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Old 11-11-2016, 09:49 PM
Mean Mr. Mustard Mean Mr. Mustard is offline
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Please explain the benefit of the electoral college to me like I am a seven-year-old

My understanding:

Electing a president by popular vote gives an advantage to the urban, more populous regions. In other words, if we elected a POTUS based on popular vote only, Californians would have more of a say-so than Wyomingites, and that would be unfair.

So, we need an electoral college to level the playing field, yes?

Now, Wyomingites have 3 electoral votes while Californians have 55.

Still seems unbalanced to my untrained eye. What am I missing?



mmm
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Old 11-11-2016, 10:02 PM
Mijin Mijin is online now
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Not "level the playing field" but give smaller states a somewhat bigger say than they would have if it was purely a popular vote.

3 votes for wyoming and 55 for california actually gives each wyoming voter about 3x the clout in terms of choosing a president, given that the population ratio is about 1:66
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Old 11-11-2016, 10:32 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is online now
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The Electoral College builds into the Presidential election process the same compromise that was made with regard to the Congress to help small population states stave off the control of those with larger populations. The fact that every state gets two electoral votes for its senators helps ensure that a coalition of smaller states has more clout than they would have in a popular vote.

Whether this is truly needed or not is, of course, debatable. I, for one, find it helpful to our Democracy. I would truly hate to think of the President being effectively picked by the populations of LA, NYC, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, et al.
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Old 11-11-2016, 10:58 PM
PastTense PastTense is online now
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Suppose you had a Presidental election with 4 candidates: Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Green. If you have a popular vote do choose the candidate with the most votes or do you consider what would have been the Libertarian and Green supporters second choices, and consequently have a runoff election between the top two candidates? This year such a runoff would probably have resulted in Trump winning the popular vote.
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Old 11-11-2016, 11:01 PM
Tzigone Tzigone is offline
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Quote:
I would truly hate to think of the President being effectively picked by the populations of LA, NYC, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, et al.
But a popular vote would be a president chosen by the majority of all the people - not just the city ones. And cities could disagree with each other. And the president being effectively picked by the small towns and rural areas isn't any better for democracy to me than by the big cities.

While I can understand that less populous states need some extra representation I do think it's too lopsided the other way now. 3:1 is too far, to me. I wonder what the number of votes for each state would be if the # in the House of Representatives had never been limited...but that definitely needed to be limited. Would have been way too big to manage by now, otherwise.

Worse than that, I don't think state-by-state is the best way to meet needs of different groups anymore as the differing wants/needs aren't really cut along state lines. But I can't think of any other weighted system that would work. And even if I could, the less populous states aren't going to give up the EC, which gives them more power.

Last edited by Tzigone; 11-11-2016 at 11:04 PM.
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Old 11-11-2016, 11:27 PM
Tzigone Tzigone is offline
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I wonder what the number of votes for each state would be if the # in the House of Representatives had never been limited
Might have ended up more favorable to smaller states when I think about it.

Which brings me back to the thing where the Founding Fathers had different ideas about democracy than we do. Popular vote would not have been a hit with all of them. Power in the hands of the elites, and all. Was just reading how Madison didn't like all electors for a state pledging to one candidate. He wanted them to be independent agents, to beholden to a vote. Not a sentiment that's popular today, for sure - and a good reminder that just because they framed something that way doesn't mean we have to keep it their way. And they didn't all agree, of course.

To a lot of Americans, the popular vote just seems fairer. But then we have that "tyranny of the majority" fear. Though, that's what we have appointed officials and different branches for, not what we have the EC for. State-by-state votes don't even take care of rural/urban representation issues (as the parties have largely come to that sort of divide today - may change in future). What that comes down to, to me, is not getting the rural folks looked after but ensuring state power in federal election rather than individual power in federal election. Some people think the power needs to be in the hands of the states, others think it needs to be in the hands of the people. EC is, I think, an attempt at compromise in that.
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Old 11-11-2016, 11:33 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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OP: We had 13 sovereign, independent colonies, that were in all sense of the word, independent countries in a loose political/military alliance while fighting a war against Great Britain. When that war was won, we wanted to form a true country, and to do so we had to convince Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina that they wouldn't be dominated by the other states. That alone is 8 of the 13 colonies.

Keep in mind the distribution of the population, the top four colonies/states in terms of population had the following percentage of the total population (excluding Vermont, an unlawfully self-governing area at the time the constitution was written):

1. Virginia 821,287 (22%)
2. Massachusetts 475,327 (12%)
3. Pennsylvania 434,373 (11%)
4. North Carolina 393,751 (10%)
5. New York 340,120 (9%)

VA, MA, PA, NC alone held more than 50% of the entire proto-country's population. Some of these smaller states saw the writing on the wall too, they saw how vast New York was, how vast Virginia, Pennsylvania etc were, and doubted they could even maintain the population ratios as they were then, which was already lopsided. Now, part of the compromise was in the counting of slaves (my population figures include them), and I'll exclude discussion of that at the moment as it's not germane.

But we basically wanted a country that could more effectively govern, and our scheme for the election of the President was a hanging point because the small states feared domination by the large. Probably the last key to understanding it, is understanding what the United States was in 1788 or so. It wasn't really a singular country, legally, under the Confederation we were sort of one country, but each state was extremely independent. Similar to the states of the European Union today.

Further, think to the history--under the crown residents generally thought of themselves as "Virginians and British subjects" (and in what order varied depending on how loyal they were to the crown), "Pennsylvanian and British subjects" and etc. No one thought of themselves as some united, "American" people. In conversation the "American colonies" had the same connotation as "Europe", not a political entity but a geographic one. It is hard to overstate how much this was the case, some Founding Fathers would refer to their how colony/state as their home country, distinct from the "United States."

