Essay Preview: Winner-Take-All
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“Winner-take-all” is a term used to describe single member district and at large election systems that award seats to the highest vote getters without ensuring fair representation for minority groups. In the United States, these are typically single-member district schemes or at-large, block-voting systems. Under winner-take-all rules, a slim majority of voters can control 100% of seats, leaving everyone else effectively without representation.
Theres something else troubling about the way we elect presidents–something beyond the personal attacks, the derelict voters and the influence of big money.
It is the fact that so many of those who do vote dont have their votes counted.
Florida is a good example of what Im talking about–not because that state turned out to make the decisive difference in this weeks election, but because more than 2 million voters–nearly as many as will go to the winning candidate–had no say in the outcome. All of Floridas 25 electoral votes will go to the other guy.
Thats the unavoidable consequence of the winner-take-all system that prevails in all the states. At the end, of course, any contest for a single office is a winner-take-all affair. But why should it be that way in the states? Why should more than a million-and-a-half California supporters of George W. Bush see all 54 of the states electoral votes go to Al Gore? In short, what is wrong with apportioning each states electoral votes in accordance with the way the states electorate voted? A better question, no doubt, is why not ditch the electoral college system altogether and go to direct elections?
Politicians as different as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon backed a constitutional amendment to have all the states go to a proportional system. Obviously, nothing came of the proposals. Its probably because the political party that would be favored in a winner-take-all state is usually the party that runs the state. The party with the power to change the system has no incentive for doing so. It is not the sole fact that votes get wasted that bothers me. There is much more to it. Bush hardly campaigned at all in New York–and for the same reason that Gore neglected Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska: His opponent had the states locked up, along with 100 percent of their electoral votes. Indeed, Bush was criticized by some GOP strategists for wasting time and resources campaigning in California. A proportional system would have changed all that. If Bush had thought he had a realistic shot at, say, 20 of Californias 54 electoral votes, you couldnt have kept him