Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Moving Toward Federalism: 17 States To Win The Presidency

Author: David Yee
Created: 12 July, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
5 min read

It's easy to become a cynic when it comes to politics, but when a campaign overtly tells the press that they are going to focus predominately on 17 states for the win, cynicism goes into overdrive.

It's not like this isn't a common theme in modern politics. The Democrats have maintained a hefty advantage for decades with California and New York giving them almost one-third of the 270 electoral votes to win.

And the Republicans have had their ultra-safe swath of America, from Texas to North Dakota, giving them a little over one-fifth of the total votes needed.

But we don't like to think about that because when we do, a decent-sized chunk of America starts thinking about abolishing the Electoral College.

We're Still A Federal Republic, Even When It Doesn't Look That Way Anymore

Prior to WWI, a person was much more likely to identify themselves as a citizen of their state than as an 'American.'

Things were already starting to change in America. The 17th Amendment eliminated one of the most visible features of our country being a federal republic, with senators no longer being selected by the state legislatures, but by direct election.

Under the Articles of Confederation, members of the Continental Congress only had one vote per state, and that vote was tied to the will of the state legislature. The free will of senators was novel to the Constitution, but they were still beholden to their respective legislatures through their appointment.

But it was the power of the purse and the exploding federal budget under the New Deal that did the most to erase the appearance of a federal republic in our country -- with most spending bills tied to some form of compliance from the states.

Right or wrong, we couldn't have 'won' the Cold War without the infrastructure created by the federal government, but it created a power that all too many are uncomfortable with. And ironically many lash out at the very system of republicanism as the solution -- namely, the Electoral College.

Who Wins Without An Electoral College?

We're a nation of growing urbanization; almost 81 percent of the population lives in cities with the level growing every year.

We have become a country where the divide isn't as much driven by state lines on a map, but an urban/rural divide that dominates the red/blue map.

But there's also an irony here.

Conservatives are much more likely to want to abolish the Electoral College, but doing so would almost certainly guarantee a Democratic national victory every four years.

Why is this? Because one-third of the population lives in the top 10 metropolitan areas, all voting heavily Democratic.

States like California, which the Democrats carried in 2012 by 2.2 million votes, would always skew national results. Couple this with New York and the deck is stacked in favor of the cities forever.

Who Wins With An Electoral College?

An essential feature of the Electoral College and House apportionment is that it is based on the population of the state, not the number of active voters.

We're a nation that has turned not voting into a national institution, but each state (and the District of Columbia) gets a bare minimum of 3 electors.

Seven states, plus D.C., have the minimum number of electors -- with 3 electors representing a little over one percent of the total votes needed to win.

It seems unfair that roughly 16 percent (including D.C.) of the states have only 8 percent of the impact in elections, but it could be much, much worse.

America had about 308.7 million citizens during the 2010 census, up almost 10 percent from the previous census.

All of the states apportioned 3 electoral votes have a population of less than 1 million, representing less than 0.3 percent of the population each.

Without an Electoral College, 16 percent of the states would have absolutely no say in the presidential races.

While apportionment of the House was originally a concession to the larger states at the Constitutional Convention (after all, the small states were happy with one state, one vote), it has become a critical feature in protecting the rights and identities of the smaller states.

2016: Every State Counts

This would all be a rehashed, academic rambling if it wasn't for two critically important people in 2016: Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green-Party Jill Stein.

In an election marked by scandals, voter disillusion, and an anger at the two-party duopoly, the minor parties are having one of their best showings in the polls since the 1968 election with the American-Independent Party capturing the Deep South.

As things stand now, it would take a minor miracle for either of the minor parties to outright win, but they are capitalizing on the features of the federal republic, turning every state into a battleground state.

Democrats and Republicans are having to defend their home turf. For instance, 3 states that were once 'safe' for Republicans are now questionable because of the changing dynamic of the presidential race.

Money is going to have its role in a real 50-state contest, and the Democrats will have a hefty advantage with their massive war chest.

In the next few months until the November election, we'll see unprecedented campaigning out of all four campaigns, and the minor parties might make their in-roads in the smaller states where they can appeal to the voters on a personal level.

Utah, with its 6 electoral votes that are usually pocketed easily by the Republicans, has Gary Johnson polling in double digits. The threat is very real to the major parties, and they are going to spend millions to defend what used to be 'sure-thing' states.

This is going to be the best election in years for independents. They will watch Republicans and Democrats scurry around the nation, trying to win their votes.

In the end, the odds say that Clinton or Trump will inevitably win -- but if both Johnson and Stein break the 5 percent threshold for public funding, 2020 could be a whole new ballgame in American politics.