Anybody remember the year 2000? We were warned before the beginning of that year about the dangers of Y2K, but the really scary thing occurred at the end of the year when the presidential election came down to counting hanging chad.
I had hoped all the problems of the 2000 election would lead to a widespread demand to eliminate the Electoral College system of picking our president. It never happened. Our nation got distracted by 9/11, Iraq and the Great Recession.
So here we are, 12 years later, and a possibility of another 2000-like election looms as a great possibility.
Take a look at the U.S. electoral map and its blue and red states. The last five or six elections show similar trends. The Democrats almost always win the northeastern states, the Great Lakes states and the west coast. That gives them nearly 200 electoral votes off the bat. The Republicans usually win most of the rest.
That leaves every presidential election to be decided by the so-called “swing” states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa and maybe one or two more. The exact swing state lists varies some, but they are always the ones to determine the election. The Democrats have to win one or two of them to win the election, and the Republicans have to win more than two-thirds.
That type of system means that most people’s votes don’t count at all. A Democrat who votes in Georgia has a lost vote. The same can be said for a Republican who votes in New York.
We can easily get situations where the popular vote is way out of line with the electoral vote. I’ll admit I’m a sore loser, but any way you look at the 2000 election, Gore should have won. He won the popular vote by about 700,000. The whole national election, under the electoral system, came down to the state of Florida. More Florida people went to the polls on Election Day 2000 to vote for Gore than Bush. Some lost their votes to wacky “butterfly” ballots and others lost them to chad that didn’t come loose.
In 2001, several newspapers decided to do what was never done in 2000, count all the Florida votes by hand. As best I recall, if only the counties requested by Gore had been recounted, he would have still lost the election. However, if all Florida votes had been recounted, he would have won. By the time that story came out, we had already been hit by 9/11 and nobody’s mind was on a past election. Anyway, the Supreme Court had already decided the election a year before.
I had hoped the events of 2000 would bring an end to the Electoral College system. It did bring an end to the punched card voting machine, but that’s about all. We’re still stuck with our crazy system of picking the president.
What it means is that if your state is clearly in the “blue” or “red” category, you won’t see either candidate campaigning in your state. The entire presidential campaign will likely be waged this fall in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They are the undecided states with the largest electoral votes.
I took the time to read about the history of the Electoral College, and it just makes me realize how old and antiquated it is. The real constitutional amendment we need right now is the abolishment of that outdated dinosaur.
The electoral system of electing a president was set up when communications were slow between the states and the Founding Fathers were still afraid of the power of bigger states. They were also afraid the country would come under the sway of some demagogue. Our country wasn’t far removed from the days of kings and queens. People back then were afraid we’d turn into another England. Ordinary people couldn’t quite be trusted.
We have modern means to count votes quickly these days. We can know the winner of an election before midnight on election night. By using the popular vote, the chances of a tie vote or a contested vote would be miniscule.
Why didn’t the 2000 election cause an uproar for change? Do the Republicans and Democrats really like the system the way it is now? Will it take another debacle like 2000 to get action? I hope we don’t find out this year, but I do wish someone would start the ball rolling toward a new system of electing the president. The Electoral College needs to go.
Jones is a reporter with the Times-Georgian.