Electoral College is good for the Midwest

Published 8:12 am Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie

So I picked up the Faribault County Register and read the column by my colleague there, Chuck Hunt, that newspaper’s editor. He was frustrated with the attention Ohio is receiving for this year’s presidential election and expressed a dislike for the Electoral College.

“It’s like the rest of us in the other 49 states don’t even count,” Hunt wrote.

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He correctly describes how a candidate can lose the popular vote but win the presidential race by getting the most Electoral College delegates. It’s because we elect presidents by winning states, not directly by winning the voters themselves. In other words, voters cast ballots on Nov. 6 to determine which candidate their state should favor. The candidate who wins in a state gets all of that state’s electoral votes. Minnesota has 10.

“The system was first installed back when the country was formed,” Hunt wrote. “It was done as a compromise between having the average man determine who should be president and having Congress itself decide.”

He goes on to mention how some Founding Fathers were unsure whether the average man was informed enough to decide directly the leader of the nation, then concludes: “Perhaps it is time to do away with this system. It seems to me that the candidate with the most votes should win.”

I like Hunt and his paper. That’s why I was reading it, after all. But I must respectfully disagree with my colleague from Blue Earth.

Ohio is getting much attention from the political pundits because of all the battleground states, it has the closest battleground. And it isn’t just the pundits who say that. It’s the campaigns themselves, too. They’ve done their homework and know a thing or two about elections.

However, keep in mind that Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin also are getting attention as places that could go either way. Just turn on the TV and see the ads. Candidates want our votes.

However, if we eliminated the Electoral College, Minnesota wouldn’t get that attention. The plus side is those annoying TV ads would go away, but the downside is we would get even less attention from the presidential candidates than we do. The candidates would focus more on the populated places and less on us here in the sticks.

The United States was founded as its name describes — separate countries united as one. That’s what E. Pluribus Unum means.

It works to the advantage of the states with a divided populace when it comes to political parties to get more attention. Hunt can look at Nebraska or Illinois if he wants to see states that get little to no attention in the presidential race. Nebraska is always Republican, and Illinois is always Democratic. Go to those states if you don’t want to see TV commercials about the presidential race.

Because the electoral votes of certain swing states could impact the entire election, it means candidates have to listen to minority interests in those states. That means farmers and the agricultural industry in places like Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin wield a greater deal of influence than they would in a direct national election, where their voice would be faint and drown out among the more sweeping issues that come up with each election cycle.

You think things are partisan now? The strategy candidates would take in a national election is to divide states, not win them. Candidates would focus on the populated areas.

For instance, we tend to think there aren’t Republicans in Illinois because the state is always a blue state. The fact is, there are more Republicans in Illinois than in Nebraska, a red state. But remember, Illinois has seven times the population of Nebraska.

That means Republican and Democratic candidates would favor campaigning in populous states and say whatever needs to be said to gain as many sheer votes as they can. A Republican who can walk away with 40 percent of Illinois gets more votes than 100 percent of Nebraska.

Whether they win or lose the state won’t matter. As it is now, a small state, like Iowa, can get attention because it can swing red or blue. That brings attention to the state of America’s rural economy, which in a direct national election wouldn’t matter as much.

Getting rid of the Electoral College, to me, is like saying we ought to get rid of state borders. Without the Electoral College, borders would hardly matter in presidential elections. The interests of the big places would run over the interests of the small places.

And that’s not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they made the Great Compromise of 1787. Recall from your American history class that big states and small states disagreed on what Congress should look like. Small states complained that they would be drowned out if both chambers were based on population. That’s why today each state gets two senators regardless of population and their representatives are determined by population.

By getting rid of the Electoral College, we could end up breaking our broken system even worse. It’s a good thing few in the limelight are talking about getting rid of it.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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