Electoral College Always Slights Florida

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY NOV 12, 2016

No state saw more votes cast for president than Florida on Tuesday. Not California. Not Texas. Not New York. Yet when the electoral college meets December 19, more than half those votes will be rendered moot. For the second time in as many decades, the person sworn in as president in January will not be the one who received the most votes for the job. That has renewed scrutiny upon the system we use to elect the more powerful person in the world. In truth, this antiquated system disenfranchises voters every single time a president gets chosen whether the popular vote aligns with the final outcome or not, and Florida voters suffer a greater insult than any others in the nation. 

Every four years, this relic system elevates the Sunshine State votes to the most coveted in the nation, then in an instant renders them the least valuable in a distortion of democracy that should irritate us all. For those who remain confused by the electoral college, don’t feel bad. It confounds the casual voter because it stands in opposition to the basic definition of democracy taught in school and because the logic behind it was patronizing from the beginning. Basically, every vote cast on Election Day for president serves only as a resolution directing a group of electors to cast a limited number of votes on behalf of the state. In some states, those electors aren’t even bound to follow the will of voters or suffer only a fine for violating the public trust. In most states, electors follow a winner-takes-all system, and all of a state’s electoral votes go to the statewide victor no matter the divide in the electorate.

In a swing state like Florida, most residents understand the high premium on this state’s votes. Campaigns spend a tremendous amount of time here because Florida usually boasts the greatest number of electoral votes up for grabs; that certainly was the case this year. Because of this attention, turnout tends to be high when we choose a president. Statewide turnout on Tuesday, according to unofficial final results, ended up at 74.25 percent, compared to about 57 percent nationwide.

But that diligence gets punished when every Florida ballot takes on greater insignificance when results translate into electoral votes.  When the three electors for Alaska vote for president, each represents a little more than 82,000 voters who bothered coming out. Meanwhile, each of Florida’s 29 electors stands in for nearly 324,000 voters diligent enough to participate but unlucky enough to live here. Yes, the more populous states of California and Texas have more electoral votes, but with elections so lopsided there, even Golden and Lone Star state voters endure less indignity.

I’m not casting aspersions on the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election over Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. The electoral college gives Trump no incentive to campaign in California, where Clinton had enough support to narrowly take the popular vote. And the resentment felt by Florida Democrats should be read no differently than the frustration of Mitt Romney voters in Florida when Barack Obama barely won this state’s votes in 2012. 

Additionally, entering office without a mandate hurts the new president as well, especially with many lawmakers in Congress openly dissatisfied with his agenda. The electoral college diminishes the office itself.

While it would take an amendment to the Constitution to attain a one-man, one-vote ideal, our Legislature could lead the nation to a fairer way without that. Nebraska and Maine already award electoral votes somewhat proportionately. Florida can do the same in future elections. Regardless, Americans shouldn’t stand for this misguided methodology any more, Floridians most of all.  

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor to SRQ Media Group.

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