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College Daze

Yesterday, I mentioned in passing that a lot of people complain about the Electoral College, but never seem to work up enough energy to actually do what it would take to change the process. In the comments, some people thought that I was criticizing the Electoral College system, and others wondered just where I stood on the matter.

I was deliberately vague about my opinion, merely wishing to cite it as an example of a situation where people are upset about something, but not upset enough to actually fix it. In that context, my own opinion seemed irrelevant to the point -- there are far, far too many people who seem content to whine and bitch and complain about something, but are too damned lazy to get off their asses and actually try to FIX what they're complaining about.

Back before the 2004 elections, I stated my strong support for the Electoral College system, and not a blessed thing has happened to sway my mind since.

The Electoral College system is a check on "pure democracy," a system that is almost certainly doomed to failure when implemented on any scale besides the smallest. It is intended to preserve the rights of the minority, preventing 51% of the people from screwing over the other 49%. In this case, our Constitutional Republic system keeps the presidential candidates from simply ignoring the citizens of the smaller states (such as, say, New Hampshire) and sinking all their efforts into the larger states (like California, New York, and Texas.)

Thanks to the Electoral College, New Hampshire has slightly less than 1% of the total number of votes for president. By population, we have about 0.3% of the people. Conversely, California has about 16% of the population, but slightly more than 10% of the electoral vote.

No, it's not a purely democratic system. But it's worked pretty damned well for over 200 years, and I see no reason to change it now.


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Comments (29)

Agreed. The Electoral Colle... (Below threshold)
mcg:

Agreed. The Electoral College strikes a balance between the representation of individuals and the representation of states, but giving smaller states more power than they would have under popular vote alone. The legislative branch has this balance built into its bicameral structure. This is the executive branch's version of same. If we were to do away with the Electoral College, we might as well do away with the Senate as well.

I always assumed "Electoral... (Below threshold)
Son Of The Godfather:

I always assumed "Electoral College" is where one went to learn about AC/DC and stuff about voltages.

Back 200 years ago, our div... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Back 200 years ago, our diverse groups also were more or less defined by different states.

So you had state by state representation in the Senate. Population representation in the House. And mix for the President (# senators + # of congressmen).

So when the US population was lower, the strength of State by State representation was much higher.

It has actually weakened some. Which is OK, because our populations have blended themselves more.

But the College is still necessary. Otherwise Montana would be voted to be the landfill state by people in the other 49.

The electoral college is fl... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

The electoral college is fluid also. As populations shift from one state to another. No telling where the next "hot spot" will be. I believe Montana has grown fairly much in recent years. JT, I am amazed at the foresight and wisdom the founding fathers had.

Son of Godfather: That is funny, very funny. ww

I've raised this position i... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

I've raised this position in previous posts about the EC:

More (all really) states should split their electoral votes percentage-wise to better represent the will of the people in that state (I think Maine already does this, maybe one or two others). It would still give a disproportionate sway to small states like NH, but would more accurately reflect the popular vote. It would also be beneficial by ensuring candidates are more likely to campaign everywhere since states which reliably vote for one party in presidential elections (ie NY and CA for dems or the south for repubs) are now in somewhat play when the candidates otherwise would have conceded that territory.

Furthermore, you could have caveats where if you have an even number of EC votes, you have to give the majority to the candidate who received the popular majority no matter how close (ie 11-9 even if the difference in popular vote is only 1) or you could say if the difference is less than 1% then you split them evenly (ie Florida in 2000); also, a state could say a candidate could sweep the EC votes for the state if they exceeded some percentage (ie more than 67% in small states with only 3 EC votes).

It's perfectly constitutional as states individually determine how to apportion their own EC votes and would just require adopting state laws to implement it.

It would also hinder the desire to commit and lessen the impact of fraud since it would require large scale efforts to provide a benefit of only 1 or 2 EC votes.

The only problem I see is that if many states begin to adopt a program like this, then the battleground states will be the ones that are still all or nothing and they would be reluctant to change since they'd be getting all the attention.

Funny how those who complai... (Below threshold)

Funny how those who complain the most about the Electoral College never actually do anything to end, replace, or modify it.

Why?

Because it isn't a broken system, and the whiners/whingers recognize that the Electoral College could just as handily deliver them the White House, majority or no. Compelling Constitutional arguments aside, politicians will retain the Electoral College for this reason, and this reason alone.