The biggest argument for the electoral college today is it gives prominence to the States in selecting the President, but that makes a lot less sense to people today, because no one thinks of voting "as an Ohioan" they think of voting for the President of America, and themselves as Americans. One might become an Ohioan when they move there, but they move somewhere else and they become a Pennsylvania. If you're born in Ohio and move away to Georgia, you are unlikely to refer to yourself as "an Ohioan" you would instead say "I'm originally from Ohio." This is quite important, modern Americans view States as a political subdivision, and the state of your birth nothing more than a piece of trivia, it's not some immutable part of you like being "an American" is. That's how the people in 1788 felt about their states, because these states had been largely self-governing for 200 years, and above that level of government was the distant British crown/parliament, and they were but one part of the larger British Empire.

So there wasn't an "urban/rural" divide like there is now, but much more a "state" divide. It was not at all unreasonable for Connecticut to consider Pennsylvanians would vote out of interest of Pennsylvania, modern voters vote out of their self-interest, which does vary based on demographics and cultural factors (which can be influenced by things like the rural/urban divide.)

So at the end of the day--a compromise had to occur. If it didn't, likely no new constitution would've been drafted, at least not one with a President as we know it. Without effective executive leadership it is difficult to imagine the country surviving (lack of any meaningful national executive was a cause for systemic weakness under the Confederation Congress.) The electoral college was the best thing they could come up with.

It has persisted because as we've progressed through history, while we no longer identify nearly so much with our state of residence, the political apparatus of our States still are sovereign and still do not want to cede power. New Hampshire would be far less powerful under a popular vote system. Of course even that argument has some weakness, because while New Hampshire would be much less powerful, a large portion of that isn't its 4 electoral votes, but the fact that it's a swing state. Rhode Island/Vermont are essentially 100% powerless now, because they aren't swing states. In theory under a popular vote system they are more powerful, because every vote cast matters. But the small swing states are never going to vote out the electoral college. You'd have to convince some of the other small states to go along with abolishing it, and even in some of them like Rhode Island or Wyoming (small population-wise) it'd be a hard sell for historical/structural reasons.

Also, now that the Republicans have benefited from 2 of the 4 elections since 1860 where the winner of the popular vote failed to win the electoral college (and those 2 occurred since 2000), there's going to be pretty clear partisan reasons that the House/Senate won't be drafting a new amendment to do away with the electoral college anytime soon.
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Old 11-11-2016, 11:36 PM
Tzigone Tzigone is offline
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Quote:
Might have ended up more favorable to smaller states when I think about it.
Maybe I should take that back. At ((population/40,000) + 1), Wyoming gets ~16 electoral votes and California gets ~971. Or am I misunderstanding how that would have worked? Or misplacing decimal points.

Quote:
But the small swing states are never going to vote out the electoral college.
Yep. But what tangible benefit comes to the state from having the EC system? Pork? An actual increase in power for officials? Do the actual voters there care (living in a non-swing-state, I don't know how they'd feel).

Quote:
Also, now that the Republicans have benefited from 2 of the 4 elections since 1860 where the winner of the popular vote failed to win the electoral college (and those 2 occurred since 2000), there's going to be pretty clear partisan reasons that the House/Senate won't be drafting a new amendment to do away with the electoral college anytime soon.
Also agreed. Question: is this a thing (popular/EC mismatch) that is likely to become more common with current trends? Sincere question. I don't know hat makes this likely to happen.

Last edited by Tzigone; 11-11-2016 at 11:41 PM.
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Old 11-11-2016, 11:51 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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In European parliamentary democracies, the strength of the plurality (the base majority of votes) is influenced by minority but significant blocs of voters. In the United States, and particularly with the Electoral College, the plurality controls the decision even if it doesn't represent the majority. The Electoral College exists as a means to prevent voter gridlock for the executive from an era where quick recounts were not effective or reliable. It is indeed an obsolete system in which not only should vote counting be quick but inarguably instaneously and effectively unquestionable using secure and verifiable systems.

Note that this isn't an argument for this particular election; even with Clinton winning the popular vote, both candidates were significantly less than a majority of the vote, and that is with many potential voters abstaining at all. A representative system would offer the ability for non-majority voters to still influence the outcome of the election in an effective manner. As it is, the parties and the media assume and either/or solution for election (with sparse exceptions) even when neither major party candidate represents a widely adoptable solution.

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Old 11-12-2016, 12:13 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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As for will it become more common, that's hard to say, we only hold these things every four years and a few small changes to the narrative can produce significant changes in the results.

But that being said, if one party is becoming more and more popular with rural voters but not with urban voters, the electoral college does disproportionately reward rural voters. But will this be enough to make such popular/electoral divergences any more common? Just way too hard to say. It could easily be another hundred years before this happens again, or it could happen in 2020.
  #11  
Old 11-12-2016, 12:16 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Originally Posted by Tzigone View Post
Yep. But what tangible benefit comes to the state from having the EC system? Pork? An actual increase in power for officials? Do the actual voters there care (living in a non-swing-state, I don't know how they'd feel).
There are political benefits to the State party if you're a swing state, you get more national party dollars in your state, more national party attention. This can make your local party organization a lot stronger and more robust, gives more opportunities for State party people and state candidates to get quick photo ops with Presidential candidates and etc, if you're in a state where candidates never visit then you're comparatively paupered of these things. If you're a state where you wouldn't expect visits ever if not for the electoral college, that's certainly a reason. I have to imagine some percentage of New Hampshire voters enjoy their state being so important.

If you look at the states that have signed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, you'll note all are states that are functionally irrelevant in the current system (WA, CA, HI, IL, MD, NY, NJ, RI, MA, VT, DC), legislation is pending in MI/PA, which would be the first swing states to actually implement it, but I have no idea on success of passage in those states. So it does seem there is much less political will to do away with the EC in the states that benefit from its existence.
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Old 11-12-2016, 12:22 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Campaigns also bring actual dollars into swing states, in the form of huge ad buys that otherwise wouldn't exist at that level. Probably not much of a needle mover in a big state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, but for New Hampshire or Nevada it might be enough to at least have a contingent of state legislators on board with not jeopardizing the cash train.
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Old 11-12-2016, 01:06 AM
sbunny8 sbunny8 is offline
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Originally Posted by Mean Mr. Mustard View Post
Please explain the benefit of the electoral college to me like I am a seven-year-old
You could argue that each state should have the same vote as the others. You could also argue that the number of votes should be base on the population of the state. The electoral college is a compromise. Neither side of the argument got exactly what they wanted but everyone was willing to go along with it.

