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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
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A vote cast for compact

By Sara Foss
Saturday, April 19, 2014

The electoral college has its defenders, but I’ve never been one of them.
That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy participating in presidential elections.
Or watching them.
When I head to the polls, I always experience a surge of pride and civic-mindedness. Even when I know which candidate is going to win my state — a foregone conclusion in every election I’ve voted in — I enjoy filling out my ballot.
Elections also make for good television.
There’s a certain amount of suspense in watching vote totals come in and wondering whether I’ll have to stay up all night waiting for results from Florida and other too-close-to-call battleground states. In the last presidential election, I stayed up quite late watching results, even though it became clear fairly early on that Barack Obama was going to win.
None of this changes the fact that the electoral college is a relic that weakens the democratic process rather than strengthens it.
I long ago abandoned hope that our system of electing presidents would ever be reformed. When nothing changed after the debacle that was the 2000 election, I figured nothing would ever change. More recently, however, I’ve become a little more optimistic. Here’s why:
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that adds New York to the list of states that have joined something called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Ten states and Washington, D.C., have signed on to the NPVIC, agreeing to cast all of their electoral votes for the candidate who gets the most popular votes in the country.
But the system doesn’t actually go into effect until the number of states signed on possess, in aggregate, at least 270 electoral votes — the number required to win the presidency. New York’s 29 electoral votes brings the NPVIC’s total electoral votes to 165, or 61 percent of the magic number needed to implement the compact.
As The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg put it, the NPVIC is “a way to elect our presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes — all of them — and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number.”
New York would benefit from a more democratic system of picking presidents.
A solid blue state without an early primary, New York is largely left on the sidelines during presidential elections. Few candidates visit, because our electoral votes are all but guaranteed to go toward the Democratic candidate. And New York isn’t alone. Most states — four-fifths, according to Hertzberg — are mostly ignored during the buildup to election night.
When I visited the swing state of New Hampshire last fall, I was amazed by the sheer number of campaign advertisements on television and pleas my friends were receiving from Obama and Romney. “Oh, yeah,” I thought. “This is what it’s like to live in a state where your vote actually matters.”
Having lived in both New Hampshire and New York, I don’t see any particular reason why the votes of New Hampshirites should matter more the votes of New Yorkers. Or why the votes of those in Ohio, where I attended college, should matter more than the votes of people who live in Alabama, where I lived for three years. According to the National Popular Vote, the nonprofit organization behind the NPVIC, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates held 253 campaign events in 12 states following the Democratic and Republican conventions. The most visited state? Ohio, which saw a whopping 73 campaign events. The second most visited state? Florida, with 40 campaign events. New Hampshire, with just four electoral votes, saw 13 campaign events.
New York, it goes without saying, might as well have been occupying an alternative universe, as neither candidate saw fit to swing through and say hello. And we have 29 electoral votes — more than every state but California (55), Texas (38) and Florida (29)! (Our most important state, Ohio, has 18.) But under a winner-take-all system, we might as well have zero electoral votes.
The electoral college only makes sense if you think the United States needs to be protected from the will and voice of the people — from true democracy, if you will.
I’ve never thought that, which is why I think New York is right to join the NPVIC.
As ideas go, its time has come.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.

 
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