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Edelman: Everyone’s vote isn’t counted equally thanks to electoral college, but everyone should still vote | COMMENTARY

Today is Election Day. If you haven’t voted already, do it now! Thanks for doing the most important thing you’re likely to have done today. Every vote counts, and if all goes as it should, every vote will be counted, just as every voter counts.

You did not vote for the president. Your presidential vote determines which slate of electors, Democratic or Republican, will travel to Annapolis in December to cast their votes for president. In other words, there are exactly 538 votes for president. Maryland has 10 of them, and only one will be from Carroll County.

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In any election, each person’s vote should also count the same as every other vote counts. But that is not the case. If you were one of the fewer than 250,000 voters in Wyoming, your choice is worth around 380% of a Californian’s vote. Around 40 million people live in California, more than the total population of the 21 least-populated states. Those 21 states have 94 electoral votes compared with California’s 55. The bias built into the Electoral College discounts the worth of an individual’s vote in larger states. In our history, five candidates won the popular vote and lost the electoral college, with two being decided by Congress. In this century, both the 2000 and 2016 elections went to losers of the popular vote.

Almost all states use “Winner Take All” to allocate their electoral votes, meaning if you’re voting Republican in Maryland or Democratic in Indiana, your vote for president counts for naught. And if you think it’s time for a third party to replace those two old battle-horses, good luck.

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Even more problematic, if you live in a blue state like Maryland or a red one like Indiana, where the outcome of the presidential vote is virtually assured to go to one party, candidates tend to ignore you in favor of “swing states,” except of course to ask for your money to finance their campaign.

In short, the electoral college is broken, and it can’t be fixed. It is 18th century political sausage, as obsolete and obnoxious as counting Black slaves as three-fifths of a person. If you want to know how much more broken the electoral college could get, think about this: the Constitution leaves it up to the states to pick their electors. Last month, it was reported the Trump campaign was planning to pressure states with Republican legislative majorities to ignore the popular vote and select electors who’d vote for him. This nearly happened in 2000, when Florida’s Republican legislature claimed “broad authority to allocate Florida’s electoral votes.”

There have been many well-intended but flawed proposals to remedy the electoral college’s shortcomings: one, the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact” is an agreement, presently among 15 states and the District of Columbia. When the compact includes states controlling a majority of the electoral college, their electors would then vote for the popular vote winner. Constitutional issues aside, this could result in at least one state overruling its own popular vote, creating a slate of “faithless electors.”

Other proposals include eliminating “winner take all” by allocating one electoral vote to each (gerrymandered) congressional district. There have also been multiple proposals to award two electoral votes per state to the popular vote winner and divide the remaining 438 proportionally, hoping to reduce the disproportionate voting strength of smaller states. Lacking a constitutional amendment to retire this anachronism, the best thing we can do is vote, which brings us to ways political parties try to stop you from voting.

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In 1981, the New Jersey Republican Party created the “Ballot Security Task Force,” a group of armed off-duty police wearing armbands to patrol minority neighborhoods. That led to a consent decree, ordering Republicans to cease and desist from those acts of voter suppression. The agreement was terminated in 2018. Recall that President Trump requested his supporters to “go into the polls” and “watch very closely.” He asked white supremacist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy declared that “confronting voters while wearing military-style or official-looking uniforms, following voters to, from, or within the polling place” and “aggressively approaching voters' vehicles or writing down voters' license plate numbers” would likely “constitute illegal voter intimidation,” as the BSTF did 40 years ago.

Last weekend, a group of Trump supporters in Texas tried to run a Biden campaign bus off an interstate highway. Caravans of Trump supporters blockaded the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey; portions of the Capital Beltway were blockaded, too. The president warned that chaos would follow the election. He did not tell us his zealots would be causing it.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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