Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Whither the Electoral Scenarios?

My previous post may have been about the results - what to expect should Romney win, what to expect when Obama wins (pleaseGodpleaseGodPLEASEGOD) - but as I fell asleep a thought came into my head "Well, you didn't point to how they could actually get to the win via the Electoral College."

So here's this little side-post...

For those of you who slept through ninth grade Civics & Government class, the Electoral College was the system the Founders put into place for electing the President and Vice President: using electors from states equivalent to the number of Senators and Congressmen per state rather than a direct popular vote.

This was for several reasons: the Founders didn't trust the mass of voters (which even back then wasn't EVERY American); and they feared the possibility that Presidents would come to represent the largest population states and ignore the smaller ones.  The Electoral College was set up to reduce the large population counts per state to a more manageable system and make it so that candidates had to woo the states and not the large mobs.  The Founders also wanted to set up the Electoral College so that no one really won it and the results sent to the House of Representatives to have Congress choose their President (sadly, the times that DID happen - 1800, 1828, 1876, almost 2000 - the system didn't work).

Anyway, the race to the White House today is the race to get to 270 Electoral votes.  Out of 50 states, that means getting a couple of large Electoral States - California and New York have been solids for Democrats, Texas for Republicans (Ohio usually, but the dynamics of voter interests in the 21st Century are making Ohio a toss-up) - as well as getting enough of the mid-sized swing states (Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado... with large state Florida a major swing state because of major internal voter differences) to tally up to 270.  While the small states obviously suffer more today as the Electoral numbers create a massive difference between large (California is 55 Electoral) and small (Wyoming smallest is 3), small states tend to be static for prolonged periods and are counted on by either party to not switch much (except New Hampshire, the Florida of New England).

For Obama (much like any incumbent) the solution should be simple: get all the states he already won the first time in 2008 (image map from Wikipedia).  Some states he did win that had normally voted Republican over the past 20 years - Florida especially, North Carolina and Virginia, Ohio (major loss for the GOP), some of the other Midwest/Great Lakes states - are toss-ups again this election cycle.  The good news for Obama is that he could lose one or even two of those states (Florida and North Carolina in particular) and still clear the 270 bar with room to spare.  But if he loses Virginia, Ohio, maybe Pennsylvania or Colorado along with FL and NC then he loses the election.  So he really can't relax on ANY of those states (DAMMIT FLORIDA, you voters are already on my Sh-t List for voting Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott as Governor, hasn't his screw-ups waken you up to the fact you SHOULD NOT VOTE REPUBLICAN?!  Stop buying the GOP Snake Oil!  Redeem yourselves, VOTE OBAMA!  Sheesh...).

Romney has the tougher path: He has to win back the toss-up states the Republicans lost in 2008.  While most of the Red States will be counted on to stay Red (Texas, most of the Deep South states, Missouri, rancher states from Idaho to the Dakotas), he's not likely to flip any existing solid Blue states his way (even his home state of Massachusetts: for a candidate to lose his state is harsh under any circumstances win or lose).  So Romney HAS TO WIN Ohio... AND Florida... AND Virginia... AND North Carolina... AND Colorado...

This is why this election is such a nail-biter.  Florida and Colorado keep switching colors on the maps every two weeks (although it's looking like Florida has settled for Romney DAMMIT FLORIDA WAKE UP VOTE OBAMA).  Virginia is hovering just over the Leans Obama line.  Ohio may look like it's Leaning Obama but you can't take that for granted.

Making it wackier is that we're facing an election result where the popular vote and the Electoral vote might not match: Obama winning popular/Romney winning Electoral, or Obama winning Electoral/Romney winning popular (how THIS happens I've no idea: Romney is the LEAST LIKED candidate in modern history).  The resulting civil war should probably last a few years... /facepalm

There's been calls to eliminate the Electoral College over the decades, especially after 2000 when its flaws became oh so apparent.  Problem is, the Electoral system has one virtue: it forces candidates to campaign in more states than they would have under a Popular Vote system.  With just a Popular Vote, all the campaigning will be in California and Texas, maybe New York and Florida, as the candidates go after the largest states only.

The Electoral College doesn't have to die: it just needs to be tweaked to more reflect the popular vote within each state already.  Getting rid of the Winner Takes All per state is the way to go.  Nebraska has it so that their Electors are divided up by their districts and by state (for the Senate seats).  Of course, they've gerrymandered the congressional districts so it's kind of broken still, but the basic idea has merit.

A revised Electoral College would have the overall winner of a state garner the two Electoral votes reflecting the Senate.  The remaining Electoral votes (for the congressional seats) will be divided up by percentage of popular votes (different from Nebraska, which still forces the results by gerrymandered district).  If there's two congressional districts and Candidate A gets over 60 percent of the popular vote in that state, Candidate A gets those two Electorals: if Candidate A wins but is below 60 percent, Candidate A gets one Electoral and Candidate B gets the second.  In a state like California with a ton of Electoral votes, the percentage division suddenly gives Candidate B more to smile about.

What this would do is give the candidates more incentive to campaign through more states to win over more voters in each state.  Rather than rely on the base to keep that one state to their one party, the candidates will need to reach into those states to keep their group of voters intent and driven to get the vote out.  Even the smaller states will come into play as getting even one or two Electorals out of those states can go towards building up your count to 270: Especially since a Democratic candidate can no longer count on ALL of California's Electoral votes and a Republican candidate can no longer count on ALL of Texas.

This makes the system more responsive to the actual voters.  Voters will come to see that their vote DOES count as it could help their candidate win enough Electoral votes to matter, even though their residing state may go overall for the other candidate.

Today, however, we've got the nail-biter.  With any luck, the Electoral College and popular vote will reflect each other, the vote counts will work, the election will run smooth as possible.  With any luck... /stresses out

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