Another reason is that it gives us a backup plan in case something goes badly wrong. Suppose people started voting for someone like Charles Manson, just as a joke or maybe some kind of protest. If he unexpectedly ended up with a majority of the votes, the electoral college still would have the option to pick someone else for President.
  #14  
Old 11-12-2016, 01:44 AM
Lord Feldon Lord Feldon is offline
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230 years ago, states had WIDELY differing rules on who could vote. The whole concept of universal suffrage had not even emerged yet, even for white men. A national vote would have pitted a rowdy northern state where any tax-paying white man could vote against a plantation state where only wealthy landowners could vote. The latter states didn't even want their poor free men to vote, so they certainly didn't want all the occupants of a saloon in Boston to get to outvote them.

Then there was the whole slave issue, and the electoral college allowed the compromise reached for congressional representation to also be used for presidential elections.

And some states didn't really want an elected president at all, and the electoral college allowed them to opt out of holding an election in their state and give their legislature a direct vote on the matter. Our political culture moved very quickly toward an expectation that presidential electors would be elected, but South Carolina held out and didn't hold a popular vote until after the Civil War.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 11-12-2016 at 01:48 AM.
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Old 11-12-2016, 02:02 AM
Siam Sam Siam Sam is offline
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As I've posted elsewhere on this Board, I've always been in favor of the Electoral College, but I'm starting to rethink that. People say it would entail a convoluted constitutional amendment process that no one's going to want to go through, but hey, when they wanted to repeal Prohibition, they cut right to the chase. It could be done.
  #16  
Old 11-12-2016, 03:11 AM
Itself Itself is offline
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There are two different aspects to consider in the electoral college: the electors themselves, and their allocation to individual states. The advantage of having electors is, as Hamilton described, that they could override a bad choice made by the public. (This argument is undercut by the fact that the presidents who were elected because of the electoral college--- i.e., lost the popular vote--- are John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, none of whom are likely to land in the top tier of presidential rankings.) The electoral college can also choose a replacement candidate winner in case the president- or vice-president-elect dies before inauguration. The closest this situation has ever come to happening was Horace Greeley's death in 1872, which fell between his losing the election in a landslide to Grant and the meeting of the electoral college.

The second part is how electors are allocated to states. Each receives one elector for each senator and representative they have, as determined by the most recent census. In addition, the 23rd amendment in 1961 gave Washington, D.C., a total of 3 electors (the minimum among the states). The electoral system (and government in general) was originally much less centralized than it was now, and the system was designed to allow the states the elect the president.

In fact, the states are more or less allowed to determine their electoral votes as they please. State legislatures in the 18th and early 19th centuries often determined electors themselves, without a popular vote (1824 is generally considered the point where the popular vote for electors became common); Maine and Nebraska allocate theirs by taking the winner per congressional district, which the other two electors' going to the state's overall winner; and several states have arranged to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote when enough have signed on to get a majority in the electoral college.

As for the system's advantages, it puts a bound on the scope of a recount; the 2000 election debacle wouldn't have just been limited to Florida. It ensures that a candidate has to have a reasonably broad geographical appeal, though it's hard to claim that that isn't already handled by the setup of the legislative branch, and one can suggest it as a factor that made abolishing slavery more difficult.

I'll also mention here two flawed arguments I've run across in favor of the electoral college. The first is that it makes elections harder to rig, since you'd have to pour fradulent votes into a lot of different districts. That isn't true; you'd just have to get dead voters to the polls in large swing states like Ohio and Florida. I've also heard people claim that it protects small states from being overlooked in elections (though, given the last election, I'm not sure that's a bad thing), but that's not the case either. Safe states are ignored, regardless of their size; neither presidential candidate was busy running ads and making speeches in California or Wyoming.

As for the negatives, note first that representatives are allocated based on the sizes of states, but every state has two senators; as such, the electoral votes per capita is higher in less-populous states than in higher ones. Elections are now determined by a handful of swing states, and it's hard to claim with any degree of sincerity that your presidential (if not down-ballot) vote matters if you're a Democrat in Utah or a Republican in Hawaii. Also, it just seems wrong that the person with the most votes should lose to a person with fewer votes. Why should my vote matter less than that of someone else just because he lives in Florida and I live in New York?

It also just seems inherently wrong to have the person with less votes beat the person with more votes

Last edited by Itself; 11-12-2016 at 03:11 AM.
  #17  
Old 11-12-2016, 08:42 AM
TokyoBayer TokyoBayer is online now
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Here's an interesting article which pretty much covers the answer. Why on earth do we even have an electoral college anyway?
Quote:
Instead, it was all about finding a solution to a system of several different political equations.

The moving parts included how to elect the president; how long the president’s term should be; and whether the president should be eligible to run for reelection. Some thought Congress should choose the president, either because of legislators’ superior knowledge of the candidates available, or because this would protect smaller state populations from having larger states dictate the presidential choice. After all, once the three-fifths compromise boosted slave state representation in the House, it was in their interests to push for legislative selection rather than a popular vote. They were joined by less-populous northern states, who feared that only candidates from the big states would ever win federal office.

That position won out in the first draft of the Constitution — which created a president who served for seven years and could not seek reelection.
It was not a matter of first having the particulars of the office of the president already established and then making one choice between a popular national vote and the electoral college as we know it, but rather that the electoral college was created as compromise during the debate over the office of the president and subsequently helped shape the debate.
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Old 11-12-2016, 09:18 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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The OP's mistake is in assuming that the Founding Fathers wanted to level the playing field. A nationwide popular vote is a perfectly level playing field, and they didn't want that. If the more-populous cities can outvote the less-populous countryside, that's as it should be, because they're more populous.

