Griping about the Electoral College easier than changing

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Recent polling bears out something that’s been a pretty standard political observation since the razor-thin margin of the 2000 U.S. presidential election that saw President George W. Bush lose the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al Gore but win the electoral vote and a court challenge to gain the presidency in a battle that divided the country.

What is it? It’s the lead-pipe-cinch fact that it’s a lot easier to gripe and complain about the Electoral College than it is to actually change or eliminate it.

Why? The only people really concerned each election cycle about the Electoral College and the occasional disparity between the popular vote and the electoral vote are the people who came up on the short end of the electoral vote.

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The people who prevail in the electoral vote are genuinely pretty pleased with it and aren’t anxious to talk about changing it.

And the real hypocrisy of the folks who bombarded the actual presidential electors with in some cases 20,000 pieces of mail is that from a practical standpoint, both the Republican and Democrat political parties and the people who comprise them – and the candidates who campaign under their party labels – long ago conceded to spend the majority of their time, campaign cash, and effort in the 15 or so states with the largest blocs of electoral votes.

And of course, the states with the largest blocs of electoral votes are also the states with the largest electoral vote totals as well. Need an example? Look back to the 2008 presidential election that eventually produced the election of Democrat Barack Obama.

In that race, presidential candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign appearances and advertising spending in just six states and 98 percent in just 15 states — surprise, surprise — the ones with the most electoral votes.

The folks protesting the Electoral College this week were not engaged in that same fight at all in 2008. Why? They liked the outcome of the election.

For some in the country, there is an almost perpetual debate over the wisdom and reliability of the electoral vote versus the popular vote as a means to choose America’s president.

For many of those same Americans, there is a disconnect between their intrinsic belief that the candidate who wins a majority or plurality of the popular vote should win the election and the hard, cold reality that we actually elect presidents in this nation through the electoral vote.

The conventional wisdom on the electoral vote is that it ensures that a U.S. president has sufficient popular support spread drawn from a distribution that is geographically diverse enough to enable the chief executive to be effective in governing. A growing number of people disagree.

Opponents of the electoral vote argue that the system favors rural, less populated states like Mississippi over more urban, heavily populated states like California or Florida. News flash, folks – it does. That’s why smaller, rural states

Then there’s the “swing state” argument against the electoral vote. In theory, a candidate would win the presidential election by carrying just 12 states that comprise a winning 283 electoral votes: California (55 votes), Florida (29), Texas (38), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Georgia (16), North Carolina (15), New Jersey (14) and Virginia (13). Should that occur, it would be possible for a president with a significant minority of the popular vote to be elected.

Clinton carried California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Virginia, but Trump ran the table in the rest of the vote-rich states.

The bottom line is that while political gripes about the Electoral College will continue, getting three-fourths of the states to ratify changing or eliminating the electoral vote process looms as a political improbability of historic proportions.

Changing or eliminating the Electoral College is something a new president with control of Congress might be able to pull off were it a priority. But newly elected presidents and their political parties who benefitted from the old rules are highly unlikely to lift a finger to change them – whether that president is Republican or a Democrat.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at