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The Cynic

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The media has been mumbling about the possibility of a candidate winning the popular vote, yet still losing the election because of the electoral college. It hasn't happened in 112 years, yet they still insist it is possible. It's not going to happen.

There was a column by Nicholas von Hoffman in the New York Observer(Electoral College Deserves a B.S. Degree in Politics;10/30), that addressed this point and he envisioned the country going into full melt down mode in the event that the election isn't decided by the popular vote. They probably would. With the media jumping up and down with popular vote poll numbers all election season, and ignoring the electoral college until the last week, the ignorant masses probably would go into a full panic if it happened. I repeat, it's not going to happen.

He then goes on to argue that our Founding Fathers "didn't found a democracy but a republic because the Founding Fathers didn't trust us, the people, enough to allow us to elect our President." My gut here is that he is not happy with the electoral predictions, so he goes after some old white guys to vent his anger. It may have been a slow news day, or maybe you had too much espresso in your latte that day, Nicky, but you are really doing a disservice to your readers. The electoral college was designed, not out of distrust of the public but, with the intent to achieve a truly representative Presidency.

If the Presidency was decided by a direct vote where would Al Gore and George Bush be today? Would they be hawking votes in Des Moines or stump speeching in Madison, WI? Of course not. They would be in one of three places; Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. They would be looking to maximize their face time to the largest number of people. The campaign issues wouldn't be Social Security, education or health care reform, they would run on issues that most affect big cities. That's great if you are a Wall Street Tycoon or a writer for the Observer, but what about a farmer in Omaha? Where is his representation?

The electoral college works to cap how much one particular region can influence an election. You can get 100% of the vote in New York and you get 33 electoral votes. You can also work to get 51% and get 33 electoral votes. It substantially alters the amount of attention New York gets. A candidate who has built a good lead in New York can move on to other markets, where he must address the concerns of that constituency to gain a majority there. A winning candidate must balance his agenda with concerns from a variety of markets, big and small, without isolating states or regions.

Another pitfall of a direct democracy is that it opens up the country for regional division. Elections could become an issue of Big City vs. Rural America, East coast vs. West Coast, or Northern concerns vs. Southern concerns (we remember the last time). Each party would choose a region and pimp their agenda to deliver numbers there. If George Bush were to win the election by persuading the South to carry him to a popular vote victory, he then becomes indebted to Southern concerns. Under an electoral college system, he is still indebted to his base, but must balance to keep the mushy middle happy. It's political Zen.

The beauty of the electoral college is that it forces candidates to pick up those small states en route to the White House. The big states aren't enough to carry you. You need the Idahos and the Rhode Islands, you need the Iowas and the Dakotas. The race to the 270 needed electoral votes, essentially becomes a nickel and dime endeavor.

Most campaigns go after the popular vote and not the electoral vote anyway. If you win the popular vote, the electoral vote will follow. If a campaign were to be designed only with an eye on the largest electoral college gems, it most likely would lose. I cannot envision a platform that could appease the elitists in New York, the elderly in Florida, the conservatives in Texas and Georgia, the working class in Pennsylvania and Michigan, the farmers in Indiana, and the liberals in Massachusetts and California. Even if this tactic resulted in a win, this is still a pretty representative cross section. 

Nicky may just be blowing off a little steam, or maybe he's jumping on the "Bash the Founding Fathers" bandwagon, but the electoral college isn't a means for the Founding Fathers to continue to oppress us. They designed a process which allows for our President to speak for all Americans and not just New Yorkers or Chicagoans. Our President is a representation of our businessmen and our farmers, our single mothers and their children, our scientists and our construction workers. The President is for all of us, and no New Yorker is going to B.S. me into thinking otherwise.

The Cynic, 2000

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