Following the 2000 election there was a lot of sentiment, especially from the left, to do away with the electoral college system. That outcry followed Al Gore winning the popular vote nationwide, but losing the Supreme Court vote 5-4 allowing George W. Bush to win the electoral college vote.
Since the aggrieved party in that election were the Democrats the call to go to a system allowing the winner of the popular vote to win the election was supported mainly by liberals and not conservatives. But there is a very real chance that the opposite may occur in the 2012 election. I hope that such an event would be an occasion for both sides to agree that the electoral college should, effectively, be done away with. I fear that such an election result would lead to the right taking hold of the cause and the left fighting against it.
The possibility of President Obama being reelected in spite of losing the popular vote is best understood by considering the results of the Gallup daily tracking poll of likely voters. That poll currently shows Mitt Romney with a substantial lead of 6 points. However the Romney lead is only due to a huge advantage in the southern states.
President Obama holds a comfortable lead in every region except the south where he is behind Romney by 22%. In the east and midwest regions he leads by 4%, and leads by 6% in the west. If that accurately reflects the results we see on election night President Obama could win the electoral college going away, and lose the popular vote.
Frankly I’m pulling for such a result. I won’t help but feel a bit smug after hearing the righties get all holier than thou about the constitution and time honored traditions and what not following the 2000 debacle. I can’t help but laugh on the inside (and maybe a little on the outside as well) when the other side is hoist by their own petard. Be that as it may if the system is broken we ought to fix it, no matter who was disadvantaged the last time it didn’t work.
We should also note the brilliance of the Obama campaign if the election turns out as I am speculating in this post. They are playing the game by the rules established by the founding fathers and they are doing so brilliantly. If they win like this it will be a masterpiece, not a mistake.
What should we do about the system? Several states have approved a solution which allows for a continuation of the electoral college in order to satisfy that constitutional requirement, but would give their states electoral votes to the popular vote winner. The proposal would take effect as soon as states with an accumulation of 270 electoral votes approve the law. 9 states accounting for 127 electoral votes have already approved the law, including California when Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law last year. Colorado and Rhode Island have passed the law through both chambers of their restpective legislatures.
I see pros and cons to a system based upon the popular vote. The con would be that if we think the role of unlimited corporate cash is bad now it would get much worse once both sides had to start worrying about campaigning across the entire nation instead of 7 or 8 states. Market prices in New York and Southern California will cost campaigns substantially more than Madison Wisconsin and Dubuque iowa. If we reform the electoral system but not campaign financing the costs of the campaigns would increase dramatically.
The pro would be that the presidential campaign would not be limited to only 7 or 8 states. California, New York, Texas, Oregon and all the states which are currently written off by one side would suddenly have more importance. The race would have a truly national character, not one determined by battleground states scattered about the nation.
I believe a popular vote solution would bring us closer to the democratic principles which we as a nation espouse. I only hope that in the event President Obama wins the electoral college and loses the popular vote, which will certainly result in increased interest in reform by conservatives, that liberals do not forget the lesson of 2000. If this election has such a result let us take advantage of the following outcry to reform the system and practically, if not literally, ditch the electoral college.