Monday, June 18 , 2018, 12:33 pm | Fair 68º


Mark Shields: Yes, I’m a ‘College’ Dropout — the Electoral College Must Go

Shortly after the cooling of the Earth, I, then a much younger man, worked in two statewide campaigns in Ohio, during which lifelong friendships were forged and many colorful characters were met. No character was more colorful than “Jumpin’ Joe” Ferguson, who in 1970, at age 78, was returned by Ohio voters to the state auditor’s office, which he had previously occupied from 1936 to 1952.

Ferguson, a short, energetic man, earned his nickname by forever bobbing up and down on his toes, apparently to establish eye contact with his taller colleagues. In 1950, Jumpin’ Joe was the Democratic challenger to Sen. Robert Taft, an Ohio icon nationally known as “Mr. Republican.”

During that campaign, Ferguson was asked his position on the two tiny Chinese Nationalist islands then belonging to Taiwan but coveted by the communist bosses of mainland China.

Reporter: “Joe, what about Quemoy and Matsu?”

Ferguson, proving that foreign affairs was not his strong suit: “I’ll carry ‘em both!”

From that day forward until Taft’s landslide Election Day victory, Ferguson’s one-size-fits-all answer to any question on foreign policy became, “Beat Michigan.”

I like Ohio, which the last time I checked led the nation in state funding for public libraries. The Buckeye State is older, whiter and poorer — 35th in median household income and 37th in college graduates — than the nation. True, Ohio, having sent seven of her sons — Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Taft and Warren Harding — to the White House (not many Mount Rushmore runners-up in that group, I concede), can be rightly called the Mother of Presidents.

But Ohio, as we are reminded at least hourly, is truly the Epicenter of the Political World. Yes, there are other important swing states this year, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin. The remaining 41 states — where almost four out of five Americans live — are reduced to spectators, which the candidates only visit if they qualify as campaign ATM machines.

But the presidential candidate who wins Ohio will almost certainly be taking the oath of office at the Capitol on Jan. 20. You can forget the Big Apple and Big D and L.A. They’re all chopped liver compared with Chillicothe, Steubenville and Zanesville.

I guess I should be happy for Ohio, which has not had a lot of good news these past 30 years or so. But let’s be blunt. The only reason Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are living in or near the Columbus media market is because of a historic mistake we call the Electoral College.

The Founding Fathers were not, it turns out, infallible. The Electoral College is absolutely anti-democratic. All Americans are treated unequally. Because each state gets two electoral votes for its two U.S. senators and an electoral vote for each of its House members, every state, regardless of population, has a minimum of three electoral votes.

This means that Wyoming, which in the most recent U.S. census had 568,300 residents, has three electoral votes, and California, with 37,341,989 residents (which awards it 53 House members), has 55 electoral votes. As former President Bill Clinton might suggest, look at the arithmetic: Wyoming gets one electoral vote for every 189,493 residents, while it takes 678,945 Californians to get a single electoral vote. This is indefensible.

All we need to know is that of the scores of democracies created since World War II — the great majority of which were informed by the American example — not a single country has adopted, in any form, the Electoral College.

I’m a “college” dropout. Let’s make Americans in all 50 states — not just in nine — count. Let’s value every American vote equally through national, uniform voter registration and with candidates seeking support everywhere and from everyone.

I’m sorry, Ohio, the Electoral College must go.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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