Is Electoral College an election dinosaur?
Pennsylvania suddenly was carpet-bombed with political ads over the last two weeks of the presidential campaign, spurred either by Mitt Romney's momentum or the possibility that he wasn't going to win Ohio.
Actually, the ad barrage was more the norm for Pennsylvania, which had been regarded as a "swing state" since the turn of this century. Recall that after the 2004 and 2008 national party conventions, all of the nominees made their first campaign appearances in nearby Scranton.
As the campaign unfolded, concern mounted that one of the candidates could win the popular vote but lose where it counts most, the Electoral College - the reason that so much attention is lavished upon so few states.
Actually, the Electoral College system itself makes it more likely that a candidate will win the popular vote and lose the presidency, as did Al Gore to George W. Bush in 2000, Samuel Tilden to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, and Grover Cleveland to Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
Because most states firmly are in one of the major parties' column, there is a limited number of states where electoral votes are up for grabs. And for the most part, they are not the most populous states. California, Texas and New York, for example, are not swing states.
Not surprisingly, the absence of vigorous campaigns in non-swing states produces lower turnout. As reported by Adam Liptak in The New York Times, turnout in 2008 in the 15 states that received the most attention from candidates was 6 percentage points higher than in "spectator" states. Lower turnout in states with larger populations is a formula for a candidate winning the popular vote while losing the Electoral College.
That's just one argument against the Electoral College. In the event of an Electoral College tie, with a divided Congress, the House could elect a Republican president and the Senate could chose a Democratic vice president, for example, promising permanent gridlock. Each state would have one vote in the House, giving South Dakota's single U.S. representative the same weight as California's 53. That has happened once; in 1800 it took 36 ballots for the House to choose Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr, who had been running mates.
Every presidential election produces concern about the system's effective disenfranchisement of a large percentage of the population. That concern seemed particularly acute this time because of the degree of political division in the country. The new Congress should start the process of determining whether the Electoral College system has outlived its usefulness.