Has the Electoral College outlived its usefulness? Are we in danger of having presidential campaigns ignore 80 percent of the states because they are not in play in the Electoral College? This year we have certainly gone to extremes to write off nearly all the states and most of the American people.
Let's look back at the past three elections. In 2000, as we all know, Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes yet, because of the Florida fiasco, lost the electoral vote by four votes. In 2004, a change of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have given John Kerry that state's electoral votes and the presidency, even though George Bush won the popular vote by over 3,000,000 votes.
After these two elections you can say one thing—campaigns know how to target!
This year, polls are extremely close at the national level yet still show President Barack Obama leading in key states with the key electoral vote swings. It is not inconceivable that Romney could win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote. Not likely, maybe, but not by any stretch an impossibility.
What we do promise in this country is a very close election every four years, at least potentially very close. More and more the "hard red" and "hard blue" states have emerged very clearly. This year, it appears that only nine states are in play: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and New Hampshire.
The vast bulk of the advertising dollars, organizational heft, candidate time, and overall attention have focused on those states. The states of California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, etc. have been used as ATM machines—stop-overs to raise the needed campaign cash to air ads in the nine targeted states.
With both campaigns and independent groups spending in excess of $2 billion, probably $3 billion, this is a Mercedes-protection program for TV station managers in those nine states. Not to mention a boon to the local economy in general.
Does anyone remember Richard Nixon's convention pledge to visit all 50 states before the end of the campaign? Not a politically wise move back then, either, but we have come to the point where we have nearly 40 of the 50 states that don't matter in the campaign, because the outcome is predetermined.
We will never return to a candidate who visits every state but are we going down the path of future campaigns that won't spend any effort whatsoever on 75-80 percent of America? Is this truly a healthy development? My guess is that we need another crisis like 2000 before people begin to truly move the country away from the Electoral College. But we should be asking ourselves the question: Has this process of electing a president outlived its usefulness? Shouldn't we truly examine going to a strict popular vote?
Now may be the time we should consider whether we are locked into a campaign system that makes a mockery of "representing all Americans" and whether it is getting worse.