In that case, I'd like to a... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

In that case, I'd like to apoligize and ammend the comment I made to your post yesterday.

You only had it ass backwards on the "none of the above" option, not on the electoral college.

Jay, there is little point ... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Jay, there is little point in trying to change the electoral college because that would require a constitutional amendment and there's no way the small-population states, who are vastly over-represented in the current system will allow that to take place.

BTW, the electoral college represents a line of thought that the federal government is answerable to the states. I can understand that way of thinking at the time of the writing of the constitution, but as the years have passed, there has been a shift toward the feds being representative of the people, with the most prominent example being the direct election of senators. To me, that would logically lead to the direct election of the president as well, but some states are going to cling to the power that I don't believe they deserve under the principle of one man, one vote.

To everyone who is saying t... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

To everyone who is saying that the electoral college is such a great system, how much of this defense is anchored on the fact that your man became the president despite the fact he lost the popular vote by about half-a-million? Did you know that the Bush team had an army of lawyers prepared to contest the 2000 election if Bush had won the popular vote but lost the electoral?

My support for the Electora... (Below threshold)
Pompeia Author Profile Page:

My support for the Electoral college has nothing to do with the 2000 election. It's because I live in a small population state, and that's not going to change, regardless of which party wins the popular vote.

RE#9The 2000 elect... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

RE#9

The 2000 election did nothing to change my opinion of the Electoral College. Thanks to the worthless and stupid in Wayne County my state always gives all their electoral votes to the socialist-regressive candidate. So I'm in the same boat as you, so to speak, albeit in the opposite direction. My vote for President will only count if the electoral college were changed or if the school system in Wayne County were changed. Still the EC protects the country people from the city people so it will almost always favor my preferred candidate.

The reason to change it now... (Below threshold)
Lars:

The reason to change it now is because the Electoral College DOESN'T WORK. The winner-take-all system results in more than two-thirds of the country being disenfranchised because they live in safe states. Presidential campaigns are all about battleground states. If you live in a safe state, you and your vote are irrelevant.

This system hurts the small states as well as other states. 12 of the 13 smallest states are "safe" and hence ignored during the campaign. It is interesting that you chose New Hampshire as an example of small states. New Hampshire is the only competitive small state. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Vermont, Rhode Island, etc. are ignored in current presidential campaigns. This is not because they are small, ex. candidates care about New Hampshire, but because they are safe.

Technically the Electoral College mathematically benefits small states. However, that perceived benefit falls apart under the reality of the campaign. Yes, an electoral vote carries more weight in a small state as opposed to a big state, but the electoral votes are ignored because the state is safe. The popular vote would not be ignored.

A national popular vote will benefit everyone who lives in a safe state. Under such a system, like with a Governor's race, every vote will be equal. As such, candidates will compete for every vote. They will be just as interested in a vote in South Dakota as they are with a vote in Ohio. This, as we all know, is not currently the case.

Before there is a complaint regarding the hegemony of large states if there were a national popular vote, check the math. Most of the big states (Massachusetts and Texas are exceptions) have a partisan breakdown of, generally 55-45 one way or the other). Even if one candidate were to receive 60% of the vote in the 12 largest states, that would not be sufficient votes to get elected.

You stated the Electoral College is a check on "pure democracy". Pure democracy was arguably something to be feared 200+ years ago when the overwhelming majority of the population was uneducated, did not have access to information, and instant communication didn't exist. Our country is significantly different than it was at that point (including allowing women and minorities to vote). If pure democracy is to be so feared, how come it is still used to elect Governor's, U.S. Senators, and virtually every other elective office in the United States?

Paul Hamilton, you are real... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Paul Hamilton, you are really a joke. Of course, you know GW Bush had a "team" of lawyers ready to pounce if he won the popular vote but lost to the college. How convenient that you did not back that up. We do know the "lock box" candidate tied up the courts for months cherry picking counties to contest. Finally, rational heads prevailed and squashed Algores goal of trying to go around the voters. As a matter of fact, the reason to keep the college is exactly for the fact you raised. Why should California and New York make the choice of who will be President?

We have 100 Senators, and 435 representatives, ALWAYS. How is that "over representation"? It really cracks me up that you lefties in your smug self rightious attitudes scream for fairness and justice but you really only mean for your own kind. ww

"overwhelming majority o... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"overwhelming majority of the population was uneducated, did not have access to information"

These two things are still true today and part of the reason why we still need the EC.

