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Make all votes count

Ron Dzwonkowski // Published October 26, 2008
Millions of Michigan voters are going to cast ballots Nov. 4 for John McCain for president, but the Republican nominee won't campaign here between now and then because he knows those votes probably won't count for anything.

Unless the polls are wildly wrong -- and the McCain campaign does not seem to think they are -- Democrat Barack Obama will carry Michigan and collect all 17 of our Electoral College votes. It's winner-take-all, even if the win is by just one vote.

That's how it goes under our system -- unique in the (small d)emocratic world -- of choosing a national leader. Every place else, the candidate with the most votes wins. In the United States, it's the candidate with the most electoral votes, which for each state are equal to its representatives in the U.S. House plus two senators, so for Michigan, 15 plus two.

That makes it possible, and indeed it has happened four times, most recently in 2000, for a candidate to lose the popular vote and win the election. I know, we are a republic, and the system assures that the states of this union choose the head of the federal government. But what about common sense? Most votes wins, end of story. Isn't that how you make every vote count?

The Electoral College, which isn't even a real school, is why McCain has been trying to work the country like an abacus, campaigning in states that would add up to victory while ignoring his millions of supporters in states such as New York and California that, like Michigan, appear to be a lock for Obama. This is un-(small d)emocratic and has got to be a disservice to other Republican candidates who might get a boost from a McCain visit.

This election, like so many before, is going to be decided in a handful of states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, where the electoral votes will remain "in play" right up to Nov. 4. In 2004, President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry spent more than 80% of their time and money in just nine states.

(Note to the future: Maybe Michigan voters should stop talking to pollsters. Keep 'em guessing; gets us more attention, and we really could use it.)

Supporters of the Electoral College say that it keeps the most populous areas of the country from dominating every election, that small states wouldn't matter much in a direct popular election. Who's to say? Bush beat Kerry by about 3 million votes in 2004, 62 million to 59 million. Could there not have been a total of 3 million people in lopsided Bush states such as Texas and Indiana who figured why bother showing up to vote for Kerry? Conversely, a shift to Kerry of just 60,000 votes in key swing states could have given him the White House without the popular vote.

Abolishing the Electoral College would require a cumbersome change in the U.S. Constitution. But there's a better way that could be implemented before we go through this again in 2012.

Check out NationalPopularVote.Com. These folks have a plan that involves legislatures agreeing to cast their state's electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The states have such discretion, and four -- Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland -- already have passed bills to do it. But their legislation won't take effect until states representing an electoral majority -- 270 of the 538 electoral votes -- also have passed such laws.

Michigan does not even have a bill pending, but the issue is ripe for some enterprising legislator to pursue in the new session next year.

Yes, it could mean that the candidate who lost Michigan gets the state's electoral votes, but once you know who won the popular vote, the Electoral College becomes a formality anyway. The people have spoken.

Now, too many will not be heard.