Quote:
Quoth Itself:

As for the system's advantages, it puts a bound on the scope of a recount; the 2000 election debacle wouldn't have just been limited to Florida.
The 2000 election debacle wouldn't have happened at all. While it's theoretically possible for the national popular vote to be so close as to need a recount, it's overwhelmingly improbable. A national recount would be 50 times harder than a single-state recount, but something like 2,500 times less likely. The effect of the Electoral College is to make recounts a much bigger problem, overall, and that's actually cited by many of its proponents as an advantage: You sometimes hear an argument that the EC increases the power of the voters, but the definition of "power" used in that statement means "amount of problem caused by recounts".
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Old 11-12-2016, 09:19 AM
Me_Billy Me_Billy is offline
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I think the current system is there out of necessity - from way back when. Remember when the country was first started, there was no electricity, no phones, no internet, etc. Also no easy way to count millions of votes!

These days is quite possible to count up all those votes from across the country and know within hours who received the most votes. This is the way it should be, but good luck getting anyone to change it!

Additionally, with modern technology, the people of America could vote on additional things. Questions like "Should the U.S. give billions of dollars to XYZ foreign country or not? Yes/No".
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Old 11-12-2016, 09:42 AM
GreenWyvern GreenWyvern is offline
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The system was created for a time when communications and travel were very slow.

The whole electoral system should really be redesigned from scratch, but it's highly unlikely that it will be.
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Old 11-12-2016, 10:05 AM
Tzigone Tzigone is offline
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Additionally, with modern technology, the people of America could vote on additional things. Questions like "Should the U.S. give billions of dollars to XYZ foreign country or not? Yes/No".
While I'm supportive of a national popular vote for president, I do not think people need to vote on every piece of legislation. Firstly, you can only have election so often (cost, logistics, etc. unless you are doing it online or mail-in) and the secondly, that would completely eliminate the legislative branch of government. Thirdly, people don't have the time to read all the laws, much less understand them all. So while some things might be voted on directly (big, Brexit-like things), we'd need some system for deciding what gets voted on and what the legislature deals with.

I think beyond a certain size of population, direct democracy is impractical. Heck, we even limited the size of the house of representatives because too many makes it impossible to accomplish things. While we might want more reps than we have (I'd need to do more research to form an educated opinion on that), the nearly 8000 we'd have for a rep for every 40,000 people seems way too high if they have any intent of having physical meetings and discussing things.

Quote:
The whole electoral system should really be redesigned from scratch, but it's highly unlikely that it will be.
I agree with this. I don't know that it never will be, but not in the next decade. We have a very strong attachment for Founding Fathers and not and there are reasons for that. But they are overly glorified, even when we know certain things were done specifically because of their elitism or to serve needs, limitations, or mindsets that no longer truly exist. It's a document that has, and should have, significant barriers to change, but we don't need deep psychological barrier to amendments.

Last edited by Tzigone; 11-12-2016 at 10:09 AM.
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Old 11-12-2016, 10:09 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
The OP's mistake is in assuming that the Founding Fathers wanted to level the playing field. A nationwide popular vote is a perfectly level playing field, and they didn't want that. If the more-populous cities can outvote the less-populous countryside, that's as it should be, because they're more populous.
.
Somebody is going to have to live out in the boonies to do stuff vital to our economy, if not our very survival.

I hear they grow stuff like food and wood out there.

I'm not in favor of being able to steam roll over those folks because somebody has to do it.
  #23  
Old 11-12-2016, 10:13 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Originally Posted by Me_Billy View Post
I think the current system is there out of necessity - from way back when. Remember when the country was first started, there was no electricity, no phones, no internet, etc. Also no easy way to count millions of votes!

These days is quite possible to count up all those votes from across the country and know within hours who received the most votes. This is the way it should be, but good luck getting anyone to change it!

Additionally, with modern technology, the people of America could vote on additional things. Questions like "Should the U.S. give billions of dollars to XYZ foreign country or not? Yes/No".
That really had nothing to do with it. As noted above, it was about a compromise between the large and smaller states. You have to keep in mind that the federal government was tiny back then compared to what it is today, and states were much more sovereign. The BoR had not been incorporated (some states actually had established religions), we didn't have a standing army, not income tax, no 14th amendment, etc.

The problem with changing the system now is that there is little to no incentive for the smaller states to do so, and you need 3/4 of the states to agree to a constitutional amendment.
  #24  
Old 11-12-2016, 12:46 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Quote:
Quoth billfish678:

Somebody is going to have to live out in the boonies to do stuff vital to our economy, if not our very survival.

I hear they grow stuff like food and wood out there.

I'm not in favor of being able to steam roll over those folks because somebody has to do it.
Sure, but you can say the same thing about almost any other professional demographic you care to name. Someone has to teach school, and that's important, too., and I'd hate to see teachers steamrolled over. Should we give teachers a disproportionate voice in our government to prevent that? Someone has to work in factories; should factory workers get a disproportionate voice? Someone has to wait tables in restaurants, someone has to collect garbage, someone has to catch stray nuisance animals, someone has to drive buses. Should all of these professions have disproportionate representation? Everyone's a minority of some sort or another, and the only way to protect all of those minorities is to give everyone an equal voice.
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Old 11-12-2016, 12:50 PM
Tzigone Tzigone is offline
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
Somebody is going to have to live out in the boonies to do stuff vital to our economy, if not our very survival.

I hear they grow stuff like food and wood out there.

I'm not in favor of being able to steam roll over those folks because somebody has to do it.
But why in the world should that be state-based? As mentioned elsewhere, currently the divide is urban/rural, which exists within a state so winner-take-all for votes within a state doesn't fix that. Besides which, why should people who produce food get more say than people who invent medicines or provide other essential services (which gets us into ranked-weight voting by occupation which is so rife for abuse that it's ridiculous)? And even if they do get more say, then why should other rural people who have nothing at all to do with food production (like me - I'm a programmer) but just happen to live in a rural area (or, more accurately with current EC, a less populated state, even if it doesn't produce food) get more say than non-food production workers who live in cities?

Right now the least populated states get the most say-so per person, regardless of how much they produce - in food or otherwise. And California produces the most money on crops (but that doesn't necessarily translate to most food grown), and it's woefully under-represented by by ECvotes-per-person.

Last edited by Tzigone; 11-12-2016 at 12:53 PM.
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Old 11-12-2016, 01:02 PM
Tzigone Tzigone is offline
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I should have said - losing an election isn't getting steamrolled. We do have three branches of government and checks and balances.

