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I *heart* the Electoral College

Don't believe the hype. As I sit down to write this, the election definitely has a most likely pattern to it (see my Election Night Guide on the right sidebar), but a range of possibilities exists from between a Romney win to a 330 vote electoral landslide for Obama. The difference, of course, is that saying something is possible, unlikely, or impossible doesn't really make a difference in this day and age. People don't read patterns well, they like soundbites.

What's been getting a lot of play due to the close national polls and so many close battleground states is an Electoral College tie these days. It's the nightmare American-democracy-goes-nuclear option where we're fighting state by state for House votes...assuming no faithless electors in the Electoral College.

But American democracy didn't break down when Gore won the Presidency in 2000. That was my first Presidential election, by the way. How's that for a rough start! Oh, he didn't win the Presidency? Right. He won the popular vote but lost Florida by 269 votes...enough to give George W. Bush the White House via the Electoral College. "Unfair!" Democrats cried.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. The current President has an Electoral College advantage which has a small possibility of letting him lose the popular vote but win the Presidency. As I write this, that probability is currently at 6.5% give or take. Much higher than the 1.8% possibility that Obama wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College.

But I'm here to tell you, as I have all along, to pay little attention to national polls. They give us some data, but the real story is state-by-state all across the nation. Just as the Founders intended.

Barack Obama can't just go to the northeast, the midwest, and the west coast and roll up popular vote totals for a win. And Mitt Romney can't just camp out in the red south. The Electoral College's very reason for existence is to even the playing field between large and small states and force candidates to campaign as far and wide as possible.

I hear your first complaint...there are only a few states up for grabs! 6? 8? Maybe 11 if you want to be really, really generous with how you label?

That's our fault though. Yep, you heard right, the reason there are only a few contested states is that we've sorted ourselves willingly into geography that matches our identity for the most part. I won't explore that here, but there is a reason you don't find too many conservatives in Chicago or NYC while Texas isn't too full of liberals. We've created ideology zones.

But aside from that issue, the real reason the Electoral College is so wonderful is that it forces us every 4 years to recognize the political power of sparsely populated states in relation to the Big Guys. Yes, Florida alone could win the White House for Obama. But it's also true he could win the White House without any need for Ohio, Florida, or Virginia. Lose them all and he could still take the midwest, Colorado, and New Hampshire for the Electoral College win.

Now, I will say that I do think a state's popular vote should be binding on electors. Faithless electors and states in the popular vote compact are a matter for another day. But I am here defending the genius of a system which so brilliantly forces American political power to come not from pure majority rules, but from the relation of state power to geography, population, and the power of coalition building within the federal structure. If Ohio is the bellweather, it has to also be noted the rest of the country doesn't need you. Florida, don't think that because you're big and hotly contested you're going to decide this either. It may come down to little old New Hampshire and the shifting demographics of Colorado.

Just as it should. 

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