In an editorial last Sunday, the New York Times proposed abolishing the electoral college. It marked a reversal for the gray lady’s opinion page, which a few years ago had argued in favor of the current system.
If ever there were an idea guaranteed to go nowhere, this is it. A Constitutional amendment would require approval from two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states, which could never happen. It takes only thirteen states to derail an amendment (assuming it somehow gets by Congress), and there are far more than thirteen states that would lose influence if the current mechanism were abolished.
The electoral college doesn’t just benefit less-populous states. It also benefits many minority groups. As a national constituency, Cuban-Americans hardly matter. But in Florida, where the election is razor-close, Cuban-Americans have outsized influence. It’s no surprise to find the candidates tailoring their message to South Florida’s huge Cuban population.
I come from a Jewish family, and my father always used to point out that the electoral college benefited the Jews. That’s because, although Jews are a small proportion of the national electorate, they are a huge proportion in several key states, such as New York and Illinois. However, in recent years those states have been so dependably Democratic that the Presidential candidates ignore them anyway, so the Jewish influence isn’t what it once was.
Of course, not wanting to put it that way, the Times emphasized other inequities in the current system:
Barring a tsunami of a sweep, heavily Democratic New York will send its electoral votes to John Kerry and both parties have already written New York off as a surefire blue state. The Electoral College makes Republicans in New York, and Democrats in Utah, superfluous. It also makes members of the majority party in those states feel less than crucial. It’s hard to tell New York City children that every vote is equally important — it’s winner take all here, and whether Senator Kerry beats the president by one New York vote or one million, he will still walk away with all 31 of the state’s electoral votes.
The apparent closeness of the current race — which could easily change by election day — has raised the spectre of an electoral college tie (269-269). In one of the more bizarre and anti-democratic provisions of the Constitution, the House of Representatives would choose the President in that case, with each state’s delegation getting one combined vote. As the Times puts it, there would be “one [vote] for Wyoming’s 500,000 residents and one for California’s 35.5 million.”
These are valid points, one and all, but I can’t see the system changing in my lifetime.