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The Electoral College debate

The next presidential election is 3 1/2 years away, but we have only a year and a half to reform the Electoral College, whose relevancy has been questioned after the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. It has been suggested that it should be discarded in favor of the popular vote. But perhaps there is an alternative that would accomplish the same result without going back on the intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution.At the time our Constitution was drafted, the country was mostly rural and communications were primitive, and there were no political parties. So it was deemed best that the public choose an Electoral College, to be made up of informed people whom they trusted to choose among the candidates for president. The number of each state’s electors would equal the number of senators and representatives from that state. With the emergence of political parties in the early 1800s, each party put up its own slate of electors pledged to support its candidate, making it winner-take-all for each state.A two-house Congress, in one of which each state would have equal representation, while in the other representation would be proportional to population, was a compromise to placate both states with large and those with small populations. The current composition of the Electoral College gives Wyoming, the least populous state (with two senators and one representative), one electoral vote per 167,000 people, and California and Texas, the two most populous states, get one electoral vote for about every 648,000 people. Colorado has one electoral vote for every 505,000 people.In the 2004 election, the voters of Colorado voted on and rejected a proposition to split the state’s electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote. It was argued that this would undermine Colorado’s importance in the campaign process, which it would unless all the rest of the states did the same thing. (Two states, Maine and Nebraska, have a split vote provision, but it is based on the number of voting districts each candidate carries, and has not had much impact.)I happen to feel that Colorado was on the right track, and that the system would be greatly improved if all the rest of the states followed suit. There are several advantages of splitting the electoral votes of each state in proportion to population.It would reflect the popular opinion of the electorate more closely without violating the representation guarantee the Constitution gives to the states with smaller populations.It would make all states equally important during the campaign, rather than having the candidates concentrate their attention on large “swing” states where polls indicate that a huge block of electoral votes hinges on a small number of “undecided” voters.It would also reduce the likelihood of challenges to election results and demands for recounts, because it would be very unusual that a change of even a few hundred votes would change the split in a state’s electoral votes, and even if it did, it would affect only one electoral vote.So why not change the system to split each state’s electoral vote in proportion to its popular vote, and get rid of the complaint that the present system is unfair?Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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