Electoral College v. Popular Vote - How Big Is Too Big?

I think you need to recognize that our country might not exist at all if small states weren’t given concessions.

~Max

OK, I acknowledge that - but what has that got to do with whether it’s a good system or a fair system? Basically, what you’re saying is that the Electoral College is a result of small states saying- " We play the way I want or I’ll take my ball and go home" and nobody has ever disputed that. Just because one group has the power to do that, doesn’t mean that their way is the best way or the fairest way - which TBH, is something I find almost amusing about this whole thing. Somehow, it’s unfair and bad for the majority to have more power - but the reverse is just fine.

I still don’t see any defender of the EC answering this question. Is there a lopsided enough result that it wouldn’t feel right? How Big Is Too Big?

If you think no amount of lopsidedness would feel unfair, could you say so?

Why not? Why should the arrangement of support by 51 geographical boundaries matter for the election of a person whose constituency transcends states boundaries and is for the entire population?

Twenty states are NOT overruling thirty, people are having their say over fewer people in an election, which is how elections work.

It would be great if the majority of voters – regardless of where they live – got the same amount of electoral consideration and power that the minority of voters receive. Living in a country where the national leader doesn’t have the support (or is unable to gain the support) of the majority of voters is a recipe for future disaster. It’s the kind of thing that has toppled younger democracies who have decided to emulate our system instead of a more mature and sensible system like that used in most of the other western democracies.

Ending the EC may also lead to a boom in electoral participation as hundreds of thousands of dispirited Republicans in California and tens of thousands of Democrats in Alabama find new reasons for casting a presidential ballot. Why should voters in ten states determine our head of state when we could meaningfully involve voters in all 50?

Lastly, if you were designing a new American constitution from scratch, how many of you would copy the current system and, if so, why?

Wasn’t there a thread similar to this? Many of the ideas were absolutely horrible. Ah here we go:

There will always be terrible suggestions, RJ, (I probably made some unpopular ones in there myself) but I’d like someone to answer my simple and direct question first.

I disagree with this. “Majority of Population Rules” already has power via the House. “Majority of States Rules” has power via the Senate. The EC is a quasi-hybrid of the two when selecting a president. Currently there’s only a very limited amount of things each branch can do without consent of the other two.

I believe most posters here with the “EC bad! Majority rules!” mentality here want those same 20/50 states from 2016 to both select the president and control the senate (or remove it altogether). They want to go from the current system where we just have gridlock when we can’t get clear agreement between population and states, to one where 48% of voters (and 20/50 states) control every aspect of government. I don’t think that is particularly healthy for the country either, even if my own political inclinations happen to be with the 20/50.

It is good and fair if we limit consideration to practical systems of government. The electoral college isn’t some ridiculous mathematical concept, it is the result of political comprimises made to create the federal republic we live in. Unlike the three-fifths compromise, the issues that forced America’s founding fathers to compromise on an electoral college are still extant. Small states still exist and it is not in their interest to use a national popular vote. Then as now, you still need small states to get on board with major changes to our system of government.

You may think it is unfair to give a minority an advantage over the majority, but I think such a broad moral statement is naive.

~Max

Didn’t I?

~Max

So you would be okay with a 25%-75% gap? You did say that 47% was okay.

No I think he means that the losing candidate receiving 47% isn’t too low to be legitimate.

It’s certainly possible that Trump could win with 45% this time, or even lower. I could see an EC supporter saying that is still enough (although at least a few have mentioned 10% as a cutoff point). But certainly a 60-40 loss is too much, right?

I would be okay with it so long as I don’t think people will revert to anarchy due to perceived illegitimacy of government. There is no magic number, because me being ‘ok’ with the results of the popular vote have nothing whatsoever to do with the popular vote, and everything to do with how I see people reacting to it.

If all of America was made entirely of people who think just like me, then so long as I think proper procedure was followed, I would be ‘ok’ with the results. That means the bare minimum is…

(Give me a few minutes to crunch some numbers…)

~Max

23.52%, or possibly a little bit less than that because of third-parties. Details below.

How did I get 23.52%?

