As this issue went to press, the country still didn't know the identity of its 43rd president. Al Gore had 262 electoral votes; George W. Bush had 246. With electoral votes determining the winner, Americans were waiting to see who would take Florida's 25 votes.
Lawyers were scrambling into Palm Beach, FL, like college kids after free beer. Mostly at issue was Palm Beach County where elderly voters who presumably normally could play 18 bingo cards at once apparently couldn't follow an arrow to a punch hole on their ballots.
Meanwhile, Senator-elect Hillary Clinton stood on an airport runway in Albany, NY. There, she put everyone on notice that she was throwing her weight into abolishing the Electoral College.
Oomph! That alone should be enough to make folks in "fly-over country" grab the kids, some canned goods and head for the cellar. But we can't.
It Was Urban Versus Rural At press time, Bush had carried 29 states in the electoral count. Gore had 20 and was leading the national popular vote by less than 200,000 votes out of 100 million cast. Area-wise, Gore had laid claim to almost 600,000 square miles of U.S. territory, while Bush controlled 2.5 million square miles.
Look at a national map of the electoral results. Basically, the performance of the candidates amounts to an urban versus rural showdown. Gore's strength areas are largely in the cities, with his greatest muscle in the Northeast and on the West Coast. Bush's strength is in rural areas.
The Bush/Gore electoral stalemate and Gore's razor-thin lead in the popular vote have some folks claiming the will of the people isn't served under an Electoral College standard. They want to trash it in favor of a popular vote. In fact, a recent CBS News/New York Times survey found that 60% of respondents thought the U.S. Constitution should be amended to make the popular vote the determinant in a presidential election.
This isn't a good idea for beef producers or any rural folk. The Electoral College system was set up by the founders as a way, among other things, to even the scales of rural areas against the numerical clout of urban centers.
The electoral votes allotted to each state correspond to the number of representatives and senators each state has in Congress. The distribution of electoral votes varies depending on the latest U.S. Census, but each state has at least three.
The system gives states like South Dakota, which sent 800,000 people to the polls this year, three electoral votes. That's much more proportionately than the folks in California where 10 million voters decided the disposition of 54 electoral votes. Under the electoral system this year, it took roughly 185,000 California voters to match the clout of 105,000 South Dakotans.
The day after the election, a friend and I discussed the electoral map. He was amazed that the bulk of the West had gone largely to Bush. "Don't those people care about their environment?" he asked.
The rural West does care, but they embrace a different prescription than federal management. My friend's thinking is a common view in urban centers, however. And, that divergence in thinking extends to issues beyond just the environment.
It is the Electoral College that ensures some measure of equality in presidential elections. It also ensures some measure of compromise because politicians in a winner-take-all contest must appeal beyond their political base to win.
There's a reason folks like Hillary Clinton want to do away with the Electoral College. They know it's an impediment to their political ambitions.
Corrections: The October issue story "Greener Pastures" carried an incorrect figure on the chart on Beef Cow Numbers By State, page 46. The correct figure for total beef cow numbers in 1980 should be 37,107,000 head.
In addition, our story "Labeling Battle" (October, page 44) juxtaposed the positions of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the American Meat Institute (AMI) on the issue of country of origin labeling. NFU is a long-time advocate of a "born and raised" standard in identifying beef as made in the U.S., while AMI favors "in the U.S. for 100 days." We apologize for the errors.