Money, voter inequality, and the Electoral College

Imagine the United States without California, New York, and Texas. These three states represent close to one-fourth of the population of the country. Yet if we study the focus of the presidential candidates for November’s election, for all intents and purposes, these three states essentially don’t exist. This is because they are not considered “swing states” otherwise known as “battleground states” in the campaign. California and New York (combined populations of 57 million) are considered to be in the Democrats’ pocket and Texas (population 25 million) is regarded as thoroughly red, a certain state for the Republicans. These states have a combined number of electoral votes of 130, nearly half of the 270 required for a candidates to win the presidency.

In comparison, consider Iowa with a population of  slightly more than 3 million. It is a swing state, and the candidates are intensely battling for its five electoral votes. New Hampshire, with a population of less than a million and a half and four electoral votes, is receiving more attention than California. The only meaning to the candidates that the three largest states in the country (CA, NY, and TX) have is that they are good money troughs. For example, a fund-raiser at the home of actor George Clooney raised $15 million for Barack Obama.

Across the country, but particularly in the battleground states, candidates’ campaign committees and so-called Super PACs (organizations that work for candidates but presumably are not connected with the candidates’ campaigns) are not only spending large sums of money, but their ads are primarily negative. The American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS is spending over $52 million on behalf of Republican candidates, and fully 100% are negative ads. So is Americans for Prosperity ($20 million) and the Republican National Committee ($11 million). The Romney campaign is spending 71 percent of its $36 million on negative ads. But the Obama campaign and Super PACs working on behalf of it are also engaging in negative ads. 100 percent of the nearly $20 million spent by the Democratic National Committee and 62 percent of the Barack Obama campaign ($52 million) is directed towards negative ads.

While recently, considerable attention has been paid to the issue of voter suppression (particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania), the payoff in votes for either party through suppression is considerably less than the impact of negative ads. But it’s possible that the greatest source impacting the election is the Electoral College, which minimizes the incentive to vote in California, New York, and Texas. The same is true for the other thirty-five or more states that are not considered to be battlegrounds. When it comes to the number of votes in the Electoral College to win, they too get little attention from the campaigns and the Super PACs.

Abolishing the Electoral College would mean that the vote of each individual across the country would be of equal value. The vote of the factory worker living in the city of Compton in Los Angeles County, CA would have as much significance as the vote of a farmer living in Calhoun County, Iowa. A voter in Dallas, TX would get the same attention from the candidates as a voter in Montpelier, New Hampshire.

The current system is unfair because geography determines he value of an individual’s vote. This results in a disparity in where campaigns pander for votes, as measured by the number of dollars that they spend.

Without the Electoral College, in the 2000 election, in which  Al Gore clearly had more of the popular vote than George Bush, the issue of who won Florida would have been moot. Yet in the ensuring twelve years, there has been virtually no conversation about abolishing or changing the Electoral College. It’s time to give equal value to everyone’s vote. That means abolishing the Electoral College and leveling the amount of dollars spent to curry that vote equal across the country.