On Thursday, pundit Larry Sabato posted about something that made me go “Aaauggghhh” – the possibility of a tie in the Electoral College. I don’t think it’ll actually happen – FiveThirtyEight puts the odds at 0.8%. But what a nightmare if it did happen – that would toss it into the ever-more highly esteemed House of Representatives, where each state’s delegation would cast one vote. That scenario would likely result in a Romney win and cast doubt on the legitimacy of his presidency.
Of course it’s technically legitimate because it’s in the Constitution, but in practical terms, it would be a lousy way to settle things, especially if the House voted for someone who didn’t win the popular vote. I know, losing the popular vote didn’t bother George W. Bush one bit – he plowed ahead with a far-right agenda as if he’d won 60% of the popular vote; I’m talking about legitimacy in the eyes of the general public and respect for the office and the institution.
(What, you think more Republicans than Democrats in Congress would put the wishes of their state’s voters ahead of their party? That’s adorable. For example, I’m sure Steve King and Michele Bachmann would respect the wishes of Iowa and Minnesota voters if those states go for Obama! And surely the PA Republican congressmen in their new, even more gerrymandered districts — facing PA’s closed primaries in every term — would do the right thing. Anyway…)
An aside: I’ll go out on a bit of a limb and offer my personal prediction right now: I think it’ll look like a mirror image of Bush vs. Kerry from 2004, except this time it’s a Democratic incumbent winning the popular vote by about 2 points and enough in the Electoral College to win, around 280-300 electoral votes. Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin seem solid over the long term, and that should get Obama to 271 EVs. Add New Hampshire, likely Obama in my view, and that’s 275. I also think Virginia, Colorado and/or Iowa will probably go for Obama. It’s going to be close, but in the end, I think Obama pulls it off.
Looking to the future, how to prevent the possibility of a tie in the Electoral College, since people’s respect for Washington is already pretty low?
1. We could switch to a national popular vote. I understand why some support this idea, but I really dislike it. First, it could throw every last precinct across the country into a 2000 Florida recount situation if it’s close.
And second, the current system helps to make up for some of the disadvantage that states like Pennsylvania and Ohio have in the Senate, where we are massively UNDER-represented for our population. The U.S. Senate is now the only federal or state legislative body in the country that doesn’t have to follow “one person, one vote.” Wyoming, Delaware, Idaho, Alaska, and the like essentially get to out-vote us and hold up policies that might benefit us and the country as a whole. This is one reason Wyoming gets a lot more federal mine reclamation money than it needs and PA gets much less than we need. If we had say, 5 senators or whatever would make things more proportional, that would be much more fair and little-D democratic. (One way to keep the Senate from getting TOO big would be to reduce the minimum number of senators per state from 2 to 1.)
(Of course, the small states are extremely unlikely to give up their over-representation in the Senate. So why should Pennsylvania and Ohio give up our counter-balancing advantage in the Electoral College?)
I’d be willing to trade a real fix to our Senate under-representation in exchange for the national popular vote. Until we get that, Pennsylvania ought to keep this counterbalance, and we ought to keep our electoral votes being awarded as winner-take-all — otherwise candidates lose their incentive to compete for voters throughout PA — they would just focus on 2 or 4 competitive PA congressional districts, and it would be as if the rest of us didn’t exist.
2. Add one more elector to make it 539 instead of 538 in the Electoral College. Sure, you could still have a rogue elector abstain or something, but that’s unlikely. The added electoral vote could move to whichever state would be in line for an added House seat based on its population, after each census.
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A reminder of what the Keystone Politics roundup of guest blogger introductions mentioned earlier this month: I blog at KP on my *own* time. As you can guess, that means any opinions I express here are my own, not of my employer.