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A backdoor plan to thwart the electoral college
June 24, 2006 2:36 PM   Subscribe

A backdoor plan to thwart the electoral college Some states try to ensure that the winner of popular vote becomes president
posted by Postroad (114 comments total)

 
You'd think that would be the way to do it, wouldn't you?
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:42 PM on June 24, 2006


But he figures there might be a way to dampen enthusiasm. "You could say the French elect their president directly," he says. "I'm thinking that will get people running away from any support: If the French do it, is it really right for the US?"

....
posted by IshmaelGraves at 2:46 PM on June 24, 2006


In US history, there have been about 700 failed proposals in Congress to change the electoral college system

I would imagine some of these had to garner a decent amount of popular support. I wish that someone would make a serious attack on it again, and it seems like the time is ripe for such a thing, with the Bush-Gore debacle fresh in our memories.
posted by MrZero at 2:46 PM on June 24, 2006


The French don't send me all their money. Americans, don't be like the French!
posted by mr_roboto at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2006


sounds like a good idea. do we really need / want middle america to be the deciders of presidential elections?
posted by Milliken at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2006


Remember that before the 2000 election, a lot of analysts suspected that Bush would win the popular vote and that Gore would sneak in through the electoral college.

This isn't Democrat vs. Republican. It's an obvious correction vs. senseless tradition.

(cue obligatory 'like we said, democrat vs. republican')
posted by Simon! at 3:12 PM on June 24, 2006


hey, no worries. With diebold around, and all the usual funky procedural (not to say illegal) elimination of poor/black voters, it won't matter. Popular vote's sewed-up tight.
posted by kaemaril at 3:43 PM on June 24, 2006


I don't know about this plan in particular but I like the direction of the discourse. The popular vote has never been what really elects a president, so instead of viewing the electoral college as a stumbling block, why not find a way to make it more meaningful? The article mentions that Democrat electors won't be too keen to cast their vote for a Republican, or vice versa. Could such a move as this actually change the way we choose those electors? Can you imagine a group of learned men and women gathered together to actually determine who the BEST person for the job might be?
posted by kjh at 3:47 PM on June 24, 2006


It's not Democrat vs. Republican. It's "big state" versus "small state". And that was the real conflict which made the original process of writing the Constitution such a difficult one. The bifurcation of the legislative branch was part of the solution, and the Electoral college was the other part of the solution.

The House makes it so that small states can't run roughshod over the big states. The Senate makes it so the big states can't run roughshod over the small states. The way the Electoral College is set up, it gives the small states a bit of a boost in Presidential selection, but not an overwhelming one.

If the President was elected based on popular vote, candidates would totally ignore the smallest states and do the vast majority of their campaigning in the 15 largest states, which between them have 2/3rds of the population of the country.

And the small states know it, which is why most of the small states won't go along with any proposal, no matter how phrased and how implemented, which would change the current system. They won't ratify a constitutional amendment, and they won't change their native laws on how electors are chosen and on how they are required to vote once the Electoral College meets.

This proposal is interesting in that it makes it possible to implement popular vote selection of the President without amending the constitution. But it's only an intellectual curiosity -- because popular vote selection itself is not going to be seen as acceptable by small state legislatures, irrespective of how it might be implemented legally.

As of the 2000 census, the smallest 21 states in the Union had less total population than the state of California all by itself. Why would those 21 states want to make themselves completely irrelevant to Presidential campaigning?

As it is, they have 91 electoral votes compared to California's 55. That's a big deal for them, and for presidential candidates.

Nor, in fact, is this necessarily attractive to voters and legislators in big states. Consider this: in 2004 Bush got the majority of the popular vote, but he lost big in California, which went solidly for Kerry. What this proposal requires is for the legislature of California to require its 55 electors to vote for the candidate who got the majority nationally even if the majority of Californians voted for the other candidate. Which is to say, if this had been in place in 2004, then California's electors would have been instructed to vote for Bush even though Kerry took 54.4% of the state vote (to 44.4% for Bush). How do you think that would have played with the majority of California voters who voted for Kerry? I don't think it would play at all.

Anyway, even if it were done the result isn't what you think it would be. A lot of people who are suddenly in favor of this are thinking grumblingly "In 2000 Gore got the majority of the popular vote, grumble, grumble, grumble" but they're missing something critical: the reason why is that the popular vote didn't matter and the strategists on both sides knew it. Because the Electoral College was in place, both sides based their campaign strategies on winning in the Electoral College. If the President was picked by popular vote, campaign strategies would be entirely different.