But a popular votes does help in the sense that red voters in blue states and blue voters in red states get more say so (as we see that large EC wins/losses sometimes come when % difference in votes isn't as lopsided). I mean, how often do we hear non-Chicago, Illinois-votes or Austin-based Texas voters talk about how much their votes just don't end up counting?
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Old 11-12-2016, 01:10 PM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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Remember that the electoral college was devised at a time when there were 13 widely scattered states with various numbers of population (and as others mentioned, different rules on who could vote). At the time there were no formalized parties, and very limited communications between the different states. So how do you elect a leader?

The obvious first choice for election was - everyone runs, whoever gets the most votes, wins. First, the founding fathers were very skeptical of the unwashed massed and the ability of a popular figure to egg them on with outlandish promises. (Good thing that does not happen today). Second, with the limited communications of the time, most candidates were expected to be local - so the guy from New York or Boston or Virginia would probably get the most votes and candidates from smaller states or just one end of the country would never win.

So they devised a system where, unless the candidate won the election in enough states to get the electors, representatives of the popular vote, of half the country, they would not get elected. The system was weighted to give more influence to the smaller states to balance that population problem. If nobody got an electoral vote of 50% then the decision was up to congress, since they were so level-headed and knew better than the voters. (Note too, originally, each elector got 2 votes and the guy with the second most votes was VP - so a bit of balance there if the vote became regional.)

The FF generally thought that only someone wildly popular like war hero General Washington would get the 50% by taking so many states; after that, regional candidates would all split the vote and fall short of that 50% and congress would decide. What they failed to foresee was that factional parties put the government above local interests and united around a single candidate for the whole country. Only twice did the vote go to congress, and once it was because the winning party forgot to vote one less for VP than prez, causing a tie.

Nowadays it's stalled by inertia and self-interest. A state controlled by party A (or D, or R) has no advantage in allocating electoral votes by popular vote or some such, because it puts their state and hence their party at a disadvantage. 55 electoral votes for California or 35 for Texas go solidly to one party. Opening it up would mean that the Democrats (CA) or the Republicans (TX) would be tossing away up to half those electoral votes. Even if Ohio or Pennsylvania or Florida did so - they typically have about 50-50 popular vote, so now losing that state would mean losing 3 or 4 electoral votes, not 20 or 29; candidates would not spend anywhere near as much time there, nor would their policies leading up to an election pour as much pork into the state.

So the change has to be an all-or-nothing change, where all the states at once choose to change (Constitutional amendment). However, consider the last two electoral wins where the popular vote differed were Trump in 2016 and Bush-W in 2000 - both Republicans. But Republicans control both houses and the presidency for the next 4 years (2 at least) and control many of those small states like Montana where they get a disproportionate extra clout. The future population growth is more likely to be in more diverse states where Democrats get more votes; until there is a tidal change in who controls Washington, it's probably not a popular concept.

The other danger is that if pure voter results are what matters, rather than an electoral college, then what? Third and fourth parties get more clout. Do we stick with "If anyone gets less than 50% it goes to congress?" In 1992, the vote was 43% Clinton, 37% Bush, 19% Perot. How many candidates should be counted? What if the vote is 30%, 28%, 22%, 20% - who is president "by the will of the people"? Do you go to a 2-way run-off afterwards? (Could you survive two elections in one month?) As you can see - a BIG can of worms, which is why the system hasn't changed.
  #28  
Old 11-12-2016, 01:34 PM
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Comments have focused on the mismatch between a state's population and its number of electoral votes, but there's another, possibly more important, effect at work.

Clinton won California roughly 5.5 million to 3.0 million votes. Her 2.5 million vote advantage in that state was worth 55 electoral votes. Her 1.5 million vote edge in New York was worth 29 electoral votes; her 0.9 million vote edge in Massachusetts was worth 11 votes. From these three states, Clinton had a 4.9 million total advantage in the popular vote and received 95 electoral votes. Each of those Clinton ev's represented, on average, almost 52,000 surplus voters.

Trump won Florida by 120,000 votes and got 29 ev's. He won Pennsylvania by 74,000 votes and got 20 ev's. He won Wisconsin by barely 27,000 votes and got its 10 ev's. Trump got Michigan's 16 electoral votes by a winning margin of only 13,000 votes! From these four states, Trump had a 234,000 total advantage in the popular vote and received 75 electoral votes. Throw in North Carolina and Trump got 90 ev's from five large states where his total vote advantage was only 410,000. Each of those 90 Trump ev's represented, on average, only 4500 surplus voters.

So, the Winner Take All system makes the votes of swing states supremely important. (D) states like California, New York, Massachusetts are irrelevant to the campaigns, as are solid (R) states like Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma. As a happenstance of demographics (and the electoral college ant winner-take-all), the Presidential election was decided by tiny margins in the Rust Belt.

One can argue this makes the election more efficient — it centers on just ten states; Presidential votes in most of the nation are just a formality; these non-swing states need not be drenched in campaign ads. But it doesn't seem particularly "democratic" and of course no super-majorities would be available to make a fairer system.
  #29  
Old 11-12-2016, 01:42 PM
doreen doreen is online now
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So the change has to be an all-or-nothing change, where all the states at once choose to change (Constitutional amendment).

Getting rid of the Electoral College all together requires a Constitutional Amendment - which won't happen. But that is not the only way to ensure that the winner of the popular vote wins the election. Remember, states decide how to allocate their electoral votes (winner take all, proportionate, by district, etc). There's an interstate compact in which states can agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It will not become effective until enough states agree to ensure 270 electoral votes- but it doesn't require a particular number of states to agree. And every state that's not a swing state has a reason to agree - because campaigns would no longer be able to ignore New York or Texas.
  #30  
Old 11-12-2016, 02:32 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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I'll also note for international comparisons, in Federal systems the Federal constituent parts generally have some form of special representation above and beyond their population.

For example in the European Union (a confederation, more or less), the Council of the EU, which is one of the EU's legislative chambers with some executive powers, they have a hybrid voting system that requires both a supermajority of EU states (55%) representing at least a supermajority (65%) of the EU's population to concur on matters.

