Political pundits often say “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation.” This is a truism the public will undoubtedly be reminded of as the presidential campaign season comes to climax, as Ohio is often considered to be the single most important state for a president to win during a general election. In fact, no Republican has ever been elected without winning Ohio. But why is Ohio so important? It contains less than 4 percent of the national population and is not particularly strong economically. But because of the Electoral College, the fate of a single state can determine the leader of the free world.
During the general election, there are only 538 votes that actually matter. Although not required by law, each state’s electors typically vote for the candidate who won the majority of votes in their state. Regardless of whether the state vote was an 80 percent majority or a 51 percent majority, all electoral votes go to the same candidate — except in Nebraska and Maine. Additionally, the distribution of electors results in a country where citizens have disproportionate voting power depending on where they live. For example, Wyoming has only 500,000 residents, yet still has three electoral votes — the minimum. California, on the other hand, has almost 39 million residents, yet only has 55 electoral votes. This means that a Wyoming voter has a ballot that is almost four times stronger than California’s.
If the idea of “one person, one vote” is to be upheld in the 21st century, the U.S. government must dismantle the Electoral College. In its place would stand a popular vote, where the president is elected based on the raw majority of votes. This is a huge problem in the status quo, as there have been four instances when a president was voted into office by the Electoral College yet lost the popular vote, most recently in 2000 where Al Gore garnered 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush yet still lost the election. The notion that someone can earn a majority of votes and still lose an election is a direct violation of the core tenet of a democracy. In 2012, only 58.2 percent of eligible voters voted in the general election. There are several reasons why people opt not to vote. Unquestionably, one of the main issues is that people view their ballot as worthless. If a Democrat votes in Texas, they are effectively not voting at all. Abolishing the Electoral College will incentivize people across the country to vote.
A democracy is only as strong as those who choose participate in it. There are a plethora of problems that plague the current U.S. voting system — the Electoral College does not need to be one of them.
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A version of this article appeared in the November 2 print edition. Email Max Schachere at [email protected]