I find P. Bunyan's cynicism... (Below threshold)
Lars:

I find P. Bunyan's cynicism sad and incorrect. The level of education in this country compared to when the Electoral College was invented is so much higher that to debate the question is ludicrous. Just compare the literacy rates as a starter. Now, we may have concerns about the quality of that education, but that's a separate issue. Also to say that people don't have access to information is also woefully uninformed. People may or may not avail themselves of it, but it is certainly accessible.

I guess the thing that I don't understand is why so many of my fellow conservatives are frightened by a national popular vote. Forget about 2000. Everyone is right; we have nothing to be defensive about. Bush won. However, in 2004 Bush received 3.5 million more votes than Kerry but easily could have lost the Electoral College if a few thousand votes had changed in a couple of states.

Paul Hamilton:... (Below threshold)

Paul Hamilton:

To everyone who is saying that the electoral college is such a great system, how much of this defense is anchored on the fact that your man became the president despite the fact he lost the popular vote by about half-a-million? Did you know that the Bush team had an army of lawyers prepared to contest the 2000 election if Bush had won the popular vote but lost the electoral?
My first post answered the first part of your query:
Because it isn't a broken system, and the whiners/whingers recognize that the Electoral College could just as handily deliver them the White House, majority or no.
The second I'll answer thusly: John Kerry also had an army of lawyers lined up and ready to go to court in months before the 2004 Election. Seems to be something in which both sides engage, so your argument is an example of partisan cherry-picking.
"It [electoral colle... (Below threshold)
WarIsPeace:

"It [electoral college]is intended to preserve the rights of the minority, preventing 51% of the people from screwing over the other 49%.

Sure worked in 2000...The 49% managed to foist a lying war of choice, the most insane and disastrous policy of any president in this nation's history, on the US, along w vile SCOTUS appointees that will carry out this electoral outrage for another 25 years. At this point in time, the Electoral College has resulted in the screwing over of roughly 70% of the voters and most of the rest of the world. Some check on the tryranny of the majority!

and

"No, it's not a purely democratic system. But it's worked pretty damned well for over 200 years, and I see no reason to change it now."

Far from it, since this is the closest we have ever come to the establishment of a Monarch, a situation most dreaded by the Founding Fathers, and the primary reason the FF's established the procedure for impeachment.


Lars,Read comment ... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

Lars,

Read comment #17 for a perfect example of how poorly educated and informed today American youth is. What is sad is that it's typical-- at least from urban and suburban schools.

WarisPeace, you are complet... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

WarisPeace, you are completely unworthy of debating here. You have no points, proof, examples or anything else of substance. Just invective and tired old talking points. At least you win the laziness in argument award. ww

Warispeace, your comments a... (Below threshold)

Warispeace, your comments are amusing in their ignorance of history. In fact, the closest we came to establishing a monarchy was more likely the FDR administration, followed by Woodrow Wilson's. And of course, there was the time Andrew Jackson literally refused to follow a Supreme Court judgment ... Abraham Lincoln's detention of the Maryland legislature ...

In terms of real history, George W. Bush is about 30th down the list in terms of presidential tyrants.

We don't have a democracy, ... (Below threshold)

We don't have a democracy, and never have. We have a Republic.

Electoral votes are tied to representation in Congress, and are adjusted with population changes at each census and redistricting cycle. They are not directly based on population alone, of course, and were never intended to be. Every state has two Senators, so this disrupts the proportions.

But it's a ridiculous point. Our Constitution would never have been approved, and our country never founded in the manner by which we know it, without the Electoral College and the Senate. Naturally, no Amendment changing that has any chance of passage, since it would be a direct surrender of power from smaller states to more populous ones - a circumstance the Founders realized was a non-starter then, and it so remains.

As to "proportionate representation" in EC votes, each state legislature has the absolute right to set its own laws instructing its Electors. If states wish to pass such laws, they may at any time - but nothing can force them to do so, absent another Amendment.

So far as the United States is concerned, there is no such thing as a national popular vote. There are only state elections held on the same day.

Back in the day, you couldn't graduate high school without learning this stuff. And not a single classroom was "online" at all . . . go figure . . .

