When people in other countries have our Electoral College system explained to them, their reaction often is, “you must be kidding”. Is there any other country where voters, instead of directly voting for a candidate to their highest office, vote for electoral delegates (who are not necessarily bound to follow the will of the voters and can vote for whomever they wish)? This odd and convoluted system is made worse by the winner-take-all rules that most states follow. If the vote is 50.1% to 49.9%, the winning candidate gets all the electoral votes. This, by most any means of reckoning, disenfranchises those who voted for the other person. It also means that someone who received fewer votes than his opposition can become president, as happened in 2000 when Al Gore bested George Bush in the popular vote. With all due respect to the founding fathers, this seems to be a goofy system.
A new proposition measure hopes to change that, and has been cleared by the Secretary of State to gather signatures. It would apportion electoral delegates based on votes by Congressional District, and was spearheaded by conservative activist Ted Costa. Aha, some on the left might say, he’s just trying to get more votes for Republicans. This may well be true. But based on his filing letter (PDF), he makes valid points that are worth considering.
Among them are:
- The winner-take-all system in California means presidential candidates often ignore the state because the conclusion is foregone and instead focus on smaller states. We get left out.
- The 800 pound gorilla called Los Angeles has so many voters that as it goes, so does the state. This disenfranchises those in other regions as well as those in rural areas.
- Third party candidates are ignored and forgotten.
Thus, if 30% of Congressional Districts went Republican, then their candidate would get 30% of California’s electoral delegates, with Democrats presumably getting 70%. This certainly is fairer and more democratic. However, while there are some Congressional Districts where third party candidates do quite well, they seldom if ever win. So, they would still be ignored.
An even better system would be to apportion electoral votes based on statewide vote totals. This way third party candidates who polled about 2% would get at least one of California’s 55 delegates. Then, no one could say that third party votes don’t count. This would raise the visibility of all third parties and perhaps even make the two major parties pay more attention to them. If this were done on a nationwide basis, then in a close election, the third parties might cast the deciding votes. This is how most European democracies work. If you get 3% of the votes, you get 3% of the seats. If a major party wants the votes of a small party to win an election and form a ruling coalition, then they need to address at least some of the concerns of their junior partner (rather than ignoring them, as mostly happens here.)
This proposition is a step in the right direction to a more equitable and democratic election of our presidents.