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Political Focus:

Oregon may dump the electoral college

Oregon legislators are currently attempting to change the way electoral votes are awarded to presidential candidates. House Bill 3077 would enter Oregon into a compact with other states to change U.S. Presidential elections from the current Electoral College system to a national popular vote.

The Oregon House of Representatives passed HB 3077 on April 18 and the bill is currently sitting on Senate President Peter Courtney’s desk awaiting referral to committee.

Under the current system, each state has a number of electoral votes that depend on the size of its population. The number of electoral votes a state has is determined by the number of U.S. House Representatives it has plus the number of U.S. Senators it has.

For instance, California has 53 representatives and two Senators; therefore, the state has 55 electoral votes to cast while Oregon has seven. Each state awards their electoral votes in each presidential election to the candidate who wins the popular vote within that state.

The national popular vote would mean that whichever presidential candidate received the most individual citizen votes would win the presidency. This system would go into effect if states with enough Electoral College votes to decide a presidential election pass bills identical to HB3077 through their legislatures.

The problem with the national popular vote is that it would allow a small number of populous metropolitan areas to choose the president for the entire nation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 84 percent of the U.S. population lives in 366 metropolitan areas, while only 10 percent live in 576 micropolitan areas. The Census Bureau defines metropolitan as a population center containing more than 50,000 people and micropolitan as one containing between 10,000 and 50,000 people.

The Census Bureau also states that over 26 percent of the U. S. population lives in the 10 largest metro areas including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington D.C., Miami, Atlanta and Boston.

The national popular vote would put presidential elections completely in the hands of these major metro areas, and the voice of smaller cities and rural areas would be drowned out. There would be no reason for people in places like Roseburg to cast a vote for president.

Proponents of the national popular vote point out that presidential candidates don’t visit about two-thirds of the states due to lack of competition. However, the national popular vote won’t solve this problem. The non-competitive states will remain non-competitive and instead of visiting competitive states, candidates will only visit competitive cities.

Proponents also point out that the presidential races are usually called before the polls even close in the West, and that this disenfranchises western voters. This is another problem that the national popular vote won’t solve.

According to the Census Bureau, nine of the nation’s ten most heavily populated areas are in the eastern half of the country. This will yield plenty of exit polling for the televised news media to make predictions and potentially call races before polls close in the west.

There are better ways of reforming the Electoral College that individual states can undertake. Methods that would address these issues much more effectively, and would also distribute the nation’s electoral power more equitably.

Nebraska and Maine have a unique way of awarding their electoral votes. Each of their U.S. congressional districts awards its one electoral vote to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that district. The two electoral votes that represent the state’s two U.S. Senators go to the candidate that wins the popular vote throughout the state.

The problem with both, the current system and the national popular vote, is that they focus the attention of candidates and the policies of the winners on strongholds that allow existing power structures to remain in place. The Nebraska/Maine method of awarding electoral votes would force presidential candidates and elected officials across the board to fight to win the hearts and minds of voters in every congressional district.