Charles Lane of the Washington Post penned an interesting article (Griping over the popular vote? Get over it.) In it he compared the presidential election to a football game.
Lane noted that Denver Bronco fans were outraged that the National Football League awarded a win to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday because they scored more points than the Broncos when, in fact, the Broncos had scored more total yards. As it turns out the rules of the game before starting a contest matter a great deal.
Hillary had 2.8 million more popular votes than did Donald Trump. However, if the rules of a football game were that the team with the most total yards wins then the coaches would employ a different strategy than attempting to garner the most points. The same is true for the presidential election.
As both Clinton and Trump knew at the outset the real contest was in the so-called “swing states.” There were 13 swing states. Those were the states where the “popular vote” mattered. Trump won that contest-within-a-contest by 816,000 votes.
Voters are not all stupid. For example, I know, as a Californian, that my vote for president will not count. I vote Republican and the large majority of voters in my state vote a straight Democrat ticket. Therefore, the popular vote reflects not only true preferences but also strategic voting (or abstention) by people in non-swing states.
Electoral college critics need to recognize that changing one rule would bring many more changes along with it.
- We would see the party in power at the run up to the election tilt policy to vote-rich metropolitan areas. Farming communities would be forgotten.
- A 50-state patchwork of election laws controls presidential contests now. Ballots cast under different legal rules (for registration, early voting, voter ID, recounts and the like) would not be sufficiently equivalent.
- We would need a national election law that could be quite different than the laws governing senators and congressmen. Again, the party in power at the run up to the election could “amend” the law in their favor.
The point is, it would be a different ballgame and not necessarily one that Americans would think is “fairer.”