Electoral College And Democracy

What a difference a debate makes.

Three weeks ago, Barack Obama, his Chicago campaign staff and his cheerleaders at MSNBC were discussing possible changes in the president’s cabinet for his second term.

Then came Denver and an audience of 67 million Americans for the first presidential debate.

As I write a week after the event, challenger Mitt Romney has pulled even or ahead of Obama in the nationwide polls.

And in seven of the dozen key battleground states identified by Real Clear Politics, Romney either leads or polls even with Obama. Those seven include the electoral vote-rich and thus pivotal states of Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

So what price did Obama pay for being “too polite,” for allowing Romney’s “salesmanship” to overshadow his recitation of first-term “leadership?”

If he’s decidedly less polite and more of a salesman himself in the remaining two debates, if his campaign’s vaunted “ground game” gets out the Democratic vote more effectively than Romney’s does the Republican, perhaps nothing.

But if the contest remains as close as it appears post-Denver, Obama and challenger Romney may take the country into another constitutional crisis.

Remember the presidential election of 2000?

Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote over George W. Bush by half a million votes, but lost the electoral vote when the Supreme Court of the United States stopped a recount of ballots in Florida, thus giving that state’s 27 electors to Bush and the election by a five electoral vote margin.

Democrats fumed, but W became president, cut taxes, launched two unpaid-for wars (one in pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction), grew the national debt and drove the country into the Great Recession.

Elections have consequences, profound consequences, and the candidate who wins the popular vote should become president of the United States, not the choice of the electors with an assist from the Supreme Court.

Founding father James Madison thought so. So too does a majority of constitutional scholars.

When Americans vote, they vote for a candidate. Thanks to our aging Constitution, what they get is a slate of electors, the number of which is equal to the number of the state’s representatives plus its two senators.

So Hawaii’s voters will cast their presidential ballots for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. What they’ll get is four electors pledged to Obama, should he win, or four pledged to Romney, should he.

The electoral college also warps the campaign process.

Obama and Romney are raising scads of money in California, New York and Texas; but they’re spending it in Virginia, Florida and Ohio. California, New York and Texas are certainly rich in popular votes, electoral votes and wealthy people willing to contribute to presidential campaigns.

But they are deep-hued states, California and New York bluer than blue for Democrat Obama, Texas redder than red for Republican Romney.

So in the three weeks remaining in the presidential campaign, they, along with all the safe blue and red states, will see relatively little of it.

Meanwhile, Obama and Romney will practically live in the dwindling number of battleground states, and their campaign ad buyers will saturate television markets in Toledo, Norfolk and Orlando.

The electoral college deserves to die.

It robs our political system of any incentive to grow the popular vote and thus involve the whole country in our presidential campaigns.

And in election year 2012, as in 2000, it could result in a popular vote winner losing the election.

That’s a result, but it isn’t democracy.