The New York Times – Op-Docs
By Mo Rocca
Oct. 2, 2012
“How long did you rehearse the scene where those third graders freak out about the Electoral College?” I’ve been asked that several times after screenings of “Electoral Dysfunction,” from which this Op-Doc video is adapted.
The answer is we didn’t. We simply held an election: Colored Pencils vs. Markers. When Markers won the popular vote but Colored Pencils prevailed in the Electoral College, it got ugly fast. Turns out third graders have an uncorrupted sense of fairness.
The men who foisted this system on us were hardly more enthusiastic about it. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention voted at least 60 times on how presidents were to be chosen. They rejected the idea of popular election — and they repeatedly scrapped versions of the Electoral College. In other words, they were against it before they were for it.
Proponents like to say it was created to protect “small states,” which is a much nicer way of saying it was created to protect “slave states.” Indeed, that’s one of the reasons it was created. Under the Constitution’s 3/5 clause, each slave — otherwise treated as 0/5 of a person — was counted as 3/5 of a person, thereby bolstering Southern states’ share of electoral votes.
Today it certainly favors states with smaller populations: about 139,000 eligible voters in Wyoming get one Electoral College vote. But it takes nearly 478,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania to get an Electoral College vote. (Does Wyoming really need to be protected? I’m pretty sure the Cowboy State can take care of itself.)
Most of these smaller states are red, which may be why I’ve found more Republicans than Democrats defending the Electoral College. But Mitt Romney is polling better nationally than in swing states. And three Republican electors have threatened to cast their votes — votes that actually count — for Ron Paul.
They can do that.
Should Romney win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College vote, both sides will have been burned in 12 years. And the Electoral College will lose its accreditation faster than you can say “one person, one vote.”
One effort to eliminate the Electoral College has momentum. The National Popular Vote Initiative is an interstate compact under which participating states pledge their Electoral College votes to the national vote winner. It will take effect only when states totaling the winning number of 270 electoral votes commit. States with 132 electoral votes have already signed on.
I don’t know if this initiative will succeed — but if it does, it will transform American presidential contests by making them truly national races, in which every vote counts equally.
And I know a bunch of 9-year-olds ready to vote for it.