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Small States Don't Count

by Ryan Lee // Published July 1, 2008

The recent Herald Tribune article, "Under US system, presidential voters really matter only in swing states," points out a valid issue gaining attention in the minds of voters. The Electoral College creates an election where battleground states receive all the campaign attention, at the expense of their uncompetitive counterparts. The Electoral College compromise was initially created to ensure small states' voices would not be lost, yet his objective is far from the current reality. Although Barack Obama and John McCain are straying slightly from typical campaign strategy in hopes of widening the playing field, the majority of the candidate's efforts will be spent visiting and advertising in 10 to 15 states where the race is not easily predicted based on historical voting patterns. This year Obama plans to advertise in traditional Republican territory such as Virginia and North Carolina, which will force McCain to spend time and money campaigning in traditional safe zones. Obama is not the only one playing this game; McCain is reaching out to traditional Democratic states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania for support. Still these initial efforts by Obama may be part of his financial strategy to dwindle down McCain's finances and McCain's may simply be reactionary.

The reality is that in 2004, the Presidential election was dominated by three battleground states with the largest populations: Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. These states have approximately 14% of the U.S. population, but accounted for a majority of the money spent on TV advertising and more than 45% of presidential and vice presidential candidate visits during the campaign's peak season. Furthermore, 99% of campaign money was spent in just 16 states and two-thirds of that in just five states. This normally leaves 35 to 40 states being neglected during the campaign season. During the 2004 campaign a nickel or less was spent per vote in 28 states, and less than a penny in 25 states!

FairVote and activists such as Barry Fadem, president of National Popular Vote, call for a new system based on the national popular vote. Since the controversial 2000 election, the majority of Americans polled have said they would prefer to see the president elected by a national popular vote. Under the plan proposed on the national popular vote website, a national popular vote would be enacted once states with a total of 270 electoral votes pass legislation promising all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This measure has passed in states totaling 50 electoral votes including Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, and New Jersey, but it is still a ways from reaching the 270-majority mark it needs. Recently the legislation has been making progress in a number of states and is likely to be in effect by the 2012 Presidential election. Such a system would bring campaign efforts to more of the small and uncompetitive states. For the rest of this campaign season, however, we are likely to see more of the same in terms of where candidates go, and, more importantly, where candidates do not direct their efforts.