Friday, October 30, 2020


Much ink has been spilt and bytes flashed arguing about the representative nature of the Electoral College. Because of its design and our political landscape, the once rare phenomenon of “electoral inversions,” the situation in which a candidate with a lesser amount of popular votes gets the majority of electoral votes, seems now like a permanent possibility, with two, maybe three occurring within the span of twenty years. The last time electoral inversions occurred was more than 130 years ago, in 1876 and 1888, in the turbulent wake of Reconstruction.

Donald Trump’s campaign is counting on an electoral inversion, and is on the road and in the courts attempting such an outcome. The campaign knows that it has the chance of a snowball in hell of obtaining a majority of the popular vote, and hits the road accordingly. Of course, Joe Biden’s campaign is well aware of that strategy so it hits the road back to thwart such possibility, targeting the “swing states,” as it obviously should do if it plans to win.

That is why, in practical electoral terms, the farm fields in Iowa are more important than the farm fields in Kentucky, the coal mines in Pennsylvania more important than the ones in West Virginia, the auto plants in Michigan more important than the ones in South Carolina, and anyone from a Red or Blue state is less important than anyone from a swing state, which either candidate wants to “turn” blue or red.

Herein lies that other, modern, problem with the Electoral College: those colors are very camera and sound bite friendly. The idea of swing state, swing district and swing voter has permeated the electoral discourse so profoundly that it distorts democracy, representation and policy; even the policies of foreign countries. When China retaliated to Trump’s tariffs by essentially boycotting soy beans from Iowa, it was attempting to weaken Trump’s Electoral College base. When the EU targeted bourbon from Kentucky and Harley Davidson motorcycles from Wisconsin it did so for the same reason in those states. These are responses from foreign countries attempting to influence our elections with blunt instruments, targeting local voters because of an administration or broad policy which affects them adversely.

Within our nation, the notion of red and blue states has caused even more damage. On projection maps, in polling predictions and on election night, coloring with paint by numbers is entertaining, visual and simple. In the hollows of the current White House, however, these colors have driven policies ranging from the response to the pandemic to environmental regulations, neglecting that in every single state, not just the swing ones, “the reds and the blues” coexist. Policy is enacted with no regard to this coexistence in every town and city, where problems and aspirations are shared but affected by the divisiveness inherent to images of a nation, states, counties, precincts and voters painted red and blue.

The media eats it up and regurgitates this notion, searching and forming discussion panels, convening town halls, even tracking through the years professional undecided voters in swing districts, such as the “red sweater guy.” Even an implausible movie, starring Kevin Costner, used the plot device of a single swing voter deciding an election. It is drama that sells.

For the close to 5 million people that voted for Trump in California it must be an unpleasant experience to have the president minimize their firestorms, because “it’s a blue state.” For many of the nearly 3 million New Yorkers that voted for Trump, learning about the Kushner Policy of disregarding the pandemic because it was a blue state problem —and those don’t matter— must have been painful. It must be disheartening for protesters in Louisville to be ignored, while those in Portland are showcased for political convenience in stump speeches by the President.

This Red State / Blue State mentality is so pervasive that it is believed to drive internal migration patterns beyond economic issues[1]. It definitely drives down voter participation with the blasé excuse of “one vote in my state/district doesn’t make a difference.” But that is not true; any vote always counts to make democracy stronger, whether it is cast in Arkansas, New Jersey or North Carolina. It is the enemies of democracy that want to convince citizens that a single vote does not matter and will not make a difference. I know: I hail from Venezuela where precisely that happened. Venezuela elected an authoritarian political outsider that changed the course of history for that nation because “in-the-know” people believed “one vote doesn’t matter and, anyway, all politicians are the same.”

The Electoral College representation problem originates from using an Eighteenth Century solution in a Twenty-first Century world; but the divisiveness originated by the fixation on the Red and the Blue is of modern origin, fed by a culture of quick bites and simple images upon which our media thrives in the pursuit of ratings and validation, perhaps even vindication. We live in the United States of America, a nation in which the difference between the popular vote of the winner and the loser of the 2016 election was 3% and in which it may be close to that in the 2020 contest. As the votes are cast, counted, and reported as a horse race on the screen of your choice, it is important to see your neighbors, friends and family as what they are or wish they could be: fellow Americans in pursuit of the American Dream and a more perfect Union.

Other essays on the Electoral College: "The Big Nullification"

Carlos J. Rangel
Small business owner, author of two books,
“La Venezuela imposible: Crónicas y reflexiones sobre democracia y libertad” and “Campaign Journal 2008: A Chronicle of Vision, Hope and Glory.” Co-author of “Bring Down the Hammer: From Silk Road Bandits to Deviant States, the Rise of Transnational Crime Organizations and What the World can do About It” forthcoming in "Infinite War II," Hugo Achá, ed., 2020. His blog is Carlos J. Rangel: Campaign Journal. Twitter: @CarlosJRangel1

Illustration: "Undecided" by Magda, 2020.

[1] “Migration isn’t turning Red States Blue,” Henten and Silver (FiveThirtyEight) who argue self-selection as well as collectivization for this phenomenon.


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