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January 5, 2012 - 2:01am

Bypassing The Electoral College in Favor of a National Popular Vote System Benefits Our Communities

We in the GLOW region (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties) might be in the State of New York, but really, we’re in a vast stretch of territory that extends across the country known as ‘the heartland’.  Although what constitutes this part of the country is very loose, it usually extends from the Rocky Mountains to the uppermidwest and into Central New York and Pennsylvania.  While we share a state and upstate/downstate fairness and cooperation is important to the smooth operation of state government for all of it’s citizens, one could argue that the voters in places like Batavia, LeRoy,Oakfield and even Buffalo and Rochester and it's suburbs have much more in common with people in places like Butler, Pennsylvania (where I volunteered for then Senator Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008) and the area around Cleveland, Ohio (where I have visited many times) than mid-town Manhattan.  I think that lumping us all together for the purpose of counting electoral votes is absurd given our vast differences with them and commonalities with other locations.

Yet, despite having similar populations, Presidential campaigns spend well into the millions of dollars to win over crucial enclaves in Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennslyvania while completely ignoring our region.  The reason for this?  The Electoral College, a ridiculous and antiquated system put into place hundreds of years ago that has now outgrown it’s purpose, the nation is now spread out in terms of regional balance, and the constant attention paid to swing states over non-swing states does a disservice to the voters in those non-swing states and the smaller swing states.  Here’s an excellent and jaw dropping example, in the State of New Hampshire, which has 4 electoral votes, the Obama and McCain campaign spent roughly 15 million dollars to contest the state while in New York, which had 33 electoral votes, they both spent less than 500 thousand dollars.  If a state with less than ten percent of the total electoral votes of another has campaign expenditures well exceeding 500% of the larger state isn’t ridiculous, I’m not sure what is.

This damages the critical notion that Presidential elections give the President a mandate to govern the entire country.  One could easily argue that the President really only has a mandate from the states of Ohio, Pennslyvania and Florida, since winning 2 out of those 3 states is seen as being absolutely essential to winning for a nominee of either party, while the votes of tens of millions of people from places like Batavia across the country aren’t really that relevant.

The best known example of the failure of our electoral college system in the modern era is Al Gore defeating George W. Bush in the popular vote but losing the electoral college, which makes this argument seem like it is a partisan one for the Democrats…..but several near misses and arguments should give Republicans pause about the current system.  George W. Bush almost lost his re-election, despite winning a majority (over 50%) of the popular vote because of around 250,000 votes in the state of Ohio that were left to be counted as the day after the election began.  Also, Republicans in a state like New York, really have no real reason to vote in the Presidential election despite to express their own individual feelings because in reality, their vote does not count for much.  The same holds true for Democrats in a state like Texas.  Why should they bother with the system as is?  Barring Nelson Rockefeller and Lyndon Johnson returning from the grave, the Democrats are going to win New York and the Republicans are going to win Texas, neither are swing states nor will they be for the foreseeable future.

The answer is bypassing the electoral college.  It may have been necessary hundreds of years ago but damages the basic principal of 'one-man, one-vote' that defines a democratic-republic (lower case) today.  The prevalence of swing states makes repeal almost impossible, so another solution is at hand.  The National Popular Vote bill has been introduced in state legislatures across the country.  Instead of a constitutional amendment, this bill assigns the electoral votes of each state to the winner of the national popular vote total, but only kicks in when states composing the majority of the electoral college (270 electoral votes) have enacted the bill as law.  It has been introduced in New York and has pervasively stalled in the State Legislature.

Tom Golisano, the Paychex CEO, former Buffalo Sabres owner and Western New York philanthropist has taken over the organization and is renewing it’s push in the State Legislature.  Having worked there myself for the only Democrat to vote against Sheldon Silver, former Assemblyman and now City of Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder, I know that a reform package can only pass in Albany if it’s given a strong shove by the voters.  Calling your state legislators frequently and in a large volume with others makes does actually make a difference, I have seen it happen.  Had it not been for voter fury I personally think that State government probably would have had a shutdown last year and Governor Cuomo would not have been able to pass a state budget on time this year.

We need to unleash that passion again, this time on our state legislators to tell them that the National Popular Vote bill needs to be passed to guarantee the basic principal of ‘one man, one vote’ and make sure that all of our votes for President, regardless of party, are actually meaningful.

John Roach
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The current system has worked well enough. True, there have been issues, but not enough to change the Constitution. And I think small states will be ignored even more than they are now if you do away with the Electoral College.

Daniel Jones
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There have been several instances where the electoral college has overruled the popular vote, I think that's the wrong message to send to our own citizens about our own government. Furthermore, it isn't right that large states that are safely in either column get ignored in favor of smaller swing states, and many small states, even swing ones, get far less attention than the three large swing states (Ohio, Pennslyvania and Florida) and other large ones as well, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and recently, North Carolina and Virginia. Voters in states like New York, Vermont, Texas and Idaho are left out in the cold from both parties. It seems to me that when old rules trumps democracy, then there is a problem that should be addressed. Conservatives and Republicans should think that we almost had President John Kerry in '04 even though Bush won a majority of the popular vote. Let that sink in, over 50 percent of people voted for one candidate nation wide but they almost lost because of a few hundred thousand votes in one state. The same holds true with Bush/Gore, where one candidate had more votes than the other but still lost because of a few hundred votes in one state. I think that it's high time that 'we the people' chose our President.

Daniel Jones
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I also think that this would be good for small communities across the country as candidates would have to focus on winning over constituencies nation-wide, the cities and the suburbs alone won't win a national election without the electoral college, this way campaigns would have to do outreach into areas in non-swing states where campaigns are traditionally absent, including places like Batavia.

Adama Brown
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At the very least, giving candidates an incentive to pay attention to more than a handful of states would benefit everyone (except possibly the candidates' sleeping habits). If you're in New York, or Nebraska, or South Dakota, you probably have better odds of seeing a mountain lion than you do a Presidential candidate, even as people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida are tripping over campaign stops.

Daniel Jones
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Adama - Or having to travel to another state. I would almost guarantee that voter turnout would go up or perhaps skyrocket if the popular vote decided the Presidency.

Cooper Hawley
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We've talked about this before, and I believe I disagreed with you. But I was probably just being a contrarian because I pretty much agree with you on most of these points. However, I definitely disagree that Republicans shouldn't vote for statewide elections or national elections. See the following maps

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElectoralCollege1980.svg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElectoralCollege1984.svg

Daniel Jones
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Cooper - True, but I believe that 80 and 84 were much like 92 and 96, during that time the Democratic and Republican candidates won states that they almost never win due to a number of factors, not the least being a bad recession and the undeniable charisma of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Regardless, in a closely contested year, bypassing the electoral college would at the very least give more people a reason to vote in non swing states like New York and Texas.

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