The country failed to eliminate the farce that is the Electoral College 12 years ago when hanging chads were thrust into the national conversation. It is past time.
The prospect of the GOP's Mitt Romney winning more votes than President Obama, but being denied the White House by the outdated system looms. The specter came up on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell referring to it as a “distinct possibility” and host Joe Scarborough saying there was a “growing likelihood.”
There are arguments made about the Electoral College helping maintain a two-party system and the concept of federalism. But, there is a simple case countering any and all of them: how in the world’s greatest democracy could more people vote for the losing candidate?
Hopefully, the American people will stand up and fight for a change starting once this campaign ends. It wouldn’t take the impossible: a constitutional amendment. States could adopt the Maine and Nebraska approaches, where their Electoral College votes can be split. There is also a National Popular Vote plan enacted by eight states – all solidly blue -- which would simply give the presidency to the popular-vote winner. (The Electoral College would be preserved, but worthless.)
Forget the good of the country, though. Getting rid of the Electoral College would seem to be a priority for the organizations representing local broadcasters (TVB and NAB) and cable outlets (CAB) – as well as the Big Four networks.
The current landscape has it that candidates are battling over just a handful of states. And, those are flooded with ads and enriching the station groups and local cable operators lucky enough to be in markets such as Denver, Tampa, Las Vegas and Cleveland.
Data floating around has it that in 2008, the candidates spent 98% of campaign dollars in just 15 states and two-thirds in just six.
There's a dynamic where Iowa (pop. 3 million) plays a heftier role than Texas (26 million) in determining the election. So, a station in Des Moines can profit from the race more than one in Dallas. But a popular-vote election could spread the wealth or, more likely, grow the pie. It doesn't mean Des Moines would necessarily be left behind.
If candidates felt compelled to advertise even in non-swing states -- California, Texas and many others -- in order to boost their overall vote counts, then more money might need to be raised. And, super PACs might feel they need to find more shadowy big spenders.
In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by about 10 million votes. It's hard to come up with a scenario where McCain could have grabbed enough votes in non-battleground states to overtake Obama. But, it's likely that with Hispanics an increasingly important voting bloc, Obama would spend money in Texas and Arizona this time to pick up votes in the red states if there were a so-called direct election.
By the same token, would more residents in GOP states with oil interests – such as Oklahoma or Louisiana -- turn out to help Romney win by even wider margins? Would Romney buy ads trying to pick off more votes in Democratic strongholds such as New Jersey and even Obama’s home state of Illinois?
Most big station groups have some outlets in swing states, but also operate in large markets left dry where they’d love to pick up presidential cash (that’s not to say they’re not dong fine with statewide races). Some of the biggest winners, though, in popular-vote elections might be the Big Four networks with their cross-country reach.
There have only been four times when a popular-vote winner was denied the White House – three in the 1800s – so the absurd Electoral College is not a national crisis. The issue is likely to subside unless it happens this year, which would be twice in 12 years.
Station groups and other programmers might pull for that "split." Reform might lead to revenue for them.