One of the first duties of the new Congress will be to officially declare President Obama the winner of the 2012 election when it convenes in joint session to count the Electoral College votes. With little notice, the college met in December to give the president a 126-vote victory over GOP challenger Mitt Romney, 332 to 206. And as might be expected, the constitutional gathering that determines the winner has spurred another round of proposals to tinker with the system to make it more representative of the national will.
Each state has a number of electors equal to their representation in Congress with the District of Columbia having three electoral votes for total of 538. A candidate must win at least half to win the presidency. As a rule, the electors cast their votes by state delegation with all but Nebraska and Maine awarding the full slate of electors to the candidate who wins the states popular vote. Generally, the Electoral College vote follows the popular vote, but not always as the nation was reminded in 2000 when George W. Bush won the presidency with an Electoral College majority but not the popular vote.
There had been speculation that could happen again in 2012. Although it did not, some states and national reformers have renewed efforts to modify the system.
Proposals have been introduced in some states to replace the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes with a proportional system that allocates votes according to congressional districts with the winner in each district receiving one vote and two votes going to the statewide winner. A nationwide proposal called the National Popular Vote would have states award their electoral votes to the national winner regardless of which candidate won the state, which could nullify a states popular vote. It would not take effect until enough states with a majority of electoral votes agree to the compact. Only eight states and the District of Columbia have done so.
Electoral College supporters say the system draws candidate and campaign attention to state issues. However, safe states believed to be locked up by one candidate are commonly ignored as happened when President Obama and Mr. Romney campaigned extensively in a few swing states after their formal nomination last summer.
The various proposals, though, fail to recognize the anachronistic nature of the Electoral College in a modern democracy. Nearly 130 million Americans cast their ballots on Nov. 6. There shouldnt need to be another 538 votes. Real change will require a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College.