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Time to get rid of the Electoral College

// Published November 5, 2008
Feeling relief now that Election Day is finally over? Think again. The real election won't take place until Dec. 15. That's when the Electoral College meets to pick the winner -- and it hasn't always been the candidate with the highest number of popular votes.

The popular vote is for a slate of representatives to the Electoral College, where the electors choose the next president. More than once, the candidate with the highest number of popular votes has come up short, thanks to the way votes are distributed by states on a winner-take-all basis. The last time was in 2000, when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush despite receiving 543,816 more popular votes.

Isn't it time to get rid of this horse-and-buggy-era political contraption?

The theory behind the Electoral College was that it would create a rough balance between states with large and small populations. Without such protection, small states feared that they would be overlooked as presidential candidates campaigned in states with the most voters. Because it was the states that created the central government, this made sense to the framers of the Constitution.

In the modern era, however, it's the states with some of the highest populations -- California, New York and Texas among them -- that usually are ignored because the outcomes in those states are considered a done deal. Indeed, Florida is the most populous state to enjoy -- if that is the right word -- a real presidential campaign, because it's a swing state.

These days, candidates focus almost entirely on a few states where the race is close, regardless of size, thanks to the Electoral College. In 2004, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry spent almost 90 percent of their campaign time and money in fewer than a dozen states. This tends to depress turnout in states that are overlooked. It discourages potential voters who believe their vote has no real significance.

Giving swing states more clout is inherently undemocratic. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., says it also violates the basic principle of one man, one vote. He's right. Sen. Nelson wants to get rid of the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment. That, however, would require a two-thirds majority in Congress and approval of 37 state legislatures, an almost impossible political obstacle.

Better representation

There is another way. Four states -- Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland -- already have passed bills to cast their state's electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. This would take effect when states with an electoral majority -- 270 of the 538 electoral votes -- also have passed such laws.

Florida should join in. The sooner we are rid of the Electoral College, the more representative our democracy will be.