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Blue State Blues

Gail Collins // Published October 25, 2008
I think it is about time for our quadrennial rant about the Electoral College.

Here we are just a little more than a week away from one of the most important elections in modern history, and most of us are beside the point, our states long since written off as hopelessly red or blue.

This is the time of year when parents from New York to Alabama ask the experts: How old should my child be before I tell him that his vote doesn’t count? Do I wait until she’s in high school to break it to her that if she decides to plant her roots in California or Utah, her role in presidential elections will be less significant than her voice in deciding who should be eliminated in the next episode of “Dancing With the Stars”?

As we all know, in America the president is actually chosen by an Electoral College of 538 members. This was a system devised by the founding fathers, who got the idea from ancient Rome, where democratic government worked exceptionally well.

The electors are chosen by the states, winner take all. The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, which divvy their electors up more or less according to the popular vote. A much more sensible approach, and good work, guys! But although Maine and Nebraska are lovely, first-rate states, neither has been much of a political trendsetter since the Alf Landon era.

Let’s be realistic. There are lots of calls for reform, but we have a country in economic meltdown. The globe is warming, the Middle East is in chaos and “Mad Men” keeps teetering on the brink of cancellation. We’re not going to get around to repairing the Electoral College any time in the near future.

I have given this a lot of thought, and I think our best immediate course of action is to whine a lot.

I want attention! I want to get Republican robo-calls during the dinner hour, telling me that Barack Obama is a terrorist. I want to have college students from other states coming to my door with helpful leaflets. I want volunteers offering to drive me to the polls. Or sitting at my feet, admiring the way I fill out my absentee ballot. I want to hear political ads every time I turn on the television. I want the love!

People in Virginia and Florida, please do not send me letters telling me that being the target of all this interest can be tiring, and that you yearn for quieter times when the ads on television were all about big cars, room fresheners and helpful messages on the best medication to take if you have a mysterious disease that consists only of initials.

I don’t care. I want my ballot to be important, to have a serious career of its own.

We recently heard a report that 13 people, most from New York and California, are being investigated for renting a three-bedroom house in Columbus, Ohio, and registering to vote there, just so they could count. I do not advise this sort of behavior, but truly, you can see where they were coming from.

The biggest mistake of my life as a voter was leaving Ohio for New York. You can imagine circumstances under which the fate of New York’s electoral votes might remain uncertain in late October. But if that happened, the Democratic nominee would still not come to try to woo us, because he and all his associates would be hiding out in a fallout shelter beneath the Berkshire Mountains.

If I still lived in Ohio, I would go all the way and embark on a career as an undecided voter. Nothing could force me to make up my mind. Every day, cable TV shows would call me up to take my political temperature. If I had a cranky, anti-Obama day, it would make the CNN map turn pinker. Wolf Blitzer would have my phone number on auto-dial.

The Obama campaign honchos spent the summer bragging that they were the inclusive campaign because they were targeting 18 states. That of course meant that 32 states had already been relegated to the category of chopped liver. But they rightly pointed out that the McCain campaign was targeting only 11.

Now, it appears that John McCain has decided that it is once again all about Florida. The Democrats, in response, have created the Great Schlep, in which Jewish youths are supposed to go to Florida and talk their grandparents into voting for Obama.

While it’s not clear that many of these trips have actually taken place, it is probably a bad sign that we have not heard any talk about McCain urging retired WASPs in Arizona to go to Wisconsin and try to talk their grandchildren into voting Republican.

But there are still nine days left. And whatever you do, don’t forget to vote.