John Laird: 40 states ignored during 2012 presidential campaign

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Our nation's Founding Fathers knew what they were doing when they created the Electoral College. Their noble, intended purpose was to keep heavily populated states from running roughshod over small states while selecting what would become the world's most powerful leader.

Unintended consequences have rendered their original intent obsolete. And this year, a second unintended consequence has emerged, one that likely would infuriate the Founding Fathers who wanted elections to be decided by the people, and not manipulated by the political parties.

Before exploring that newer unintended consequence, here's an update on the first one, presidential campaigns that become too narrowly focused: Last year, after each was nominated for president, Barack Obama campaigned in only eight states, and Mitt Romney did so in only 10. Forty states were ignored, which I'm guessing also would've outraged the Founding Fathers.

Of the 253 campaign appearances by Obama, Romney, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan after they were nominated, more than two-thirds of the events occurred in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa.) That's according to http://www.nationalpopularvote.com, a good source of information about letting voters, not electors, decide the presidency. The website also explains why the 40 states were ignored: "Neither candidate has any reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind." These are states such as Washington, where all 12 electoral votes went to Obama.

The Electoral College concept blemishes no other election (of candidates) in our nation, and how anyone could defend it mystifies those of us who believe every vote should count equally. One alternative, the National Popular Vote campaign, is not as un-American as critics claim. Its proposed change "would ensure that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election." Who could reject that?

GOP tinkering with the rules

As for this year's new unintended consequence, Republicans in several states are trying to game the system to their advantage. Of course, self-serving rules tampering is not exclusive to either party. Democrats, for example, know full well that immigration reform would greatly increase voter rolls in their favor. And if you think their passion for immigration reform is purely humanitarian, then your opinion of the Democratic party is loftier than mine.

The new GOP scheme would award electoral votes by congressional districts rather than winner-take-all used in most states. As designed by the GOP, reform efforts are occurring mainly in battleground states. The change would be dramatic (in Republicans' favor) because of redistricting that took place after the 2010 census. Many of these states are controlled by Republicans, and as The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, redistricting "tended to concentrate Democratic votes in a few congressional districts."

If this change had been in effect last year in Virginia, for example, Romney would have won nine of the state's electoral votes to only four for Obama, even though Obama won the state's popular vote by 4 percentage points (source: nbcnews.com).

GOP legislators are also pushing this same reform in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz researched how these changes could have affected the 2012 presidential election had they been in place. He found that Romney would've beaten Obama in overall electoral votes 276-262, even though Obama actually won the popular vote by 4 percentage points and the Electoral College vote by a whopping 332-206.

The solution is simple: Stop trying to manipulate the Electoral College to favor one party or the other, and just let America's voters decide. As I've often maintained, what could possibly be wrong with the leading vote-getter winning an election? But as I've also conceded, don't expect any meaningful change during any adult's lifetime.