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Knowledge of the College

by Craig Gilbert // Published July 30, 2005 in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

While the Electoral College has been a boon to voters, political junkies and TV stations in Wisconsin, it has relegated most of the nation to the sidelines.

In a report released last week, an advocacy group decried what it called the "shrinking battleground" of contested states, saying more and more Americans are left out of the presidential process. About 75% of the population lives in the 38 "spectator" states that weren't truly contested in 2004, the report says.

"The big trend is there are fewer battlegrounds than ever," said Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy, which argues for abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president by direct popular vote.

Richie's group calculated how many states in each of the past 12 presidential races could be considered swing states, based on whether they fell within 3 percentage points of the national breakdown by party.

That pool of swing states has been shrinking markedly since 1992, according to the group.

By its formula, 22 states qualified as "swing" in 1992 and five qualified as "uncontestable" because they were so one-sided in their partisan bent.

But in 2004, the swing states dropped to 13, and the uncontestable states climbed to 20. America has become a "two-tiered democracy" when it comes to presidential campaigns, of "first-class citizens" and "second-class citizens," Richie said.

The group also found that like Al Gore did in 2000, George W. Bush could have won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College had his popular margin been smaller.

In a local footnote, the report offers more evidence of Wisconsin's status as an almost perfect microcosm of the nation's political divide.

In the past four presidential elections, Wisconsin has been within two points of the national norm for Republican and Democratic performance.

That was true of only three other states: Iowa, New Mexico and Ohio.