Drop Out of the College

By editorial
Published March 14th 2006 in The New York Times
The Electoral College is an antidemocratic relic. Everyone who remembers 2000 knows that it can lead to the election of the candidate who loses the popular vote as president. But the Electoral College's other serious flaws are perhaps even more debilitating for a democracy. It focuses presidential elections on just a handful of battleground states, and pushes the rest of the nation's voters to the sidelines.

There is an innovative new proposal for states to take the lead in undoing the Electoral College. Legislatures across the country should get behind it.

Both parties should have reason to fear the college's perverse effects. In 2000, the Democrats lost out. But in 2004, a shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have elected John Kerry, even though he lost the national popular vote decisively.

Just as serious is the way the Electoral College distorts presidential campaigns. Candidates have no incentive to campaign in, or address the concerns of, states that reliably vote for a particular party. In recent years, the battleground in presidential elections has shrunk drastically. In 1960, 24 states, with 327 electoral votes, were battleground states, according to estimates by National Popular Vote, the bipartisan coalition making the new proposal. In 2004, only 13 states, with 159 electoral votes, were. As a result, campaigns and national priorities are stacked in favor of a few strategic states. Ethanol fuel, a pet issue of Iowa farmers, is discussed a lot. But issues of equal concern to states like Alabama, California, New York and Indiana are not.

The Electoral College discourages turnout because voters in two-thirds of the nation know well before Election Day who will win their states. It also discriminates among voters by weighing presidential votes unequally. A Wyoming voter has about four times as much impact on selecting that state's electors as a California voter does on selecting that state's.

The answer to all of these problems is direct election of the president. Past attempts to abolish the Electoral College by amending the Constitution have run into difficulty. But National Popular Vote, which includes several former members of Congress, is offering an ingenious solution that would not require a constitutional amendment. It proposes that states commit to casting their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. These promises would become binding only when states representing a majority of the Electoral College signed on. Then any candidate who won the popular vote would be sure to win the White House.

The coalition is starting out by trying to have laws passed in Illinois and a few other states. Americans are rightly cautious about tinkering with mechanisms established by the Constitution. But throughout the nation's history, there have been a series of reforms affecting how elections are conducted, like the ones that gave blacks and women the vote and provided for the direct election of United States senators. Sidestepping the Electoral College would be in this worthy tradition of making American democracy more democratic.
Sierra Club National Popular Vote Resolution
WHEREAS, the mission of the Sierra Club is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet through grassroots participation in politics and government; and

WHEREAS,  presidential candidates focus their efforts and resources only in battleground states.

WHEREAS, two-thirds of the states receive little to no attention in a competitive presidential election.

THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sierra Club supports National Popular Vote state legislation that will elect the President of the United States by popular vote.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the Sierra Club supports election of the President of the United States by direct popular vote.