Electoral College again

I read over the Math Against Tyranny article that nebuli linked to.
A thorough refutation would probably merit a whole thread but here are some quick comments.
*The tone of the “article” is prejudical.
The author, Will Hively, is obviously a true believer. Statements such as “Not long before Natapoff’s epiphany, Congress had teetered on the verge of wrecking the electoral college” and “Now, try to imagine a bleary-eyed Natapoff working through the math” are blatently loaded to cause the reader to be sympathetic to Mr Hively’s cause. This causes my spidersense to tingle.

  • Where’s the math?
    While I doubt my own ability to follow the numbers I would like see a more detailed explanation, preferably by someone reputable. Given Hively’s obvious lack of objectivity I see no reason to accept his opinion.

  • Natapoff’s “proof” deals with a hypothetical district voting system.
    Even if it were completely accurate then that doesn’t prove that the ellectoral college is a good idea. Natapoff’s hypothetical assumes that the voters are actually voting for candidates. That’s not what happens here in America.

  • Empowering individual voters is undemocratic.
    As I have stated earlier in this thread, in an election you can only empower a voter at the expense of other voters.

  • The “proof” seems to assume a 2party system.
    If I am correct here, this is another example of the failure of Natapoff to relate his hypothetical to the real world. Ignoring the debate about the desirability of more than 2 political parties, we do have more.

I could probably go on but that that should give you an idea of my problems with this “article”.

Um, by scare-quoting the word “article”, are you trying to call into question its status as a chunk of prose?

Yes, it’s definitely written in a populist style with a perspective of defending the electoral college, rather than attempting a balanced appraisal. I think your spider sense is a little hyperactive, though, since the tone is obviously one of engagement in a topic, rather than that of a piece of propaganda by an organization interested in the outcome. I don’t believe that Discovery will benefit one way or the other.

Well, I was able to follow the concept behind the math fairly easily, which is why I think that a real defense of the electoral college is mounted there. However, the “swing-vote calculations” weren’t the only points mentioned, and I think the analogy with the 1960 world series is a good one. A candidate should have to win across a spectrum of contests, rather than one, because this tends to even out statistical inequities in individual contests.

Well, that’s all the electoral college is, a district voting system. Accusations that electors could subvert the will of the people by voting for someone other than the candidate are bogus: all states have a means of removing electors who don’t follow the party line. The vote of an elector is a foregone conclusion these days.

That’s just what is called into question by Natapoff’s theorem; rather, that direct voting empowers individuals.

If it does assume a two-party system, then it would seem to be more related, not less, to the real world.

You haven’t answered my observation about Canada, where the scheme is much closer to direct voting, and is thus dominated by two of the ten provinces.

The way I read it, Natapoff argues that a rising tide lifts all boats; the Electoral College increases the power of all voters.

Increases the voters’ power compared to what? In a simple election, the voters already have all of the power.


Er… no. I was calling into question its status as a journalistic article. Incorrectly, as you point out.

What are these statistical inequities that you are speaking of? The inequities that I am concerned with here are empowering some voters at the expense of others. A simple “One man, one vote” seems pretty equal to me.

No. It is also a proxy voting system.

Remove the electors when? After they have voted? What good would that do?

Also, how about a cite for this. It seems to me that an attempt to tie the electoral vote directly to the popular vote would be unconstituional.

Look around. There are other political parties in America.

I didn’t answer your point about Canada because I was replying to the article not to your post. But since you brought it up again, allow me to correct this oversight.

States and Provinces are not people. They are not all equal. Let us assume that Canada did have a direct voting system for electing the PM. Would the people of Nova Scotia have less total voting power than the people of Quebec or Ontario? Yes. Why? Because there are fewer people in Nova Scotia. Would an individual living in Nova Scotia have less power than an individual voter in Quebec or Ontario?

2sense said,

[Not in 24 states:](http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/elctcoll/faq.html#wrong vote)

jmullaney said,

Actually, I agree, not because I don’t trust the voters but because the Senate was the only Federal institution with a specific interest in supporting state power. States couldn’t exactly order a Senator to vote any old way, since Senators served 6-year terms, but they at least could choose people who tended to favor state action over Federal. Since Senators have influence over Federal action; directly electing Senators encourages them to use their power to win votes from people. It’s not a bad thing in general, but you can hardly expect a U.S. Senator to promise state action on an issue. Thus, state-power advocates lost their only institutional voice in Washington, and Federal influence rose accordingly.

