SAN DIEGO, November 2, 2012 – America’s Electoral College may be a time honored institution, but its shadow, otherwise known as the “popular vote,” provokes a quadrennial tradition: recurring debates about whether or not we should bag the whole electoral system in favor of a straight national ballot.
In years when elections look like they will be close, the discussion moves to center stage. It becomes conceivable that one candidate may garner a popular majority yet still lose the election. This has happened a handful of times in our nation’s history, the most recent being 2000 when George Bush won the electoral college but lost the popular vote to his opponent, Al Gore.
Advantages and disadvantages to each system are frequently cited: The Electoral College takes the rights of individual states into consideration, even those with small populations; if a potential president needed no more than a simple, national majority, most of the election year would be spent in places like New York City and Los Angeles. States such as Wyoming might not matter.
On the other hand, our electoral system ends up with a similar flaw when states become polarized into predictable red and blue, with a smaller number of “swing states” remaining. In recent elections, Ohio has been treated like a favored child, much to the disappointment of other kids in the family.
While the debate wages on, perhaps the most practical strategy is to view America’s popular vote as equally important despite its lack of finality. That idea may sound silly to Republicans in Texas. “Since Romney is bound to win my state,” they reason, “it won’t be the end of the world if I stay home. One less vote will make no difference.”
Ironically, a Republican in California can come to the same conclusion, even in the midst of an opposite situation where Obama is guaranteed to win.
Recently, one of my readers commented on an article in which I suggested that a vote for Gary Johnson would only serve to split the conservatives and help Obama. He disagreed respectfully:
“While I understand the concern about the Paul/Johnson effect in the swing states, we need have no such concerns in California.
“I’m now a Republican, and a supporter of the Romney candidacy. But NOT in CA. The election is over, with Obama winning CA by 1 million-plus votes. 100 percent of our Electoral College votes go to Obama. Game over in the Golden State. Your individual vote will NOT matter (even if you vote for Obama!).
“I’m sending money to the Romney campaign (to be used in the swing states). I want the lesser evil to win the national race. But since I vote in the Golden State, I’ll proudly vote FOR someone — ex-New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the man who SHOULD be President.
“If it gets close in CA, I’ll reconsider. But that’s not gonna happen.”
The reader makes a good case, but it breaks down. It is important that Romney win the popular vote, too. Remember how divided our country was after Bush won the electoral, but not the popular vote in 2000? There were other issues that year with Florida ballots, but Gore’s popular victory, in the minds of some, meant that he was the true president. Gore’s fan base was not even in the same stratosphere as Obama’s. Can you just imagine the reaction if Obama wins the popular vote but loses the election?
Already, we see ads on TV warning Republicans not to steal the election. A Michael Moore/ MoveOn.Org collaboration features a feisty new commercial with some spunky old ladies. Although both Grandmas seem sweet early on, they eventually offer snarling threats:
First Lady: “And I want Republicans to know, if your voter suppression throughout this beautiful country enables Romney to oust Barack Obama, we will burn this mother ––down.”
Second Lady: “And if the Republicans steal this election, I’m going to track down Mitt Romney and give him the world’s biggest –- punch!”
The Obama campaign did not produce this ad, but neither has Obama denounced it. The implication is that Republicans have stolen presidential elections before, even though this has never been proven. Many claim it happened in 2000, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise and was accused of being too conservative, even though its mixture of left, right, and swing has produced opinions loved and hated by both sides.
Meanwhile, some 2012 mischief has already surfaced prior to Election Day. Ohio’s Marion Star reports voters who punched an electronic button for Romney, only to see Obama’s name light up. Although such incidents create alternative theories about who’s stealing from whom, real, honest-to-goodness incidents pale next to strong rhetorical accusation.
The very word “stealing” is becoming subjective and interpretive. Those Michael Moore commercials may prove to be far more effective than some local news story. And while Republicans express their own concern about election fraud by asking states to require voter I.D, this very requirement is itself considered fraud in the minds of many Democrats.
Lawyers from both campaigns hover over polls like vultures. They demonstrate all too clearly that both sides have a fear of voter fraud. But the cry has generally been louder from the left.
If Romney is victorious by a small margin on Tuesday, watch for Obama to play the “stolen election” card like a skilled casino dealer. The charge could range from anything to everything. Don’t be surprised if state voter I.D. requirements are challenged as unconstitutional. That would seem to make zero sense inasmuch as the list of states requiring I.D. includes blue states as well as red. But very little about our current administration has made sense. If anyone can make a case that only Republicans are breaking the law by requiring I.D., Obama can. After all, this is the miracle man who got health care legislation passed by insisting it was not a tax, only to later have an attorney argue before the Supreme Court that it was a tax.
In any event, the charge of voter suppression is not limited to proper identification. A good accusation has many limbs. We might just as easily hear about how the east coast storm damage prevented people from coming to the polls. At the very least, we’ll be told that one way or the other, senior citizens, African-Americans, and Latinos never made it to certain precincts.
Even if Romney wins by a landslide, some kind of protest will be offered, but in the wake of a blow-out, the accusation will be less of a shark attack and more of a mosquito bite. This is why it is so important for Romney to win both popular and electoral votes! The electoral victor may be a forgone conclusion in California, Texas, or New York, but every American’s popular vote is still crucial.
No, it will not contribute to the legal outcome, but effective leadership also needs an informal mandate. Gary Johnson will not be that leader. Unless you want it to be Barack Obama, possibly by a court settled election, the task is clear: Vote for Mitt Romney and stop worrying about which state you live in.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
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