In 2008, thanks to President Obama's razor-thin victory in North Carolina, I had the honor of being a member of the Electoral College. Being a presidential elector has a lot of perks - you get to make history, you get great tickets to the inauguration (I was in the same section as Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, and Forest Whitaker), and taxpayers actually pay you a little money to drive up to your state capital and vote.
As much fun as it is to be an elector, I believe it's time to abolish the Electoral College.
There are a wealth of great arguments for abolishing the Electoral College. Presidential campaigns ignore most states; Puerto Ricans and millions of American citizens don't have a vote; individual votes "count" more in smaller states; Bush v. Gore; the popular vote winner doesn't always win the presidency; Electoral College math suppresses the vote in states that aren't battlegrounds; and so on.
The body is so obscure that when I was a teacher, I would use an Electoral College lesson plan to teach note-taking skills because I knew that my high school students wouldn't come in with enough of an understanding of what the Electoral College actually did to allow them to pass a pop quiz on their notes.
The arguments in favor of the Electoral College are pretty stale: federalism, insurance if a candidate dies, a stronger two-party system, and more attention paid to rural states. Most of those arguments don't hold water in a hyper-partisan environment where both sides are willing to do anything they can to win.
Abolishing the Electoral College Protects Voters from Republican Shenanigans
Voters in North Carolina and other Republican-controlled states know that gerrymandering is being used to keep Democrats out of power, but what you may not know is that after using sophisticated software to create the maximum electoral advantage in congressional races, some Republicans are trying to use those same unfair districts to game the Electoral College.
Under some plans, a candidate could win the popular vote in the state and come away with less than half of the state's electoral votes. That's unconscionable.
The Electoral College wasn't designed for a world with microtargeting and sophisticated redistricting software. While the rules are already in place for this election, after 2016 it's time to get rid of a system that could easily be manipulated, and replace it with direct election of the President of the United States. Speaking of technology ...
The Electoral College is Less Useful in a Post-Digital World
The Electoral College is a relic of a time when the electoral process moved slowly. Electing a president took a long time; that's one of the reasons presidents were sworn in four months after the election instead of a little over two.
Direct election of the president is pretty easy in this day and age. Since World War II, we've known the popular vote winner within hours of the first polls closing. A smooth transition can start almost immediately. There is less need for "gatekeepers" like presidential electors, who used to be (mostly) chosen by state legislatures and are now (mostly) chosen by party insiders.
As for voter outreach, digital and mail microtargeting allow campaigns to target any voter in the country, even if a candidate isn't going to be stopping by any time soon. If you so choose, you can watch all of a candidate's appearances on TV or online.
Bonus Related Point: Abolishing the Electoral College Could Shake Things up in a Good Way
Swing voters in states that aren't battlegrounds will be targeted by campaigns for the first time. The argument that campaigns will ignore rural areas doesn't make sense now that we live in a world where campaigns can send any voter in the country direct mail, follow up with a phone call, and have Facebook and YouTube preroll ads playing on their computer for the next 48 hours.
Republicans will have to build infrastructure to fight for every vote urban states and counties. In rural states and counties, Democrats might have to invest in making a case they haven't made effectively during the Obama presidency. All of the suburbs across the country will be in play. Parties will have a vested interest in competent volunteer leaders because there will be no way that any campaign will be able to hire staff for over 3,000 counties and over 185,000 voting precincts across the country.
For those of you who have been following this blog for commentary on political parties ...
State parties are dying, but they're still the best on-the-ground vehicle for presidential campaigns to do to conduct state-level operations (payroll, mail, Get-Out-The-Vote). One of the quickest ways to make every state party relevant again is to make every vote count in the presidential election. You can't win votes in every state without a 50-state-strategy.
The Obama campaign often circumvented the activists in state parties in battleground states, but they still passed money through and kept the lights on. In a post-Electoral College world, there will be fifty battleground states (and DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.). Parties will have a value they can demonstrate to donors because every vote will count in the presidential race. If you have faith in political parties, you want the Electoral College to be abolished.
And if you don't care for political parties ...
At the 2008 12th Congressional District Convention, I won my spot on the Democratic slate of presidential electors by convincing half of the 70-100 party delegates assembled in a multi-purpose room at an elementary school in Salisbury to vote for me.
That's how I became a candidate for presidential elector. It took 36-51 votes from Democratic Party activists to make my vote representative of over 600,000 North Carolinians. That's incredibly undemocratic, and it might be the best example of why Congress and state legislatures should make Fall 2016 the final semester for the Electoral College.