In presidential elections, the big state of Alaska is a small state. It has only three electoral votes. In a country of 311 million people, it has a mere 722,000. Worse, it can be hard for presidential candidates to get to Alaska, given its distance from the 48 contiguous states. Alaska needs every advantage it can get during presidential elections, which makes it all the more puzzling that at least some Alaskan legislators are seriously considering National Popular Vote (anti–Electoral College) legislation.
The Alaskan legislature convened less than two weeks ago, but its senate’s Finance Committee has already taken up the matter in a hearing. If the committee approves NPV, the matter will head to the senate floor for a vote: NPV was already passed by two other senate committees last year.
Some Alaskans have fallen for the argument that a direct national election will bring more attention to Alaska because “every vote will be equal.” A vote obtained in Alaska will have the same legal weight as a vote in California. Thus, presidential candidates will flock to the state in droves. Right?
Wrong. Perhaps Alaska does sometimes get less attention than other states, but it does not follow that eliminating the Electoral College will improve the situation.
The Census Bureau estimates that the most heavily populated state, California, currently has about 37.7 million people; it is allocated 55 electoral votes. Alaska, by contrast, has roughly 722,000 people; it has three electoral votes. California has more than 52 times as many people as Alaska, but only 18 times as many electoral votes. If, as NPV contends, Alaska receives a disproportionately small amount of attention now, when the difference is three to 55 electoral votes, how much greater would the problem be if the relevant difference were 722,000 people to nearly 38 million people?
Alaska will never receive as much attention as California in presidential campaigns, but such will be the case under any election system. The Electoral College does not eliminate this disparity, but it does minimize its severity. Can you imagine a vice presidential candidate hailing from Alaska in a world without the Electoral College?
Alaska may be big, but it needs the protections offered to small states by our current presidential election system. Its legislators should think twice before casually throwing away the Electoral College just because they heard an appealing sound bite from NPV’s lobbyists.
— Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College.