By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – Let’s raise a toast to the end of campaign season and all those pesky ads.
What do you mean, “What ads?”
Oh, that’s right. We live in Mississippi, one of the 40 states where the contest for the presidency is, well, no contest at all.
David Shribman, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, put it this way: “For some Americans, presidential politics is a participatory sport and for others it is a spectator sport.”
Shribman visited Mississippi a few weeks ago. He said he couldn’t help noticing the sharp contrast between the pervasive political buzz in Pennsylvania and the total non-buzz here, so he wrote about it in his newspaper. The dateline was Oxford and the headline was clever. “Old times here have been forgotten: Deep in Dixie, the candidates look away,” it read.
But Mississippi is not alone on the hustings. Shribman wrote: “There’s no campaign here, where the GOP will win in an easy autumn stroll, just as the Republicans will in Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and both Dakotas. Nor is there a campaign in Illinois, Washington, Oregon and California, where the Democrats are confident and Republicans are in retreat if not virtual retirement.”
Follow the money:
Two full months before election day, a tally showed $563.4 million spent by presidential campaigns in the 10 key states.
The International Business Times said Florida was first at $117.4 million and Ohio second at $112.1 million. Numbers dropped like a rocket outside the Top 10. Michigan was 11th at a mere $8 million.
There is only one reason for such a skew: the Electoral College. Without it, there would be no such thing as a “battleground state.” Every vote would count.
The civics lesson is short and succinct. The founders didn’t trust the people or the governments of the states where they lived, so a buffer was inserted. Election to every other office is based on who gets the most votes. Not so the presidency.
In the event of chicanery in a state or on the chance that too many people were hoodwinked, there is a check on the power of the people. States must send “electors” to Washington after popular votes are counted. Candidates who win the majority in a state are supposed to get the votes of all that state’s electors – a number equivalent to its seats in the House plus its two senators. But while the electors are pledged to fulfill a sacred trust, they aren’t legally required to do so. They are free to follow their conscience.
There’s some talk that the Electoral College serves the purpose of balancing big states and little states, cities and counties. Folderol. All the college does is make tallies in politically balanced states – battleground states – more crucial and, as Shribman said, makes spectators out of everyone else.
Almost since its inception, the Electoral College has been assailed as a needless artifice. Electors have never taken it upon themselves to save the people from a bad choice. Uniformly – although there is still argument about the Bush-Gore tally – the public’s will has been done.
Because it is an artifice, the Electoral College is doomed to go away, eventually.
Already a smattering of states has initiated changes. For instance, a few say they will split their electors in proportion to the votes a candidate receives. Others are pledging to have their electors vote for the person who wins the popular vote nationally, even if that candidate didn’t “carry” the state.
A shortcut would be to amend the Constitution, delete the Electoral College and elect presidents the same way every other officeholder is elected.
The immediate result would be to make every state a battleground state. Mississippi and its 39 cousins who suffer from the problem of too much predictability could not be taken for granted.
Now Shribman, in conversation, admitted more than a smidgen of enjoyment flowed from being out of earshot of the pitched battle for Pennsylvania. So maybe there are positive aspects to being on the sidelines.
A major point, though, is that because our votes are counted and do matter we should at least be courted.
And we would be if it weren’t for the Electoral College and the fact that while the founding fathers trusted the people with a lot, they stopped short of giving us the power, free and clear, to pick a president.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.