The dirty secret about Oregon Aglink the magazine is that the deadline for my column is weeks before you’ll read it. Coming up with fresh column ideas can be challenging, especially in today’s world when a hot topic has the shelf life of a snow flake in Phoenix. Take this column, for example. While we’re not a political organization, it’s hard not to have politics at the top of mind during election week. This morning the entire conversation revolves around the protests throughout the country because Donald Trump was elected president.

While the weak minded are focused on vandalism and physical and mental intimidation, many scholars are pointing to the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Their form of protest is to demand change away from the Electoral College that determines who wins a presidential election. They want the popular vote to determine the winner.

On the surface, I can reason with that frustration and even welcome the rational. I just whole heartedly disagree with it.

In order to appreciate the reasons for the Electoral College, it is essential to understand its historical context and the problem that the founding fathers were trying to solve. They faced the difficult question of how to elect a president in a nation that:

  • Was composed of 13 large and small states jealous of their own rights and powers while suspicious of any central national government
  • Contained only 4 million people nationwide, or basically the population of Oregon
  • Concerns were rampant that states with larger population bases would create a dictatorship

Why were these questions discussed? Let’s look a little deeper. Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts represented 41 percent of the population in 1776. Can you begin to see how founders in the other 10 colonies were a little leery of the bigger colonies? This was especially true of the largest colony, Virginia, which represented nearly 25 percent of the nation’s population. The founding fathers were determined to find a more equitable system that allowed all 13 colonies equal input.

It’s a system, by and large, that has worked well.

The popular vote, which is used in most state-wide elections? That’s up for debate. Especially in States such as Oregon that have primarily one metro area.

In 2016 Oregon surpassed 4 million people who reside in the Beaver State. Roughly the same population as the original 13 colonies combined. If we pretend that Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties are the equivalent of the three highest populated “colonies,” we find that these three counties represent 44 percent of Oregon’s population. Multnomah County is our “Virginia,” representing nearly 20 percent of the population.

Dennis Richardson was just elected Secretary of State in Oregon. He is the first Republican to win a state-wide election since Jack Roberts was elected Labor Commissioner in 1994. In most cases the Democratic candidate has won with relative ease, primarily because they dominate the three counties previously noted. Democratic principles are usually stronger in metropolitan communities, whereas Republican principles are usually stronger in rural communities.

This is why rural interests are not represented well in state-wide elections. For the purposes of an example only, Hillary Clinton took 52 percent of the popular vote in Oregon and Donald Trump took 41 percent. Rightfully so, she earned the 7 electoral votes from Oregon. However, if you look at the county-by-county breakdown, Clinton took only 8 of 36 counties in Oregon.

What’s my point? Oregon has a significant urban-rural divide. Most of that anguish is built around local politics, often forced upon rural communities by their urban neighbors. What if Oregon had its own version of an electoral college where each county had a larger say in how an election turned out?

I realize this is never going to happen, and even if it was entertained it would be skewed to where the larger population base would still have a greater say. However, if such a system did exist I do believe that our state-wide officials would probably give a little more than the current lip service they give our rural communities. Stronger dialogue would occur that would create solutions rather than build larger chasms between urban and rural populaces. And, that’s something to think about.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director