I’ve made a little table based on data from the United States Elections Project and the National Archives:

Table 1: Real-life 2016 Data
State EC Votes Turnout % Voting Eligible Population Turnout
Wyoming 3 58.80% 429,682 252,653
Vermont 3 61.00% 494,871 301,871
District of Columbia 3 54.90% 515,248 282,871
Alaska 3 52.80% 522,679 275,975
North Dakota 3 56.50% 566,783 320,232
South Dakota 3 70.00% 631,173 441,821
Delaware 3 63.70% 691,720 440,626
Montana 3 64.20% 804,250 516,329
Rhode Island 4 60.40% 786,012 474,751
Hawaii 4 64.50% 1,012,860 653,295
New Hampshire 4 59.10% 1,042,795 616,292
Maine 4 42.30% 1,058,372 447,691
Idaho 4 59.20% 1,166,706 690,690
Nebraska 5 62.20% 1,343,821 835,857
West Virginia 5 56.40% 1,423,031 802,589
New Mexico 5 68.40% 1,464,515 1,001,728
Nevada 6 57.70% 1,961,587 1,131,836
Utah 6 58.60% 1,991,885 1,167,245
Kansas 6 60.00% 2,054,025 1,232,415
Arkansas 6 70.70% 2,140,097 1,513,049
Mississippi 6 66.40% 2,191,241 1,454,984
Iowa 6 67.20% 2,288,536 1,537,896
Connecticut 7 64.70% 2,582,761 1,671,046
Oklahoma 7 74.10% 2,778,219 2,058,660
Oregon 7 55.20% 3,024,174 1,669,344
Kentucky 8 62.20% 3,282,420 2,041,665
Louisiana 8 61.80% 3,384,435 2,091,581
Alabama 9 62.80% 3,609,447 2,266,733
South Carolina 9 57.40% 3,709,283 2,129,128
Colorado 9 71.40% 3,974,405 2,837,725
Minnesota 10 64.40% 3,973,204 2,558,743
Maryland 10 54.50% 4,189,616 2,283,341
Wisconsin 10 56.80% 4,285,071 2,433,920
Missouri 10 64.50% 4,517,925 2,914,062
Arizona 11 60.80% 4,740,310 2,882,108
Indiana 11 62.90% 4,849,937 3,050,610
Tennessee 11 52.30% 4,909,426 2,567,630
Massachusetts 11 66.20% 4,948,028 3,275,595
Washington 12 63.60% 5,123,020 3,258,241
Virginia 13 59.10% 6,027,152 3,562,047
New Jersey 14 56.70% 6,013,656 3,409,743
North Carolina 15 58.60% 7,352,501 4,308,566
Georgia 16 51.10% 6,959,963 3,556,541
Michigan 16 51.40% 7,420,628 3,814,203
Ohio 18 56.80% 8,736,808 4,962,507
Illinois 20 63.70% 8,985,443 5,723,727
Pennsylvania 20 66.10% 9,691,160 6,405,857
New York 29 64.70% 13,604,645 8,802,205
Florida 29 50.20% 14,601,066 7,329,735
Texas 38 69.50% 17,448,910 12,126,992
California 55 59.50% 25,104,844 14,937,382
United States 538 60.65% 226,410,346 137,322,334

The table is sorted first by electoral votes, then by voting eligible population. Simple addition tells me that we can obtain 270 votes by winning D.C. and the least populous 40 states (WY thru NJ on table). To calculate what percentage that is, first I calculate how many votes would have been necessary to win all of each state’s electoral votes in 2016. I will assume that is floor(VEP/2)+1 - in reality it will be a bit lower since third-parties allow for non-absolute majorities.

Maine and Nebraska forgo the winner-takes-all system, but they still award two electoral votes each based on a statewide election. So I won’t treat them any different.

Table 2: Votes to Win
State Votes to Win
Wyoming 214,842
Vermont 247,436
District of Columbia 257,625
Alaska 261,340
North Dakota 283,392
South Dakota 315,587
Delaware 345,861
Montana 402,126
Rhode Island 393,007
Hawaii 506,431
New Hampshire 521,398
Maine 529,187
Idaho 583,354
Nebraska 671,911
West Virginia 711,516
New Mexico 732,258
Nevada 980,794
Utah 995,943
Kansas 1,027,013
Arkansas 1,070,049
Mississippi 1,095,621
Iowa 1,144,269
Connecticut 1,291,381
Oklahoma 1,389,110
Oregon 1,512,088
Kentucky 1,641,211
Louisiana 1,692,218
Alabama 1,804,724
South Carolina 1,854,642
Colorado 1,987,203
Minnesota 1,986,603
Maryland 2,094,809
Wisconsin 2,142,536
Missouri 2,258,963
Arizona 2,370,156
Indiana 2,424,969
Tennessee 2,454,714
Massachusetts 2,474,015
Washington 2,561,511
Virginia 3,013,577
New Jersey 3,006,829
United States 53,252,219

Then for the percentage you asked. It’s the total votes needed to win divided by the total votes cast, in this case, 23.52% of the national popular vote. I would not be okay with results much lower than that (remember I overlooked the effect of third-parties).