Increase the voter’s power by preventing a candidate from ignoring minority votes. Campaign to the majority, and you can tell the rest to go screw. Why is the black vote so powerful (and a traditional core of support for the Democrats), when African Americans are less than 20% of the population (that figure is a guess on my part; please correct it if you know better)?

In a direct vote, the black vote could be ignored entirely. What would that do to civil rights in America?

Not when the candidates can ignore you. Then your vote is useless.

The answer to this is [here](http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/elctcoll/faq.html#wrong vote). I’ll quote the highlight:

Besides that, some states have laws that “faithless” electors (i.e., didn’t vote as they pledged to vote) may have their vote invalidated, and are replaced with substitutes; other states have laws saying that electors must vote as they pledge to vote (and they’re not selected unless they pledge to vote for the candidate).

There are no relevant third parties in America, by which I mean a party with a chance of winning. The point of campaigning as a third party is to siphon enough support off the closest of the big two to force them to court you (as Nader has successfully done).

I thought it was obvious that the vote of an Ontarian or a Quebecker is more powerful, since their votes are courted to the exclusion of others. Hell, Quebec has the Bloq Quebecois, a federal bloc that favors separation, and was the official opposition for a while. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of raw regionalism, I don’t know what does.

I don’t necessarily agree, but there’s a strong argument to be made that Trudeau’s NEP did nothing more than take money out of the West (specifically Alberta) and give it to Quebec, to shore up support in one of two key provinces. The liberals have almost no political presence in the West because of Trudeau, and that doesn’t matter at all to the Liberals. Trudeau said publicly that the West and the Maritimes don’t matter, and he’s right - you can give them both the finger and still get elected. A western voter’s vote can be safely ignored; his vote is worth less than an Ontarian’s or a Quebecker’s.

A straight popular vote allows voting power to be concentrated in dense areas that decide things, where the regional concerns of those areas play a disproportionate role in deciding the election. It’s exactly this problem that the electoral college eliminates. Read the Slate article to which I linked above.

200,000 thousnad = 2E5 E3=2E8=20 million people in Wyoming?

…Er, define “pip”.

200,000 thousnad = 2E5 E3=2E8=20 million people in Wyoming?

…Er, define “pip”.

I’ll explain what a pip is when you tell me what the hell those numbers are supposed to mean.

Oh, you mean 200,000 electors = 20 million people in Wyoming. That’s not it.

You’re a pip because you’re a cheeky monkey who restated the literal truth of my rhetorical point while missing the intent. Will’s example that the idea of the popular vote is overrated is that, in a direct election, one could lose in 49 states and D.C. by 4,500 votes in each region, yet win the election by sweeping all 220,000 (direct) votes in Wyoming. His point was that this is not the person we would think of as having won the direct election, since he won by stockpiling votes in a single district.

hansel asked,

This is a perfect example of how direct voting is better than indirect winner-take-all voting. Let’s call the candidates Aaron and Zarkoff. Aaron has won Wyoming by and with 220,000 votes, and won more popular votes nationally than Zarkoff. Zarkoff has won DC and every state but Wyoming by at least one vote.

If Zarkoff lost all 220,000 votes in Wyoming, he’s obviously done something to completely enrage those voters. Zarkoff, however, has also one 50 other contests by an average of less than 4400 votes, so he’s not exactly received with open arms in the country as a whole. Z’s performance outside of Wyoming barely counts as a win at all - there would be recounts in most of these states. In fact, the only certain thing about this election is that A really did well in a state, and more-or-less tied with Z everywhere else. Given the winner-take-all system in 49 of the 51 voting entities, Zarkoff would eventually win the election despite his paper-thin margins.

A lot of people would say, well, Zarkoff has more widespread appeal. This puts them in a head-on semantic argument with me, who’d say Aaron has more widespread appeal. After all, Aaron did reasonably well on 51 ballots; Zarkoff made respectable showings on only 50.

My question is why should Zarkoff be the winner? It’s only because of the current electoral system that we even talk about candidates “winning” states to begin with. So I think the semantics have sabotaged our thinking. Why is a 50.001% - 49.999% showing considered a “win” anyway, when there is no need to declare a winner at the state level anyway? (Yes, I know there’s a need under the current system, but let’s arguing circularly that we need the system because we have it.) The margin coming out of every state (but Wyoming) is pathetic. What EC advocates are basically saying is, let’s penalize Aaron because he is too popular in Wyoming. If his voters had been spread across other states, he would have won.