If this body was straight population, well there are 28 EU states, and Germany + France + UK + Italy alone are more than 50% (almost 54%) of EU population. The seven largest states alone represent 70% of the EU's population, but the function of the Council is such that the big seven can't just bully the rest, because at least 55% of all EU member states must concur. At the same time the 65% population requirement prevents a cabal of the little European countries from dictating to the large ones, the bottom sixteen states (enough to represent 55% of the 28), only have about 70m people combined, or about 13% of the total population of the EU.

So much like our electoral college, this organ is a balancing act weighing both population of the whole confederation, as well as the rights of the sovereign states. It really makes perfect sense for a body like the EU, and it made perfect sense for something like the United States during the era of Confederation government. I'd argue it makes a lot less sense now, but as explained just because some aspect of our constitution no longer makes a ton of sense in the modern world, doesn't mean we can just wave a wand and change it--and there's no obvious path forward to removing the electoral college.
  #31  
Old 11-12-2016, 02:38 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Originally Posted by doreen View Post
Getting rid of the Electoral College all together requires a Constitutional Amendment - which won't happen. But that is not the only way to ensure that the winner of the popular vote wins the election. Remember, states decide how to allocate their electoral votes (winner take all, proportionate, by district, etc). There's an interstate compact in which states can agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It will not become effective until enough states agree to ensure 270 electoral votes- but it doesn't require a particular number of states to agree. And every state that's not a swing state has a reason to agree - because campaigns would no longer be able to ignore New York or Texas.
Every state that's not a swing state does have reason to agree, but so far that hasn't been the case. So far not a single swing state has adopted the NPVIC, but more telling not a single red state has, including ones like Texas or Mississippi which, just like Massachusetts or California are all but irrelevant in the general election.

I think among the type of voter that is more deeply invested in the concept of state sovereignty, the desire to get rid of the electoral college is much lower. This compact has been going around since 2007, and studies actually showed Obama would've been the beneficiary of the electoral college if 2008/2012 had been close, which made some noise around Republican wonk-circles, but you saw no real noise in Republican state legislatures. It'd be hard for people who are always advocating for States rights to dismantle something that, politically, is seen as an embodiment of those rights.

So while the NPVIC seems fairly close to getting to 270, the fact that it cannot get there without at least some swing states or a few red states, makes it unlikely it'll happen any time soon.
  #32  
Old 11-12-2016, 04:47 PM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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The solution is obvious. Leave the EC exactly as it is and reapportion the state borders until each state has the same population.

It solves all our EC problems!!

There just miiiiight be a few awkward side effects, but a nation that can elect Trump is a nation that can overlook almost anything on the way to a "solution".






=====
Not quite a GQ reply, but we've got plenty of good answers already. This reductio ad absurdum demonstrates just how big a constitutional / political change it would take to doing anything significant about the issues the EC represents.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 11-12-2016 at 04:48 PM.
  #33  
Old 11-12-2016, 05:08 PM
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I wonder if the National Popular Vote movement has gotten a boost lately? Did it after 2000?

I had the impression popular vote was more popular than EC when Americans were polled. But I thought marijuana legalization had the majority in polls, too. Doesn't mean it's going to happen. Though if I were a person prone to bets, I'd bet on marijuana being removed from schedule 1, at least, and not being federally illegal as event occurring before the death of the EC.

Not, mind you, that I think popular vote should always decide what's what - checks and balances and guaranteed protections/rights and so on. And I know how late it was before a majority of those people polled approved of interracial marriage (can't find any numbers on thinking it should be illegal - not the same thing as disapproving).

Last edited by Tzigone; 11-12-2016 at 05:08 PM.
  #34  
Old 11-12-2016, 07:02 PM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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Every state that's not a swing state does have reason to agree, but so far that hasn't been the case. So far not a single swing state has adopted the NPVIC, but more telling not a single red state has, including ones like Texas or Mississippi which, just like Massachusetts or California are all but irrelevant in the general election.

I think among the type of voter that is more deeply invested in the concept of state sovereignty, the desire to get rid of the electoral college is much lower. This compact has been going around since 2007, and studies actually showed Obama would've been the beneficiary of the electoral college if 2008/2012 had been close, which made some noise around Republican wonk-circles, but you saw no real noise in Republican state legislatures. It'd be hard for people who are always advocating for States rights to dismantle something that, politically, is seen as an embodiment of those rights.

So while the NPVIC seems fairly close to getting to 270, the fact that it cannot get there without at least some swing states or a few red states, makes it unlikely it'll happen any time soon.
Besides, the electoral college as a two-party contest has generally followed the popular votes. In the two recent ones it has not (2000 and 2016) it has been fairly close popularly but an embodiment of the principle - carrying a few large states by a wide margin but losing many small ones and a few close large states - this is exactly what the electoral college was designed to prevent, that a candidate does not get to win by a lopsided distribution.

Last edited by md2000; 11-12-2016 at 07:04 PM.
  #35  
Old 11-12-2016, 07:44 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Besides, the electoral college as a two-party contest has generally followed the popular votes. In the two recent ones it has not (2000 and 2016) it has been fairly close popularly but an embodiment of the principle - carrying a few large states by a wide margin but losing many small ones and a few close large states - this is exactly what the electoral college was designed to prevent, that a candidate does not get to win by a lopsided distribution.
Yeah. I'm personally a little torn on the EC, on one hand, I like Federalism, I think federal states often handle the inter-meshing of national vs local concerns pretty well, and I think a lack of federalism often leads to trouble--a big part of the UK's troubles is until very, very recently in its history it has been extremely centralized, with all real decision making done in Westminster. The devolution to the various parliaments of the UK has been a more recent occurrence as a way to try and salve long, long simmering local resentments of being dictated to by the Westminster Parliament, and as you're seeing with the Scottish I'm not sure we don't have a case of "too little, too late."

The EC I think is a somewhat important component of our Federalism, but even without it, the States retain sovereignty, they retain the benefit of being entitled to all areas of government not enumerated specifically for the Federal government in the constitution, and the President today is seen as the single biggest "representative of the people", not a representative of the "collective states."