~Max

I just showed how the electoral college can award the presidency to a candidate who wins less than a quarter of the national popular vote. I think it follows logically that if this is unacceptable, the electoral college as implemented allows for unacceptable results.

~Max

I don’t give a fuck what the states want. I care what the people want. Giving states what they want has failed us spectacularly.

And again, the EC was supposed to protect us from a tyrannical president. It didn’t.

I think this is a really important aspect of elections and one of the biggest problems with the EC. Not only is it important to bring more people in to the democratic process, I think democracy works better the more voters political parties have to be concerned with losing. If we had a national popular vote, both parties would need policies that appealed to every swing vote rather than not having to be accountable to most of them.

As a random example, the wildfires are going to have a reduced effect on the election because it’s a foregone conclusion that west coast states are going to vote for Biden. If this exact story had happened in the rust belt, the campaigns would be rushing out to those areas for photo ops, everyone would be arguing about who would run FEMA better and depending on how Trump responded to the situation and how Biden was able to criticize him for it, it would actually affect the election.

If I may suggest something, then, I don’t think the US Constitution gets too many things wrong. The EC is a terrible idea and the Second Amendment is obviously a lot of trouble, but for the most part the rest of it is “people should be free and have a say in things and laws should matter” and it would work fine if people cared about it. The day they don’t, it doesn’t matter how the details work.

The EC is a pretty big one, though. And history may yet prove that a big mistake was made in creating an executive branch and a poorly representative bi-cameral legislature. Well, maybe not a mistake exactly but maybe a form of government that has been surpassed in effectiveness by other western democracies.

I understand the arguments about federalism that will be certainly be tossed by some as a rebuttal but I think that’s another concept that has largely outlived its usefulness.

This is a pretty fair take, and I pretty much agree with it.

Crazy hypothetical scenario: far-right groups in europe and russia completely take over, establish a new nazi empire over much of the continent. The US, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and China decide that their best hope in countering this threat is banding together and establishing the Pacific Partnership (PP) as a new mega-nation, with a flag with five equal stars representing the 5 former countries (now states).

China wants this new nation to be governed strictly by popular vote to elect all leadership positions. There is no way the US will agree to this, and the US and Canada and Japan counter with “majority of states rules.” China will not accept this either, as it would leave them powerless against a bloc of those three states. The whole experiment looks like it is about to crumble, but eventually everyone hammers out a compromise with a bicameral legislature that made up of one house selected by the population at large (mostly controlled by China) and a second house with a single representative elected from each state. All legislation needs to pass both houses, guaranteeing that all future laws will be acceptable to both China and at least a majority of the other states.

When it comes down to selecting a prime minister - again no agreement can be reached, for the same issues as the above (China wants a direct popular vote, but nobody else does). Again, a compromise is made by assigning each state the value of their total representatives from both houses in the legislature, and allowing each state to vote as one block. This system ends up so that China has about half the votes, and the other 4 states have the other half.

It was a tough fight, but the new PP nation prevails in the upcoming world war. Peace ensues for the next 200 years, during which time everyone in the PP starts speaking one language, inter-state tensions are reduced and people start having new things to argue over than simple state rivalry. The prime minister position changes hands multiple times over history, neither being controlled by China or the other states for long. Political parties form that are no longer clearly cut across state borders.

After a particularly contentious election in which a majority-Chinese-backed candidate for prime minister lost, somebody on a message board from China starts complaining about the “unfairness” of the prime leadership election mechanics. A vote from China is worth proportionally less than all the others! It’s not democratic! It’s ridiculous math!

Someone else suspects that this objection may just be 90% sour grapes, points to the five equal stars on the flag (not one big one for China’s population and smaller for the rest), and the fact that that’s just how the PP was constructed, with full agreement from all parties at the time, with 200 years of history behind it, and elections for prime minister rarely deviate much from the popular vote anyway. Sure, it may not be ideal now, but its far from the most pressing issue in need of fixing, and from a practical matter its just going to be almost impossible to get the other 4 states to agree to a constitutional change at this point, so instead of continuing to charge at this one windmill, why not work within the system to tweak it towards the goal?