Let’s not forget the math, and try to pretend that Wyoming prevailed against an unequivocal vote by the rest of the country. 4400 vote pluralities are infinitesimal. Maybe the margins in the rest of the country were small because, even though Z has a proposal to make Wyoming residents pay all income taxes for the whole country, a popular idea among greedy non-Wyoming folks, Z is actually a lousy campaigner, and A did pretty well with his “everybody pays taxes” idea.

Or maybe the pluralities are low just because the turnout was really low outside of Wyoming, and only in Wyoming did the voters put down their bongs, turn off their TVs, and abandon their pet rocks long enough to vote. Hurray Wyoming! More power to ya! Literally! Low turnouts should cost states power, but do not under the current system.

OK. Thanks for the link. I think it is time to create a subcatagory for my EC bookmarks.
So, in 24 states and DC the electors are required to follow the popular vote. I think that I am willing to let this portion of the debate go. The chance of an outright rebellion by the electors is small. I certainly don’t see how this qualifies as a good thing, but I concede that it is unlikely. Even more unlikely than I thought.

A quick point that the cite brought to mind: What about citizens who don’t reside in states or DC?
How does the electoral collage empower them?

Also, if anyone has any info on the Supreme Court decision(s) concerning predetermining elector’s votes I’d be interested.


I see your point now. Interesting. I will address it but I want to think more about it first. Just off the top of my head though: I don’t think that the black vote is such a good example for a minority. It is not courted in the US because black folks don’t vote Republican. Those that do don’t live in black neighborhoods. This doesn’t make them powerful in the Democratic Party. The Dems know they aren’t going anywhere.

On the 2party system argument, I disagree with your definition of relevent here. Why would the Big 2 court you if you were irrelevent? Also, I believe that many of the members of the smaller parties would say you were wrong that their only goal is to influence the Big 2. Many of them feverently wish to end the 2 party system and see their party take its natural place at the table. Preferably at the head.

Boris B:

Your example fails because Zarkoff hasn’t won anything. In a direct election you win votes not states. Aaron won more votes and therefor the election. More people were of the opinion that Aaron deserved to win.
Why does it matter where the citizens live?
Are all Americans equal or not?

IIRC you once posted the argument that retaining this electoral power for the states was one of the reasons that the electoral collage was written into the Constitution. If so, might you remember where to find it? I’ve had no luck with the search engine.

*Originally posted by hansel *

200,000 thousand is twenty million.
Anway, “Cheeky monkey”. That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.

2sense wrote,

I was just nitpicking. Far too much is made of the lack of a Federal electoral requirement to vote as pledged; some use it as a pro-college argument, so as an anti-. I was just trying to chip away at it in general.

It doesn’t. They’re just up a crick. As as DC residents, in a small way, since they are limited to a number of electors equal to the least populous state, regardless of the DC population.

No, I think my example failed because it was perceived as an argument in favor of the electoral college, when it was in fact my best shot at tearing down the electoral college. :frowning:

Hear here. I was arguing against George “Hopin’ for a Hayes or a Harrison” Will and his weird example.

Oh. Maybe I said that. In fact, I think that was one of the arguments for the electoral college originally (in reality, there were tons of proposals at the time and the EC emerged as the least-offensive compromise). On the whole, I think it’s a bogus argument, though. The Senate was the institution designed to protect state interests; a single person can hardly be expect to be a delegate of every state. On the whole, I think the Progressives succeeded where they should have failed (popular election of Senators) and failed where they should succeeded (popular election of Presidents).

It would have been much simpler for the founders to have just had the Congress elect the President, but this would have made the President sort of subserviant to the Congress. (I say “sort of” because it’s empty theory; was Margaret Thatcher subserviant to the House of Commons? Hardly. And please let’s not point out that the Queen inducts the Prime Minister; the decision rests with the Commons majority.)

So instead, they had the states choose the electors, I suppose under the theory that the legislatures are too fractious a group to control the President, and partly under the theory that there are so many calculation (e.g. this thread) needed to figure out who reall does control the election, that nobody would ever figure it out.

Funny. I’m a Canadian who, having considered the issue, thinks the American method is better than the Canadian method (I can’t believe I’m saying it; I’ll have to have the subdermal mapel leaf on my skull burned off with a laser), arguing against Americans who think the Canadian way is better.

Go figure.

Though for my optimal means of choosing a government, see my sig.

