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Rich Rubino Headshot

Reforming the Electoral College So That Every Vote Counts

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For the majority of American voters, this election season is a mere spectator sport. Under the winner-take-all electoral system, only about 10 states receive laser-like attention from the Presidential nominees. The rest of the states, representing the vast majority of Americans, are relegated to the electoral sidelines.

In an attempt to ameliorate this inherent electoral inequality, there is an effort underway to make every vote equal. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 electoral votes, have ratified the compact.

Under the current winner-take-all electoral voting scheme, millions of votes across the nation are not being counted in the official national tally. For example, in the 2008 Presidential election, Republican nominee John McCain received more than four million votes in the state of California. Despite this achievement, all 55 electors in California cast their vote for Barack Obama. Similarly, more than 3.5 million Texans marked ballots for Barack Obama, yet because John McCain won the state, those 3.5 million votes were disregarded. This all-too-common outcome disenfranchises voters from "safe states" (non-battlefield states) and discourages them from going to the polls. They know that their votes are not likely to even be figured in the final national tally.

The winner-take-all electoral voting scheme was designed to protect partisan's parochial interests. It was not part of a grand design conceptualized by the Founding Fathers.

Contrary to some claims, there is no contradiction between the U.S. being a republic and the states awarding their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It is sometimes argued that the plan contravenes the nation's founding fathers' intention to make the U.S. a constitutional republic rather than a direct democracy. A direct democracy is a system where the citizenry assemble and vote directly on laws. In a constitutional republic the voters select fellow citizens to represent them. The National Popular Vote Plan would have the president elected the same way Americans elect cemetery commissioners, county coroners, governors, and U.S. senators. The person who garners the most votes wins. It's that simple.

The argument is often made that under the Plan candidates would only focus on securing and solidifying votes in large urban areas while ignoring small states. In actuality, the nation's top 25 cities comprise only 12 percent of the electorate, and the nation's five largest populated cities constitute just 6 percent of the electorate. Accordingly, to win the national popular vote, a candidate must appeal to the large majority of Americans who do not live in these urban centers.

Under the current electoral regime, voters from both large and small states are ignored. The states with the largest populations -- California, Texas, and New York, respectively -- are used only as an ATM machine, where candidates parachute in, hold a fundraiser, collect money from the state's financial elite, and leave without meeting the state's rank-and-file citizens.

Small states are also disregarded by presidential campaigns. With the exception of New Hampshire, the 13 smallest states are all "safe states" receiving no attention from Presidential nominees. They have no electoral incentive to address issues specific to small states like livestock grazing in Wyoming, the effects of debilitating fishing regulations on Rhode Island fishermen, or the future of Vermont's diary industry.

Under the National Popular Vote Plan, a vote in Marblehead, Mass., will be commensurate with a vote in Marblehead, Ohio. A vote in Dover, Del., will be no less important than a vote in Dover, New Hampshire, and a vote in Charlotte, N.C., will be no less than a vote in Charlotte, Vt. Under the National Popular Vote Plan, every vote will be relevant and equal.