Though we've almost made it through a "change" election year, the candidates' schedules tell a familiar tale: Florida. Ohio. Virgina. Missouri. Colorado. Pennsylvania. Florida. Ohio. Virgina. Pennsylvania. Florida. Ohio.
Tradition is great, and the Founding Fathers had their reasons for devising the Electoral College instead of a direct national vote. (How else would slave owners been able to count 3/5 of a vote for each of the human beings they kept in bondage?) As a thought experiment, though, let's imagine a presidential election if the Electoral College were eliminated or made proportional within each state.
Jump with me to an alternative universe...
Without today's EC, the entire Red vs. Blue map would disappear. The big patch of Wyoming Red, for example? Gone from the center of the map, because all the Blue Wyoming votes would also be counted at face value.
The tiny smudge of Vermont Blue? Equally insignificant, with Vermont voters mixing into the general voting pool. Both Vermont and Wyoming would have the same weight in the election as a mid-sized city elsewhere in the country. As such, the very small states wouldn't see much love from the presidential candidates. In other words, status quo ante.
What about the big monochromatic states? California, New York, Texas? Suddenly their millions of voters would become very important. If the Democrats could increase their national total by jetting into Austin or El Paso, you bet those cities would get some serious attention. If the Republicans had an incentive to run up the numbers in conservative San Diego, they would be camped out there. (Oh, they already are - John McCain has 3 condos there, though his only campaign events in the area are fundraisers. My bad.) If New York votes mattered, you would not hear Republican candidates bad-mouthing New York quite so freely.
And Ohio? Florida? Pennsylvania? They would still be important, but not nearly as important. Their importance would stem from the large numbers of voters who live there who could be apportioned to each candidate, not from the chance that the absolute plurality within their borders would go one way or another.
The politics of geography would be replaced by... something else.
Cities would become crucial locations where campaigns could find large numbers of voters in a small radius, so urban concerns would get a lot more attention. Suburban voters are more spread out, but represent a huge number of Americans, so candidates would need to tailor messages to those who live in the suburbs of Boston as well as the residents of suburban of Tampa. Rural issues would likely lose out, because, face it, hardly any American actually earns a living from farming anymore.
Various voting blocs would find a lot more attention to their issues, because the concerns of millions of, for example, environmentalist bird watchers would suddenly be at least as important as the concerns of Jewish retirees in West Palm. Other voting blocs would lose clout, such as the Miami Cuban community - since the rest of the country would like to abandon our 50 year policy of waiting for the Castros to die.
Election year advertising would be completely changed. Campaigns would have to advertise in the expensive New York and LA markets. On the other hand, limited funds would not go into radio ads in some sparsely populated area of Nevada with the intent of flipping the one vote that flips the state.
GOTV would also be different, because it would matter whether you voted regardless of where you lived. For example, there would be a lot more door-knocking and phone-banking in Utah and New Jersey.
Finally, the Internet would become a lot more important. Not only would people be using the net to convert their grandparents in Pensacola, but also their friends in Little Rock and their old roommates in San Francisco. Candidates would need to reach a lot more people, so they might have a lot more micro-tailored messages, such as videos filmed for particular blogs or websites. And you can bet that the creativity of the web-osphere would be put to use in countless other ways to make every last vote count.
These musings are not meant to say we should focus on eliminating the EC, and they are not meant to suggest that doing so would be possible or wise. I am only asking, "What if?" And, as we wind toward the end of another year of FL/ PA/ OH/ FL/ PA/ OH, perhaps you will join me in thinking about how things could be different.