Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Here is a puzzle for you.

Why is the vote of a Texan next month in the presidential election more important than one cast by a farmer in South Dakota?

For that matter, why will a surfer dude in California have more to say about the outcome of the battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush than an African-American schoolteacher in Mississippi?

The answer is simple: the Electoral College.

But you may need a master's degree in political science to understand why our nation's forefathers ever created this mysterious "college."

There are no instructors.

There are no classes.

There is only someone there to tell you that winning in Texas is more significant than winning in South Dakota.

That is because the presidential candidate who wins Texas will receive 32 votes in the Electoral College � far more than less populated states such as South Dakota, Wyoming or even Mississippi.

But before Texans start strutting around, they need to glance westward.

California has 54 votes in the Electoral College. Can anyone in the Lone Star State feel good about handing that much power to people in the land of Birkenstocks and granola bars?

The Electoral College is the United States' last living dinosaur from the 18th century. It belongs in Jurassic Park rather than American politics.

And yet this method of electing our presidents, which dates back to 1788, will have an immense effect on the Nov. 7 election.

For the first time in recent years, there is a possibility that a candidate could win the popular vote and still lose the election.

Perhaps that is the wake-up call needed to get rid of this archaic system and let every vote be of equal value.

Bush and Gore are running close in the fight to win the Electoral College.

Approximately two weeks ago, Bush had states with votes totaling 227 favoring him. Gore had states with a total of 263 votes on his side or leaning toward him.

But this Monday, Oct. 23, more accurate political observations noted that Bush has the support of 25 states worth 213 votes. Gore had 186 potential votes in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Twelve states, with 139 votes, remained too close to call.

But remember. That was Monday. By the time you read this, the above data likely will be incorrect. The only constant in the state-by-state battle for the Electoral College is the number of votes needed for election � 270.

Technically, a candidate could win as few as 11 states and be elected president. The road to victory would lead through California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia.

It is unlikely that anyone could pull together that diverse a group of states in a close race. But it could happen.

The Electoral College originally was created to boost small states' voices in the elections. But the opposite is true today. Each state has votes in the college based on its number of congressional representatives.

Supporters say there would be endless battles over close presidential elections if the Electoral College weren't in place. In 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by fewer than 120,000 votes out of 68 million cast. But he carried the Electoral College by a more comfortable 56 percent.

Eight years later, Nixon received only 43.3 percent of the popular vote compared to 42.7 percent for Democrat Hubert Humphrey. Upstart American Party candidate George Wallace actually carried five states. But Nixon's victory wasn't challenged because he was able to muster 56 percent of the Electoral College votes.

From a governance standpoint, the arguments in favor of the Electoral College make sense. How can a president expect to be an effective leader without a strong mandate in the final vote?

But the Electoral College makes no sense to me as far as democracy is concerned. How are people in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Idaho supposed to feel? I wonder how many of the presidential hopefuls have made it to Pocatello in recent years?

The polls show Bush leading Gore right now among prospective voters. But despite his margin, he could, at some point, trail in the Electoral College sweepstakes.

I sincerely hope that someone who finishes second in the popular vote on Nov. 7 won't be the next president of the United States.

But if that happens, Americans need to call for a constitutional amendment that eliminates the Electoral College.

It is time to put this antique out in the front yard and give it away to the first person who comes by.

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