I actually watched 20 minutes of C-SPAN tonight. I think that entitles me to a degree in Political Science, just for putting up with it (what, we're a national television channel and we can only afford three microphones for a seven-person panel?).
The topic caught my eye as I was flipping channels. Normally I'd skip on by, but tonight they were discussing a national popular vote for the presidential election, something I've whole-heartedly supported for the last eight years (and which has led to arguments with my dad). A nonpartisan group
with support (or so they claim) from a variety of former Congressmen and organizations is spearheading an effort to introduce legislation by the end of the year in all 50 states to move from the current "winner-take-all" electoral system to a direct popular vote ('bout damn time). For those of you from other countries (or who slept through civics class), the Constitution leaves the method of electing the president up to the states, and in something of an arms race to stay relevant all of the states but two have adopted the "winner-take-all" electoral college
in which each state is assigned a number of electoral votes (my state gets 5; California gets 55) and the candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote in a state wins *all* of that state's votes (so you get all of California's votes or you get none of them). States adopted this system because to do otherwise makes a state largely irrelevant (if State A uses the "winner-take-all" system and State B does not, candidates will spend far more time in State A trying to win "the jackpot" by winning as little as 1% more of the vote rather than trying to eke out a percentage of the votes in State B).
Unfortunately, the system has (in the opinions of many people, including me) a *lot* of problems. The biggest is disenfranchisement. In most states, the minority's vote literally (not figuratively) doesn't count. If you live in a liberal state and vote for a conservative president, you might as well not vote. As soon as the votes are tallied, the losers' votes are completely discarded. Another is that it focuses disproportionate attention on a few "battleground" states where (as in the Gore-Bush debacle
) as few as a few hundred votes, in 2000 a 48.85%-48.841% split in Florida, results in the entire state going to one candidate, which can tip a national election (meaning those handful of votes are far, far more powerful than an equal number of votes in, say, South Dakota, which creates a system where not only are not all votes counted, even those that are counted aren't weighted equally). And states that are already "locked up" by a candidate are ignored entirely (the Republican candidate might make a token stop in Nebraska on the way to somewhere else just to say he did it, but he doesn't need to, and the Democratic candidate won't even bother because there's no chance in hell he's going to win the state). And perhaps worst of all, it creates the possibility that the winner of the popular vote (the person who technically had the support from the most voters) will *lose* to the winner of the electoral vote, who happened to get the right combination of states, as has happened more than once.
There are, of course, challenges to setting up a popular vote. Although each state can set its own rules, a consensus would need to be reached on what qualifies as a "winner" (the most votes of all candidates, a majority, etc.) and how more than two candidates would affect it, and safeguards would have to be put in place to verify that a raw vote count is accurate and not inflated (something not an issue in an electoral system since in all but extreme cases adding a few hundred votes has no effect on the final tally). And some people will be resistant to it (my dad dislikes the idea because it concentrates voting power in populous, urban areas and shifts it away from rural areas, and he lives in a rural area).
I don't know if the group actually has the support they claim or if they're posturing in the hope of gaining media attention that leads to support, but I'll be keeping an eye on them. I'll throw in with them if it looks like they can actually get the job done.