Trying and Trying to Put Down the Electoral College
It probably hasn’t surprised readers that a recent op-ed by Lincoln Chafee and Ari Savitzky arguing in favor of a national popular vote system for president strings together muddled thinking. On the one hand, they claim that “the apportionment of Electoral College does not benefit small states.” Yet, a few sentences later, “the Electoral College gives Rhode Island a slight mathematical advantage.”
One must, of course, appreciate the difficulty of the two authors’ task. It is clear, between the lines, that Rhode Island’s lack of influence comes entirely from its voters’ inability to break their devotion to the Democrat party. And yet that isn’t something that Lincoln and Ari wish to undermine, so they toss around rhetoric about everybody having “an equal vote.” They bring up irrelevant history about slave states. All the while, their central premise is arguable, at best:
A national popular vote would be vastly superior to the current system, which practically shuts out over 30 “safe states.” Not only is this a question of basic fairness, it is also in Rhode Island’s interest. Right now, candidates have no reason to campaign here, organize here, or spend money here — getting more or fewer popular votes will almost never change the electoral vote outcome. Under a national popular vote, every vote would count equally, giving candidates an incentive to seek them here in Rhode Island.
Whatever the system, candidates will be operating with the same resources, and they will have to maximize the effectiveness thereof. Rhode Island is such a blue state that Republicans probably wouldn’t see much return on their investment, and Democrats probably wouldn’t lose much support by failing to set foot, here. Further, given the size of our state, politicians might find it more worth their while to invest in particular counties, or cities, elsewhere, to reach the same number of people; our definition as a state wouldn’t mean a thing.
A national popular vote may or may not be the way to go, but it would certainly take away Rhode Island’s “mathematical advantage.” If securing political importance for our state is the goal, then the solution is to broaden voters’ intellectual and ideological habits.