But I also think people shouldn't jump on the horse too much of saying "if we had a national popular vote, Gore would've won in 2000 and Clinton would've won in 2016!" The reality is all the candidates in those elections were campaigning for electoral votes. They disproportionately focus ad dollars, ground organizing, candidate visits and etc to the swing states they believe they can win to win the electoral college. If we had a popular vote, it's a totally different election. Trump would've campaigned heavily throughout the southeast, most likely, Clinton would've done lots of campaigning in California and New York. Basically they'd focus on areas where they have the greatest number of potential voters, and for Trump that probably isn't Wisconsin or Michigan, but is probably the deep south where you have to guess there are tons of votes that sit at home because they don't feel needed at the polls (maybe, who knows.) I do know that the campaigns would've been so different in strategy if we had a popular vote, that there's no way the popular vote numbers come out the same.

Maybe Hillary wins even bigger, or maybe she loses, same for Gore. But the actual results we had were the outcome of a competition for electoral votes, so if you support a popular vote for structural reasons--good on you, if you support popular vote because you think you'd guarantee the result you wanted looking back, don't be so sure on that.
  #36  
Old 11-12-2016, 07:50 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I think the fact that no red states have joined the compact is simpler than a devotion to the idea of states' rights. I think it's just that it's perceived as being better for the Democrats than for the Republicans. In 2000 the Electoral College gave us a Republican president instead of the Democrat we would have had, and now the same is true in 2016. And there's sound reason to expect that pattern to continue, since lower-population states (disproportionately benefited by the EC) tend to be rural and hence Republican.

And yes, the fact that you can't get a majority of the electors without (by definition) at least some swing states or red states means that it'd be tough to get the compact passed. But it's still easier than an amendment, which would face all of the same objections, but to an even greater degree.
  #37  
Old 11-12-2016, 09:26 PM
kenobi 65 kenobi 65 is offline
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I mean, how often do we hear non-Chicago, Illinois-votes or Austin-based Texas voters talk about how much their votes just don't end up counting?
You may not hear about it nationally, but it's an enduring source of friction in Illinois state politics; "downstate" voters and representatives complain about the amount amount of influence that Chicago and its suburbs has in what happens in the state.
  #38  
Old 11-12-2016, 10:45 PM
TokyoBayer TokyoBayer is online now
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As noted above, it was about a compromise between the large and smaller states.
And as noted above, it was more than just this. It was also about popular election versus having Congress elect the president, as well as other factors. The article I linked to has a much better summary.
  #39  
Old 11-13-2016, 03:58 AM
Carryon Carryon is offline
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Federalism as thought of by the founding fathers, is long outdated. The Supreme Court has ruled that the states themselves must have both houses based on population and it has also, through the commerce clause and due process clause given the feds pretty much total control over the states, through either actual control or purse strings.

I feel doing away with the EC would benefit, as the candidates would have to campaign in each state and for every single vote, not just write states like CA, TX, NY and IL off.

The states are pretty much divisions of the country compared to what they used to be even since 1900.
  #40  
Old 11-13-2016, 09:13 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Eh, I wouldn't go that far. As recently as the Obamacare decision, the Supreme Court has put limits on the Federal government's power to use withholding of funding coercively against the states, and in many, many areas of government the states have free reign to do as they please with little Federal interference or jurisdiction.
  #41  
Old 11-13-2016, 09:30 AM
Desert Nomad Desert Nomad is offline
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because no one thinks of voting "as an Ohioan" they think of voting for the President of America, and themselves as Americans. One might become an Ohioan when they move there, but they move somewhere else and they become a Pennsylvania.
I have lived in 2 states and 6 foreign countries, but I still think of myself as a Nevadan.
  #42  
Old 11-13-2016, 09:43 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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I have lived in 2 states and 6 foreign countries, but I still think of myself as a Nevadan.
*almost no one
  #43  
Old 11-13-2016, 12:34 PM
Itself Itself is offline
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The 2000 election debacle wouldn't have happened at all. While it's theoretically possible for the national popular vote to be so close as to need a recount, it's overwhelmingly improbable. A national recount would be 50 times harder than a single-state recount, but something like 2,500 times less likely. The effect of the Electoral College is to make recounts a much bigger problem, overall, and that's actually cited by many of its proponents as an advantage: You sometimes hear an argument that the EC increases the power of the voters, but the definition of "power" used in that statement means "amount of problem caused by recounts".
No argument here; the electoral college a stupid system. Wikipedia tells me that the 1880 election between Garfield and Hancock was decided in the popular vote by a margin of 1,898, so it's not a complete impossibility (though I do agree that it's far less likely than a state-wide recount).

Besides, a recount is not the end of the world. Knowing who won an election is something I don't mind spending time or money for. Another argument in favor of the electoral college that I didn't mention above is that allows a winner to be decided earlier than it would be with a popular vote count; there are only a handful of swing states and those are in the east or midwest. I don't think that's something we need to design our elections around, nor is it something exclusive to the electoral college system (you can still predict turnout, etc. from the first set of returns) but that's the argument.
  #44  
Old 11-13-2016, 12:46 PM
Corry El Corry El is offline
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As I've posted elsewhere on this Board, I've always been in favor of the Electoral College, but I'm starting to rethink that. People say it would entail a convoluted constitutional amendment process that no one's going to want to go through, but hey, when they wanted to repeal Prohibition, they cut right to the chase. It could be done.
It's not that no one wants to go through the amendment process for eliminating EC, it's that the votes, 2/3's in each house of Congress and majorities in 3/4's of the state legislatures, aren't within light years of being there.

Prohibition was repealed because a consensus across society and both parties formed against it. A similar 'consensus' against the EC is only among Democrats, if even a real consensus among them, because they think it would help them win the WH more often, and the Republicans less often. Naturally this 'consensus' extends to few Republicans. Rather than Prohibition, it's more like an amendment repealing/modifying the 2nd: not enough support, nowhere remotely near enough. Either would happen only when Democrats gain total dominance in Congress and state legislatures, which hasn't exactly been the trend lately.

