One of the historical arguments for retaining the Electoral College -- and an argument still made today, though in slightly different terms -- is that a straight national vote would allow the big states and large cities to 'overwhelm' the small states and rural areas.
And it's true after a fashion. The population of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota -- almost a whole region of the country -- amount to just more than 4 million people. Almost as many people live in the puny state of Connecticut. Almost ten times as many live in California.
If every voting American were simply poured into the cauldron of one unified national electorate, how would these states make their voices heard?
It's not a new argument. Go back into the 19th century and you find many debates in state constitutional conventions or other venues in which it is argued that lightly populated or socially or culturally unique regions deserve political clout out of proportion to their population numbers. And similar claims for preferment surface in seminal court cases in the 1960s.
I was particularly struck though by this article which appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
At one level the editorial simply notes the undeniable fact that the Red state/Blue state division we talk so much about is really an rural/urban divide. But the particular spin on the issue is close to given away in the headline: "Big cities can override state's votes."
The Red State/Blue state discussion is "misleading", continues the editorial, because it obscures the "the large-city vs. rest-of-the-county reality."
From there on out we're treated to a discussion of the election in which the effect of the franchise in large cities amounts to a sort of hidden and nefarious loophole to the democratic process. Let me quote at some length (with emphasis added) ...
Without votes in just 11 cites, Kerry won only eight states, and Bush, 42. Without those 11 cities, Bush won by 55 percent to 45 percent nationally, while Kerry won those cities by 61 percent to 39 percent.
The states Kerry won, due solely to votes in just one or two cities each, are California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The cities that out-voted the rest of their state or adjacent areas are the District of Columbia, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle.
Kerry won just eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) with balanced votes, and only two of these (Delaware and Hawaii) are outside of New England. These states gave him just 41 electoral votes.
The 11 cities listed above gave him 208 such votes, against wishes shown elsewhere statewide. Four more states could have had similar results due to city voting in Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis or the Miami to Palm Beach- area. Add D.C.'s three electoral votes and just 15 cities can award 278 electoral votes.
Thus, cities can pick our president, against the wishes expressed elsewhere nationwide. Clearly, this is not a blue-state vs. red-state issue; it is a large-cities vs. the rest- of-the-country issue.
On the "mandate" issue, with Bush winning 42 states, by 55 percent to 45 percent, and his opponent winning just eight states and 11 cities, there should be no question.
The thought that lots of people live in cities seems to pale beside the notion that cities amount to a sort of interest group, one among many, and certainly not one entitled to dominate all the others. After all what kind of democracy are we running if "cities can pick our president, against the wishes expressed elsewhere nationwide"?