the democratically controlled state house there this fall.

Now, here I am in Texas, having switched my voter registration to unenrolled back in January in MA again here in Texas in August to support Barack Obama, for reasons that are as much pastoral as political (my freind Eric points to as good an explanation as I can offer here).  And yet the overwhelming vote here in Texas is probably, although I hope not, going to be for McCain.

dailyKos today points to an informative, although by no means revolutionary post from Nate Silver at 538.com that reminds us that this election, like every other Presidential election is really 50 elections because of the electoral college.  And this year it comes down to this:

This is beginning to look like a five-state election. Those states are Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada. Essentially all relevant electoral scenarios involve some combination of these five states…

The victory conditions for Obama involving these five states proceed something as follows:

  1. Win Pennsylvania and ANY ONE of Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, or Nevada*
  1. Win Ohio and EITHER Colorado OR Virginia.
  1. Win Colorado AND Virginia AND Nevada.

(* Nevada produces a 269-269 tie, which would probably be resolved for Obama in the House of Represenatives.)

Now, suppose you think that Colorado is already in the bag for Obama because of his large edge in early voting there. We can then simplify the victory conditions as follows:

  1. Win Pennsylvania
  1. Win Ohio
  • Win Virginia AND Nevada
  • This graphic from Pollster.com (again a hat tip to dailyKos) puts the race in a linear perspective, sort of an slide rule. Obama needs to grab a light blue state and McCain all the yellow toss up swing states and a bunch of light blue Obama leaning light blue states.

    It’s really time to do away with the electoral college once and for all.  In spite of Obama’s efforts to make this a 50 state campaign, he’s doing it out of electoral strategy and a mandate to govern, not out an electoral philosphy that argues the POUS should be popularly elected by the people.  Popular election of the President requires a constitutional amendment. I stand corrected (see the comments) One way around it is a state law that pledges all the states electoral votes to the popular vote winner. See National Popular Vote for more information on their plan.  I’d still rather have a Constitutional amendment (such as the one that supplied popular direct election of senators), but I’d settle for their plan in the interim.

    UPDATE – In the Nov. 2 edition of the New York Times, Sarah K. Cowan points out that:

    This system (the electoral college), along with the winner-take-all practice used to allocate most states’ electoral votes, creates the potential for an absurd outcome. In the unlikely event that all 213 million eligible voters cast ballots, either John McCain or Barack Obama could win enough states to capture the White House with only 47.8 million strategically located votes. The presidency could be won with just 22 percent of the electorate’s support, only 16 percent of the entire population’s.

    With direct election you get the President the most people want.  I also want Rank choice voting, also called Instant Run Off Voting (let the muppets explain it to you) so I can vote for my actual policy preferences without the fear of putting my least favorite candidate like Bush or McCain in the White House.

    Until then candidate have to have an electoral strategy and I have to have a voting strategy and that’s not what democracy should  look like.

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    4 thoughts on “Even in a redrawn electoral map, I'm (sort of) disenfranchised – updated

    1. The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

      Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

      In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

      The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

      Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

      The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

      The bill is currently endorsed by 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

      The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

      See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

    2. The “normal way” of changing the method of electing the President is not a federal constitutional amendment, but changes in state law. The U.S. Constitution gives “exclusive” and “plenary” control to the states over the appointment of presidential electors.

      Historically, virtually all of the previous major changes in the method of electing the President have come about by state legislative action. For example, the people had no vote for President in most states in the nation’s first election in 1789. However, nowadays, as a result of changes in the state laws governing the appointment of presidential electors, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states.

      In 1789, only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). However, as a result of changes in state laws, the winner-take-all rule is now currently used by 48 of the 50 states.

      In other words, neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

      In 1789, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote; however, as a result of changes in state laws, there are now no property requirements for voting in any state .

      The “normal process” of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

      What the current U.S. Constitution says is “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    3. You were correct initially. The comment regarding state change doesn’t consider popular election of the president. It describes a way of running around the electoral college. A federal constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college and repeal the 12th Amendment would actually provide popular election.

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