I have to say I’m a little taken aback by the example of Canada, since Canada does not have a directly-elected chief executive. hansel, I think your arguments are much better answered by an EEE Senate than by an electoral college. Partly because an Equal, Elected, and Effective Senate is what Canada doesn’t have; I’ll argue that it does in a strong sense have an electoral college. Let me define electoral college as a group of people elected on the winner-take-all system in geographic constituencies, who are charged with the task of selecting the executive.

I might be wrong, but it sounds like your main argument against Canada’s de facto electoral college is simply that Western and Atlantic provinces are represented proportionally, when they should be overrepresented to keep from being ignored. This is is one of three main arguments on the college:

  1. Equal-weighted voting versus unequally-weighted voting. Should smaller provinces have some representation advantage to keep their small populaces from being overrun? An interesting argument, but let’s remember that the under a fifth of the electoral votes are distributed equally to the states. The EC does very little, compared to the Senate, to shore up power for small states.

The other two are:

  1. Winner-take-all versus some kind of representation for the runner(s) up. Should you get all the seats in a constituency even if you barely win? You seem to come down squarely on the winner-take-all side. But isn’t the BQ’s portion of Quebec’s seats in the Commons far more than its share of Quebec popular vote? It’s come in second place in seats but I’ll it’s never come in second in popular votes.

  2. Direct versus mediated voting. Should the public have a direct say in choosing the executive or not? Canada and the U.S. are just the same in this regard.

I suppose it might, if you were to really load up the small states with disproportionate voting rights. If you didn’t, there would just be two constituencies with all the power. I’m against disproportionate voting rights ipso facto, but I think that is a different debate.

Out of curiousity, would it matter to you if there were only four states in Canada? They would have comparable population, if you added all the Western provinces into one, and the Atlantics into another. Ontario and Quebec would still have the edge in population, if I’m not mistaken, but they’d only be dominating two provinces instead of eight. Would it be okay then?

Boris –

Natapoff agrees that in an extremely close election, a districting system does little to empower voters. However, the vast majority of elections are not decided by razor-thin margins. In such cases, districting empowers voters.

And, since 2sense is about to ask…


Increases the voters’ power compared to what? In a simple election, the voters already have all of the power.

A districted election increases voter power as compared to a non-districted, general election. In a nation-wide election, my vote is one out of 100 million (carnivorousplant did I type that correctly? :wink: ). In my state, it is one vote out of about 5 million – 20 times more powerful.

Other assorted notes:

“One man, one vote” does not refer to citizens casting votes; it refers to making all districts for the House of Representatives roughly equal in population.

If hansel’s example of the black vote doesn’t seem to work, substitute “farm vote” or “senior citizens” or “Catholics” or any other group which, for whatever reason, may be outside of the “mainstream.” In a single, nation-wide election, their voice would not be heard (and their rights quite possibly vulnerable). But in a system of 50 separate elections, where a candidate needs to win quite a few, and where each minority will find itself with significantly greater power in at least some of them, they suddenly become much harder to ignore.

A new thought – what the EC does is force us to reach consensus. Rather than merely gathering the support of a simple majority, the winning candidate must win the support of a broad spectrum of citizens – “mainstream” and “minority” alike. In a nation as diverse as ours, that’s something any workable system needs to take into account.

My apologies, Boris B. After a closer read I can assure you that the misunderstanding was all mine.
I like the semantics argument and I can’t imagine how I missed it.
Some quick points:

The electoral collage ( I think that I’ve finally settled on this spelling ) certainly helped maintain the electoral power of the southern states, since the “other persons” counted as 2/3 of a white person and they certainly wouldn’t be voting.

I’m not sure that your US to Britain analogy holds up. Margret Thatcher was not just the de facto head of state. She was also a member and the leader of the House of Commons.

Considering my faux pas, I would like to follow your lead on the disproportionate voting rights but since we are already into it I will continue.


Let me see if I can make this more clear. Since direct and districted elections both accomplish the same thing the total power of both is the same. That power is the right to decide which candidate gets into office. Comparing the 2 is a zero-sum game. You can not give more power to some voters without removing the exact same amount of power from others. The only way to increase the total political power of the voters is to change the game. Like holding elections more frequently, for instance.

I find it difficult to believe that the electoral collage fosters consensus. Other than “don’t rock the boat” and “fuck the poor” the Reps and Dems don’t agree on much and they are entrenched in their respective positions.


