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Electoral College: The ‘Goldilocks’ Solution to the Rural / Urban Divide

It seems that in every political discussion that involves more than a dozen people, two things are sure to happen: someone is called a ‘Hitler’ and someone blames our political woes on the Electoral College.

Godwin’s law seems absolute, but we really don’t have a good term for people who think that eliminating the Electoral College is the cure.

Even stranger, it always seems like the supporters of this tend to be on the conservative side — which the Electoral College favors by giving the rural vote at least some say in the process.

The strangest quote that seems repeated over and over is, ‘But the map’s mostly red,’ implying that somehow land area has something to do with our election process.

But the reality is that our elections follow a set pattern that has been roughly the same since our nation’s founding:  the city vote has its important issues, the rural vote its separate — and sometimes diametrically opposed issues.

Even in 1790, the Federalists tended to dominate the city opinion, while the Anti-Federalists tended to be more rural, and often from smaller states.

The Founders were dealing with this problem in their day, and their solution is even more valid in 21st century America.

America has become even more urbanized, and is growing more urban at the fastest pace ever. It’s hard to believe that almost 81 percent of our population lives in cities — and that has had a dominating factor in our election process.

For example’s sake, consider the five boroughs of New York City. Just these five counties in one state cast more ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 than Mitt Romney received in the seven least populated red states combined (WY, AK, ND, SD, MT, ID, WV).

America has become even more urbanized, and is growing more urban at the fastest pace ever.

This has the net effect of one city totally cancelling out seven states’ right to have a say in the process.

But with the Electoral College, those seven states have a combined count (in 2012) of 24 votes, compared to New York’s 29 — while New York still has more of a say, it’s definitely not dominating.

And this is only going to get worse as America continues to urbanize — the smaller states under a popular vote would have less and less of an impact each cycle.

As it stands right now, the 10 largest metropolitan areas make up one-third of our nation’s population — and these cities tend to vote heavily Democratic (including Harris and Dallas counties in solid-red Texas).

So the Electoral College, while not a perfect method, is a Goldilocks answer to America’s urban/rural divide — not too much power to the heavily populated states, not too little to the sparsely populated, but definitely not any power to one particular city.

And this is something we tend to forget historically — the small states were happy with the arrangement under the Articles of Confederation, with one state, one vote.

Once the federal government was given the right to tax, it was the fact that the larger states would be providing more of the federal revenues that drove the creation of the apportionment compromise — which is also why all spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives.

Any changes made to our federal election process must preserve both the larger states’ right to have a greater say, with the smaller states’ right to have part of a say in the process — otherwise, we would just give our entire system to a handful of cities.

When we discuss politics, we must get past the narrative of having ‘catch-phrases’ and ‘quick-fixes’ to our nation’s problems — because we need real dialog, not just verbose grandstanding that has little basis in the realities we face.

Photo Credit: Reuters / Charles Mostoller