End the electoral college

Voting is a sacrament, even as the my-opponent-is-the-devil ads scissor the liturgy. Civic agnostics need to keep the faith and vote, notwithstanding the campaign clatter that demands a Job-like patience. The McKenna vs. Inslee fight, the attorney general battle royale, and a handful of legislative races will all be decided at the margins. Every vote counts.

And what of the presidential race, perhaps the closest contest since 2000? Here the electoral college muddles the outcome. Obama voters in Utah and Texas feel as unmotivated and insignificant as Romney voters in New York and California. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution makes it a state-by-state, winner-take-all system. Why vote if you’re just as likely to win Powerball as your party is to carry Washington or Oregon?

The electoral college was a sensible 18th century invention, with electors from 13 headstrong states riding by horseback to the nation’s capital to hand their ballots to the vice president. Today the electoral college is a relic, a disincentive for voters if they’re politically outnumbered in their state, and a formula for the inevitable: Election of a U.S. president who loses the popular vote, but hits the magic 270 threshold. It happened most recently in 2000 and, yes, it may happen again in 2012.

Washington Republicans feel the pain. No Republican presidential candidate has won Washington’s electors since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide. The result is benign neglect. Both Romney and Obama spent time raising money from deep-pocketed donors in Medina and Kirkland. But grassroots campaigning? With the electoral college, the focus is almost exclusively on swing states. Akron trumps Spokane and Green Bay powers past Everett. In-person campaigning centers on Ohio, Iowa, Colorado and Wisconsin. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, for example, visited Ohio 14 times in October, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen reports. They weren’t speechifying about aerospace jobs, the future of Naval Station Everett or Puget Sound clean-up. That’s because Washington is essentially irrelevant.

Math is the electoral college’s enemy, with electors tracking a state’s total number of U.S. Representatives plus its two U.S. Senators. That means Wyoming with a population of around 560,000 is co-equal to Delaware with 907,000. (Both only have one at-large U.S. Representative, hence three electoral votes each.)

Amending the U.S. Constitution to ensure more equitable voting sounds like radical surgery, but it’s not. Americans have done it six times in the past, most recently with the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. We can do it again, enshrine the popular vote, and put Washingtonians on an equal footing with Florida and Ohio.

So sorry Buckeyes — it’s only fair.

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