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Every four years, it seems, we all have to suffer through a season of incessant whining. No, I’m not referring to the usual complaints about the Olympic judges, but to the very existence of the Electoral College.
We live in a democracy – goes the whine – where every citizen’s vote is supposed to be equal to everybody else’s. So, what’s with this elector business? What it is, is brilliant. Those gents in the knee britches who put our government together from scratch didn’t disdain democracy, but most of them prized states’ rights and, as they showed in creating the three separate branches of government, a system of checks and balances.
They didn’t want a few hugely populated states to determine who’d be president. So, although the number of electors from each state is determined by population, the founding fathers realized that the only way it would work is if it were winner-take-all, with the winning candidate taking all of a state’s electoral votes, no matter how large or small his victory margin. They didn’t want anybody to be elected simply because he was able to run up massive pluralities in a few states – they sought to ensure that the president represented the entire country.
Thus, if Kerry, for instance, were able to carry New York, California and Illinois, by 2 million votes in each state, Bush could score an equal number of electoral votes by squeaking out the narrowest of victory margins in Maine, Alaska, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Arizona and Arkansas. So, while Kerry might garner as much as 5 million more votes than Bush in those 18 state contests, it should be fairly obvious that Bush would have wider appeal across the entire nation than mere nose-counting might otherwise indicate.
Thus, a presidential candidate – be he Republican or Democrat – can capture the so-called popular vote without winning the election. You may not like it, especially if your candidate is on the losing end, but your argument isn’t with the candidates or even the two parties, but with the founding fathers. And if I might make a suggestion: Forget it! They were a lot smarter than you are.
They weren’t just smart, either – they were psychics. Why do I say that? Well, you may have already noticed that although the elections are held in early November, the inaugurations don’t take place until mid-January. Why that two-month gap, except to allow Florida plenty of time to count and then re-count its ballots four or five times?