Paul Hamilton:To ... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Paul Hamilton:
To everyone who is saying that the electoral college is such a great system, how much of this defense is anchored on the fact that your man became the president despite the fact he lost the popular vote by about half-a-million?

Oh, shut up already. Clinton won in 92 with not even a plurality of the popular vote, but yet had the electoral votes. I don't hear you complaining about THAT outcome...

JT said,"and others wondere... (Below threshold)

JT said,"and others wondered just where I stood on the matter." and then,"but not upset enough to actually fix it".

Most know what you think about the electoral college if even you don't.

I like the constitution the way it is,not the way some would like to "fix it". It shouldn't be a more "modern" or "reasonable" document. So, other than voting for candidates who promise to repeal that part of it, or, who want to amend it to "work in the 21st century", it seems all one can do is to mount a grassroots effort to create a groundswell of public fervor to remove the antiquated rule.

I think the mistakes written into the constitution have been fixed, and all we've been doing is adding things that it doesn't allow for for the past 80 years or so. Guess that makes me a "jihadist" and you an "infidel" on this one. If you'll promise not to invade me,I'll promise not to explode myself... Don't what that meant. Sorry. It's early. Time to get up.

Jim - Obviously ther... (Below threshold)
lars:

Jim -
Obviously there is no national popular vote. I'm advocating a change to such a system. While the Founding Fathers got much right, particularly for their time, the Electoral College no longer stands the test of time. It is a system that disenfranchises more than 2/3rds of the country and vests the election of the President in just a small handful of states.

Something seems fundamentally wrong with the system that if I want my vote to be meaningful I have to move every 3 years to the nearest battleground state. I guess I don't agree that a voter in New Hampshire or Ohio or any other battleground state should have a more important role in electing the leader of the free world than a voter in Texas, Idaho, Vermont, or any of the other "safe" states.

'..vests the election of th... (Below threshold)
DCE:

'..vests the election of the President in just a small handful of states."

Really? Instead you'd rather hand all of the control over to large states and the small states can goto hell?

More than one comment has stated that we are a democracy. The problem is that we are not, at least not at a national level. The framers of the Constitution never meant it to be.

The problem with pure democracy, as many of those against the the electoral college have chosen to ignore, is that eventually it turns into mob rule writ large. Thinking goes out the window and the people vote themselves "bread and circuses" and send that democracy down the path to destruction. Again, the framers of the Constitution understood this.

Frankly, as individuals we may be wise enough to choose the candidate we want or the law or constitutional amendment we want to change. But as a whole, a large group of in-DUH-viduals are not. The framers understood this.

The Electoral College was one way of reining in the tyranny of the majority, something that pure democracies eventually become. (After the French Revolution came 'the Terror', pure democracy run rampant. Mob rule became the norm and nobody was safe if "the people" decided that someone should face the guillotine.)

Too many people assume that the popular vote is the only thing that counts. That may be true on a local or even state level. But we wouldn't have survived as long as we have if the popular vote ruled all.

If some on this forum wish to believe that the US is a democracy, then I urge you to work towards abolishing Congress. If we are a democracy we really don't need them, do we? We can vote for all of that stuff ourselves,particularly now that we have the technical means, right?

Will any of you actually do that? No. Of course not. You realize that it isn't practical. Yet you want to disfranchise many of the smaller states by making the popular vote the only means of electing the President. If that were to happen, those of us in the small states might as well stay home and not vote because they will count for very little. By the same argument, you could decide that the Senate is unfair, because very state has equal representation regardless of its population.

That too would be a bad idea.

Presidential campaigns are ... (Below threshold)
lars:

Presidential campaigns are controlled be the ½ dozen or so "battleground" states. Everyone else suffers irrelevancy. That includes small states. The current system is bad for them. As I tried to point out, their Electoral College bonus is illusory. They are still ignored by presidential campaigns. Most of the big states are as well. The determination of whether a given state is a player in presidential politics is determined by their partisan make-up and voting history, not by their size.

A national popular vote system would make every vote equal. There would be no incentive for candidate to campaign in large states in greater proportion to their population. Yes, California, Texas, New York, etc. will receive more attention than they do now. So will Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Vermont, etc. Clearly the big states will receive more focus than the smaller states. But the small states will receive much more consideration than they do now (which is zero). You express concern that a national popular vote will disenfranchise small states. We in small states are already disenfranchised. A national popular vote will have the exact opposite effect.

