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EDITORIAL – U.S. electoral college has similar advantages to our FPTP

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger

AMERICANS VOTE TODAY for a new president as well as an array of local, state and federal representatives.

They don’t directly choose their president. That’s done via the electoral college, a system that’s under intense criticism and calls to abolish it in the U.S. It seems we in Canada don’t understand it, and Americans no longer want it.

Opposition is probably influenced by the fact that two recent presidents took office after being defeated in the popular vote but winning the electoral college.

While the electoral college certainly needs reform and a serious look at the distribution of votes among the states, our neighbours to the south should think twice before they eliminate it altogether.

The electoral college system is a distant cousin to our own first-past-the-post. The beauty of first-past-the-post is that it recognizes the wishes of voters in each riding. We don’t simply throw all votes into a big hat and pick a winner based on who has the most support in the province as a whole.

Since the recent B.C. election, there have already been renewed calls by those who just won’t give up on proportional representation. If you think the U.S. system is complicated, take a look at prop rep, which divvies up representation according to total popular vote.

Fair Vote Canada has been sending around their favourite pie charts showing that the NDP won 45 per cent of the vote but have 63 per cent of the seats and “100 per cent of the power.” And that the Greens got 15.3 per cent of the popular vote and only 3.4 per cent of seats. Interestingly, the BC Liberals’ popular vote corresponds nicely to their seat total.

They ignore the disparities caused when high-population urban areas are allowed to dominate the outcome. That’s the same problem that would occur if the U.S. elected presidents strictly based on total popular vote.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

About Mel Rothenburger (7841 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – U.S. electoral college has similar advantages to our FPTP

  1. tony brumell // November 3, 2020 at 3:51 PM // Reply

    I see a parallel in electoral collage system and our MLA elections. Our government is either a majority or minority defined by how many MLA’s or seats are elected. Thus elections can be lost in popular vote but win in number of MLA’s elected. As such our premier may lose to popular vote or nu,ber of seats in the house. Make sense ????? . Not sure of the fptp referance How does that work ? or the pro rep scenario ?

  2. I am definitely not an election expert but you are right in calling the proportional representation a serious head scratch-er. I like the simple explanation of “The beauty of first-past-the-post is that it recognizes the wishes of voters in each riding.” Simplicity is usually better.

  3. Sean McGuinness // November 3, 2020 at 6:20 AM // Reply

    The electoral college should be abolished. Period. There is the mantra of “one person, one vote” but the reality is, with the electoral college, it’s just 5 to 10 states that decide the outcome. In some cases, it comes down to one state (eg. Florida in 2000). The distribution of votes is in fact being exploited (more often then not by Republicans) not just in the electoral college, but also in congressional districts. The U.S. is facing a crisis in their democracy in part because of their archaic system of government.

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