CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

South Brunswick Post (NJ)

The electoral college is doing harm to our democracy

By Hank Kalet

October 28, 2004


It's time the Electoral College was put permanently out of session.

The Electoral College system is absurd on its face and undemocratic in its application, with potentially disastrous consequences for the country, as the 2000 election proved. That's when Al Gore bested George W. Bush in the popular vote, but was denied the White House thanks to a contested vote in Florida, a U.S. Supreme Court decision and the arcane math of the Electoral College.

The fallout from the 2000 vote could be seen in the poisoned politics of the last four years, capped by this ugly presidential election campaign in which much of the attention was focused on a handful of contested states and the distinct possibility — as many of the national polls indicate — that we could face a rerun five days from now.


But even if things go off without a hitch, there remain significant flaws in the Electoral College system that must be addressed, like the disproportionate way in which electorate votes are distributed.

Just do the math. Small population states like Delaware and Wyoming have a disproportionate number of votes in the Electoral College because electoral votes are apportioned based on the number of senators and congressmen each state has. So, while Wyoming, with a population of 500,000 residents, has three electoral votes, New Jersey's 8.6 million residents have 15 electoral votes.

That's about one electoral vote per 167,000 Wyoming residents and one per 575,000 New Jersey residents. So much for "one man, one vote."

The issue is compounded by the winner-take-all approach used by 48 states. Nebraska and Maine each give two votes to the state winner, with the rest to the winner of each congressional district. Under this approach, each of Florida's 25 electoral votes went to George W. Bush in 2000 (the state has 27 this year), even though then-Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore had virtually the same number of votes. That meant that more than 2.9 million Florida voters were essentially disenfranchised by the use of the Electoral College, their votes rendered meaningless because of an antiquated system put in place by the Founding Fathers to address states' rights concerns and to control class conflict.

The same kind of disenfranchisement occurred across the country and across the political spectrum. Here in New Jersey, which voted Democratic in 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, 1.25 million New Jersey residents voted for George W. Bush in 2000, or 41 percent of the electorate, but not one of the state's 15 electoral votes went to the Republican.

Not only does the Electoral College violate the notion of "one man, one vote," it creates a situation in which the candidates target their messages to small slices of the electorate. The candidates made more stops in Ohio in one week in September than they did in New Jersey, considered a safe Democratic state, in a several-month period. And while the candidates were expected to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million on television advertising, they avoided the airwaves in New York, stations that serve not only the Empire State, but New Jersey and Connecticut as well. Perhaps we should view that as positive — we were spared the barrage of ads — but it's likely to translate into a lack of interest in the election and could have ramifications for candidates running for Congress or even the Township Council.

"The perverse incentives created by this method are painfully obvious from this year's campaign — most states already are effectively ignored by the candidates and groups seeking to mobilize voters because in a competitive national race most states are dominated by one party or the other," wrote Rob Richie and Steven Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy in a June opinion piece on the Common Dreams News Center (

So what to do? There are a number of options, ranging from the complete abolition of the Electoral College, to the rewarding electoral votes based on Congressional district, to using a proportional allotment (the two candidates would have split the electoral vote in Florida in 2000, while Gov. Bush would have garnered about six of New Jersey's electoral votes).

The shift from the current Electoral College system should be accompanied by other reforms — full public funding of campaigns, instant runoff voting, etc. — that could inject new life into our democracy and give the people a real voice in their government.

But one thing is clear. The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness and we need to move on without it.

top of page

Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20912
(301) 270-4616      [email protected]