If this fear of "mob rule" that would result from "pure democracy" is so real, why is it that no state has implemented a buffer between the public and their elected officials? Democracy works well for electing Governors. I don't know of any movement to install an Electoral College like institution in any state.

Is Democracy perfect? Of course not. However, it is better than anything else that has been tried, including the Electoral College.

I'm sorry, but it still doe... (Below threshold)
DCE:

I'm sorry, but it still doesn't fly. While some may claim that he need for the Electoral College no longer exists, I posit that it's needed more than ever.

I don't want California, Texas, New York, Florida, and the few other large states deciding for the other ~40 states who will be President. In effect, that's what you are proposing.

If a candidate needs only win in the larger population states to win the popular vote, then he/she will only campaign in those states and ignore the rest of us. How is that "fair"?

It has not been my experience that candidates will only campaign in the states that somebody somewhere says is pivotal to the electoral college votes. Yes, they may put their efforts into states where they are behind, large or small, but the smaller states are rarely the so-called swing states when it comes to the Electors.

However, if you see that a few larger states should dominate the election of the President, then go right ahead and work towards that end. However, remember this old caveat: "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it."

You may find that using the popular vote as the only measure for electing a President may, in the end, be far worse than you imagine...unless of course you live in a large state. But if you want to go that route, might I suggest a different tack?

Why not make all states the same size, population wise? Then it makes no difference. Of course, many of the folks that end up "changing" from state to state as the population shifts might not like that they are no longer residents of the state they chose, but now are part of another state.

On second thought, no. Better to leave it like it is. Despite claims that the Electoral College doesn't work, I say it does, just as the framers of the Constitution intended.

Your feelings and fact are ... (Below threshold)
Lars:

Your feelings and fact are two different things:

Facts Regarding A National Popular Vote

There are not enough votes in the big states for either party to get elected without campaigning in mid-size and smaller states as well. It's simple math (see my previous post).

"Battleground" states draw attention whether they are big, like Ohio, or small, like New Hampshire. Candidates from both parties spent more time in New Hampshire, a swing state, in the general election that in the other 12 small states combined.

You are deluding yourself if you don't think that candidates focus exclusively on "battleground states. 2/3rds of the money spent in the general election will go into just 6 states. More than 99% will be spent in around 15.

"51% of the population hold... (Below threshold)
dave:

"51% of the population holding 49% hostage" has to be the most ridiculous arguement I've heard in favour of the electoral college. American presidential elections are winner take all elections. By definition, whoever voted for the winner "holds hostage" the rest of the country. Explain to me how that is any worse than 49% holding 51% hostage. I genuinely, not sarcastically, don't get it.

Every single state election is decided by the popular vote, and nary a whisper of protest. Why not a county electoral college? Why let Wayne County decide Michigan? Why let New York City decide the New York State? Because someone who lives in a densely populated county is every bit as relevant as someone who lives in a sparsely populated one, that's why. People who complain that they don't want New York and California deciding the winner of the election seem perfectly happy to let Ohio and Florida decide it.

Those who think that the EC protects small states might want to consider that it also gives a disproportionate amount of power to the big states. Because it operates on a winner takes all system, winning say Pennsylvania by a single vote gives the winner 21 electoral votes. If California and Texas were competitive, they would be pretty much the be-all end-all in presidential politics. Why do you think there was so much focus on Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida in 2004, and not on Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and New Mexico, all of which were closer?

I also don't think much of making the Maine and Nebraska system of allocating the electoral votes by congressional district nationwide. That system only really works for small states. For example, in Nebraska, even if the losing candidate wins 2 out of 3 congressional districts, the winning candidate will get 3 electoral votes to 2, so it's impossible for the winner to get fewer electoral votes. But in Minnesota, where Bush won 6 out of 8 congressional districts, he would have won 6 electoral votes to Kerry's 4, despite getting fewer votes statewide.

If I had to reform the American presidential electoral system, I would do three things. Firstly, I would abolish the electoral college. Secondly, I would introduce instant runoff voting to stop the effect of third party spoilers. Finally, I would either move Election Day to a Saturday or make it a public holiday to improve the woeful turnout. Now that's clearly never going to happen, and it won't be a completely fair system, but I believe it would be fairer than the current one.




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