I have thought over your earlier point and here is why I disagree:
Candidates are trying to build a majority. That is, they are trying to create a platform that more people will support than will support his/her opponent(s). The trick to democratic change is not just convincing politicians that you are powerful enough to have your viewpoint respected, but also convincing your fellow citizens that your viewpoint should be respected. That’s why nonviolent resistance is effective. Governments are wary of attacking peaceful protests because it creates sympathy for the embattled group among the rest of the citizenry.

BTW- Love the sig. You thought it up yourself?


Your first issue appears to be an issue of semantics. Certainly both systems have the same end result. I guess I’m referring to the “power” to be heard, the “power” to have an impact on that result. In a single election, there is only one electorate, with one majority, and the minority can be disregarded. In a districted election, there are numerous electorates, each with its own definition of “majority,” and each “minority” has influence somewhere. The only “power” that is being taken away from the overall majority is the power to ignore everybody else. This is a power I would argue they shouldn’t have. A districted election shares the power of making the decision more equitably.

The second issue appears to be a matter of opinion. There has been a loud and persistent in American political commentary since at least Truman v. Dewey that the two parties are nearly identical, that the Democrats and the Republicans are selling the same product in slightly different bottles. I certainly hear it this year; I heard it quite loudly in '92, '88, and '76 as well. Before that I was too young to pay much attention.

Of course, the current American political and constitutional system bears only a passing resemblance to that devised by the drafters of the Constitution more than two centuries ago; there has a continual movement in the direction of greater “democracy”. I would argue that this puts paid to any claim that gradualism will produce better choices for Emperor…err, President.

The best answer to my question seems to be that the Founding Fathers, (G-d bless 'em and I hope someone remembered to drive stakes home before they screwed the lids down) being wealthy white guys running states, intended for the states to select the President.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’d say that, in fact, we do.

I had to look this up to get my facts straight, but here’s how the Prime Minister is selected:

There are 301 ridings in the country (and seats in the House of Commons). Citizens elect a Member of Parliament to represent their riding in a simple election where whoever gets the most votes (i.e., not necessarily a majority), wins the seat.

Candidates are always members of a party. The leader of the party that wins the most seats in the house becomes the Prime Minister. The trick of it is that MPs have no power in Ottawa beyond the single vote in the Parliament that comes with the seat. We have no committees or panels comparable to what exists in the Congress or the Senate; MPs can’t direct federal money, programs, jobs, or anything else back to their constituency. Voting in a riding is simple party voting, knowing that the leader of the party that wins is the Prime Minister.

Ontario and Quebec dominate because they have more ridings than the other provinces (Ontario has 103, Quebec 75). The west combined has only 88 (BC 34, Alberta 26, Sask. and Man. 14 each), while the maritimes has 31 totaled (there are 3 more in the territories).

That’s one solution. But my main point in bringing up Canada was a nearly direct vote leads to these sort of regional disparities.

No, Quebec’s portion of seats is comparable to its share of the popular vote: 301 seats for 30 million Canadians, 74 Quebec seats for 7.5 million Quebeckers.

Please see above for why I think that Canadians basically do vote directly for the Prime Minister, and that this vote is not mediated since the districts are basically balanced in population and electoral weight, and much smaller than the regional factors that come into play. One seat really is one seat.

Well, there’s really no difference when you consider the west and the maritimes as single regions, since they’d still be outnumbered. It’s not provincial boundaries that cause problems, since voting isn’t mediated at the provincial level; it’s that voting is concentrated in two really dense regions - southern Ontario (Northern Ontario is virtually unpopulated) and Southern Quebec. Quebec has the added regionalism of speaking French, which tends to make it a bloc voting region.

There have been attempts to make the West vote as a bloc - the Reform Party (now the Canadian Alliance) was born in the west, and is currently the Official Opposition (second place in the federal election). But the Canadian Alliance has no hope of winning an election for the same reason that the BQ has no hope - they can’t win Ontario, and besides, the West is too big and a little too diverse for bloc voting to survive.

Here’s a good government synopsis called "How Canadians govern themselves". It should be fairly horrifying to most Americans, to see how much power is concentrated in the office of the Prime Minister, compared to the American President.

I’m not sure what your point is, 2sense. Rather, I don’t see how your point contradicts my and Beruang’s claim that in direct voting schemes, minority groups may be singled out and simply ignored when a majority exists that will put one in power.

Alas, no. That’s the Onion’s T. Herman Zweibel (I really should attribute that).

And by the way: congratulations to all of us on a terribly civil debate that is the absolute antithesis of Jack Dean Tyler’s circumcision thread.