Democrats and liberal pundits are all up in arms about proposals emerging in some states that would allocate the electoral vote by Congressional District. The reason they oppose such a measure is strictly partisan: given the current effects of gerrymandering (largely by Republicans at the state level), it would disadvantage Democrats. Why do I think that if Democrats had been doing the gerrymandering, the whole concept would be less offensive?
Let’s review the current situation and our options.
The Electoral College–whatever its original purposes or merits–is outmoded. It is certainly inconsistent with our current goal of “one person, one vote.” But eliminating it will require a constitutional amendment, and that would take years and be very difficult. Currently, most states award all of their electoral votes (a number equal to the number of Senators and Representatives from that state) to the candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote in that state–no matter how thin the victory.
In red Indiana, that means that voters who opted for Barack Obama in November might just as well have flushed those votes down the toilet. Ditto New York voters who preferred Mitt Romney. Winner take all effectively erases the votes cast for the loser, even if that loss was by a mere fraction.
The Constitution permits each state to decide how its electoral votes will be allocated, and two states–Maine, and (I think) Nebraska–have long allocated them by congressional district, awarding the district vote to the winner of that district and giving the two additional votes to the candidate who wins statewide. Since congressional districts are supposed to be roughly equal in population, the result is an allocation that more closely approximates the breakdown of the vote statewide.
The kicker here, of course, is gerrymandering. Not surprisingly, the sudden interest in electoral fairness is being seen in states where the Republicans have been most successful in rigging the boundaries in their favor. But only the most naive among us would expect a different result if the situation were reversed; Democrats have been just as eager to draw squiggly lines that benefit them when they’ve had the power to do so.
If we really want a system in which everyone’s vote actually counts, a system that doesn’t give politicians of either party the opportunity to game the system, there is an easy fix: allocate the electoral vote to reflect the popular vote.
If candidate A gets 55% of the popular vote and candidate B gets 45%, allocate the electoral votes 55/45.
We talk a lot about the importance of voting, and each election we hear that “every vote counts.” That may be true of votes for local offices (unless gerrymandering has been at work at the local level), but with respect to our votes for President, it’s bull-hockey. Under our present system, red votes in blue states don’t count. Blue votes in red states don’t count.
If we really cared about electoral fairness, and not just about comparative advantage–not just about whose ox is gored–we’d allocate the electoral vote to represent the actual voice of the people.