The NPVIC is a more realistic way, but I don't give it much chance anytime soon for the same reason.

As what the benefit of the EC is, those asking it seems should first ask why WY and CA have *the same* number of Senators before asking why CA has only 18 times as many EV's as WY. The Senate gives much more disproportionate representation to small states than the EC does since, of course, the EC compromise was to combine the states' House (population proportional) and Senate (equal) representation to determine their EV count. There is a symmetry to the system, and odd IMO when the focus is 100% on EC and 0% on the Senate.
  #45  
Old 11-13-2016, 02:11 PM
Saint Cad Saint Cad is offline
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I think there are three different issues.
Historically the idea was without universal sufferage that the state Legislatures would pick Electors that would best represent the interest of the state when electing a President. This is the prevailing theme pre-Civil War.

Currently, the EC is not very good. Every state apportions their Electors in a way that serves the two-party system. Yes even Maine and Nebraska which assign Electors to congressional districts since those districts are always made to concentrate Dems or Pubs. Someone who has widespread appeal would find it impossible to get an EV. For example Gary Johnson SHOULD have gotten 1 or 2 of California's EV by proportion but he didn't. And THAT is the real drawback of the EC. It solidifies the two-party system. Think of why an election where 60% of the voters hated both main candidates why the third parties couldn't even get one EV.
And that doesn't even start to discuss how voters in 40-45 states are effectively disenfranchised every election (e.g. Pubs in California).

Theoretically, the EC could be awesome. States could be a TRUE proportional system (F U Nebraska and Maine) by using the Hamilton Method of apportionment for example. People could band together and vote third party rather than "not wasting their vote". A regional candidate could take a swath of states like Wallace did in 1968. Hell, you could argue that Trump won BECAUSE he was a regional (Rust Belt) candidate so imagine if a third party candidate came out that had comprehensive immigration reform? The would never win the popular vote but by taking the Southwest they would have 131 EVs.
  #46  
Old 11-13-2016, 02:24 PM
Itself Itself is offline
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Yes even Maine and Nebraska which assign Electors to congressional districts since those districts are always made to concentrate Dems or Pubs.
Unfortunately, what Maine and Nebraska have implemented is arguably even worse than the existing EC system. Rather than allocating electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote, they allocate them (except for the 2 votes given to the statewide winner) based on the winner of each congressional district---- districts that are subject to gerrymandering and exacerbate the wasted-vote issue with the existing electoral college.

Last edited by Itself; 11-13-2016 at 02:25 PM.
  #47  
Old 11-13-2016, 06:25 PM
Melbourne Melbourne is offline
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Ummmm.... why all this stuff about the original intentions?

The worst problems of the electoral college exist because there was a deadlock between those who wanted to reform it, and those who wanted to discard it. The reformers couldn't get their changes through, because the discarders feared that if it was "good enough", they'd never get it discarded: the discarders couldn't win because they didn't have the support of the reformers.

Of course, since the last 20 years have seen political deadlock about everything, political deadlock regarding the electoral college doesn't need a seperate explanation.
  #48  
Old 11-13-2016, 08:44 PM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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The OP wanted to know where it came from. IOW, why do we have it at all? Original intentions are relevant to that.

Agree they're not really germane to the current state of play. Except to bring to the fore the tension between the idea of the US as a unitary democracy vs. the idea of the US as a loose confederation of otherwise sovereign states.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 11-13-2016 at 08:44 PM.
  #49  
Old 11-13-2016, 09:00 PM
Jim's Son Jim's Son is offline
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Of course the whole idea that Gore and Clinton would be President now if we counted the popular vote is flawed that you are changing the rules after the game. Both parties had a good understanding of what states leaned towards whom and how much they were worth and spent their time campaigning and money accordingly. It made no sense for either Bush in 2000 or Trump in 2016 to spend much on California, New York or other heavily populated Democratic straights. So what if you lose by 1 million votes if you do nothing versus if you do something you only lose by 250,000? You still get 0 votes. Plus is there really incentive for Republicans to vote in California if all you get out of it is a jury summons letter? There wasn't even a Republican candidate for senator on the ballot as California uses a "top two primary vote getters get on the November ballot". Most states usually have the minority party run a token candidate as in New York the Republican candidate got 27% vs 70% for the Democratic incumbent.

In 2000 Bob Dole was asked about the electoral college. He said he had introduced an amendment once but it was blocked by Democratic votes: Blacks and Jews who felt their voice could be better heard as they tend to be concentrated in big cities in big states.
A couple other things. Is anyone seriously proposing getting rid of the Senate-each-state-has-two-votes system. Not very democratic if you think about it. California (39 million) and Texas (27 million) has the same impact as Vermont (600,000) and Wyoming (500,000).
It is also interesting how many of the people urging the popular vote system are the ones who go running to the courts to strike down propositions that voters approved if they don't like it. Unconstitutional? Maybe a few. But as one of my political science professors once said the main rules of politics are who are the ins and who are the outs and whose or is being gored. Been that way since the Founding. Tom Jefferson didn't like Alexander Hamilton using the elasticity clause to create a national bank. A decade later Hamilton's followers didn't like Jefferson using the same clause for the Louisiana Purchase.

The Electoral College is an attempt to protect the rights of people in smaller states from being trampled by larger states. They also thought that it was possible there would be several candidates with no one getting 50% so that many future elections would be settled in the House (meant to be more responsive to people's wishes with two year terms directly elected vs 6 years for Senate chosen by the states-usually their legislature). The House election gets weird: only three candidates, the states vote as one until a majority. Theoretically it can get very weird. In 2000 one of those weekly magazines came up with a scenario where the House couldn't decide on President and the Senate couldn't decide on the Vice President. We would have ended up with the Senate Pro Tempore in charge: 100 year old Strom Thurmond.
  #50  
Old 11-13-2016, 09:15 PM
Fair Rarity Fair Rarity is offline
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What about something like every state/DC gets 1 electoral vote per 500k-1 million people, number can increase as population increases?? Then yeah, Vermont and Wyoming will get neglected for only one EV, but they're not exactly knocking down the door right now for 3EV. Too overly simple?
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