In other words, if this had been in place in 2000, that doesn't mean Gore would have become President. It means that Karl Rove would have run Bush's campaign differently.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:51 PM on June 24, 2006 [5 favorites]


Some states divide the electoral college delegates to roughly conform with results. However, there is a more accurate way. The electoral college, assuming we are stuck with it federally, can be reformed by taking random ballots from the state election process, removing pressure to recount. So, if a state has ten electoral college votes, then at least ten random ballots would be selected, averaging out in the final analysis over 538 samples. This can be argued to be more accurate if fraud is assumed at the local level in close races. If it sounds absurd, realize that one of the few methods of arcane voting theory that satisfies most voting criterion is a single random ballot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Voting_systems
posted by Brian B. at 3:54 PM on June 24, 2006


It would make more sense for states to simply split up their EC votes based on the popular vote in the state. If California went 60% democrat, they'd give 60% of their EC votes to the Dems.

That would certainly fix problems like Florida where 10,000 - 50,000 votes are in error and the winner gets decided by 500 votes.

If all states did it, the effect would be the same. On the other hand, states doing this themselves would basically be disenfranchising their voters.
posted by delmoi at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2006


In important respects, the concept is based on a false premise that other large democracies generally allocate significant political power by direct national election.

The Germans do so, but only through the highly diffused mechanism of proportional representation or parliamentarians and the French partially do (through the very limited authority of the President of the Republic vs. that of the Prime Minister), but India, Japan, the UK and Canada allocate all power through districted parliamentary elections which are (grossly) analagous to the Electoral College.

In fact, the only sizable democracies where direct election of a President with powers comparable to America's are Mexico and Brazil, which are not necessarily the height of aspiration.
posted by MattD at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2006


i absoluletly love this concept. I'm not sure it should be implemented, but whoever came up with it is a genius.

Hacking the constitution, I love it.
posted by empath at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2006


I'm missing something. As I understand it, in every state but Nebraska and Maine, whichever candidate gets the majority of votes gets all the electors chosen by that candidate (or his/her party) sent to cast their vote (supposedly for that candidate). While reading this, it sounded like what would happen is that the states would instead send the electors chosen by the candidate that receives the national popular vote. But in that case, Republican electors would be voting for the Republican candidate (who received the national popular vote), or Democrat electors would be voting for the Democratic candidate (who received the national popular vote), or likewise for a third party candidate. But that is contradicted by this:

But the proposed system would have another idiosyncrasy: Electors, typically faithful party members, could be forced to cast votes for the opposing party. "You'll be asking dyed-in-the-wool Democrats to vote for Republicans, and that's not going to go down well," Mr. Bowler says.

So what am I missing?
posted by squarehead at 3:59 PM on June 24, 2006


Nice comment Den Beste. Seriously. I wish that more people here would read and understand what you're saying instead of holding their irrational feeling of "Gore lost because of the Electoral College".
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:01 PM on June 24, 2006


Brian B: the problem with that is that a 538 sample wouldn't be averaged enough The margin of error in a sample size that small is like 7%. Given how evenly divided the electorate is these days the selection would be almost completely random.
posted by delmoi at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2006


You're not missing anything. This proposal is counterintuitive, and that's part of why it will never be implemented.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2006


No, I am missing something.
posted by squarehead at 4:03 PM on June 24, 2006


Either what I quoted is wrong, or I don't understand the proposal in some way.
posted by squarehead at 4:03 PM on June 24, 2006


A great point from Steven Den Beste that we can't infer who would have been the popular vote "winner" in past elections because popular vote victory wasn't sought by the candidates.

However, I think small state objections are beside the point: the proposal is designed to make small state consent unnecessary.

The problem comes from the fact that opposition won't only be from the small states. The proposal will fail from its lack of support in the big swing states. Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all reap tremendous goodies from the fact that their votes have decide the Presidency for the last four elections. They're not going to give up that power.

(California, ironically, gave up a big opportunity, flipping too rapidly from dependably Republican to dependably Democrat to get any benefit from swing-state status.)
posted by MattD at 4:09 PM on June 24, 2006


Is the idea that the Democratic electors would be sent to cast the vote if that majority of votes in that state went to the Democratic candidate, but they would be told that they have to vote for the Republican candidate if that candidate won the national popular vote? If so, that could be problematic.
posted by squarehead at 4:10 PM on June 24, 2006


Yet another problem with this proposal is that it has to be implemented incrementally, and the states which implement it will be at a disadvantage in presidential elections relative to the states which have not.

Which means it creates a situation which nearly guarantees "defection" (see "The Prisoner's Dilemma"). The more states which put this in place, the greater the incentive for smaller states to not do so, or to revoke it and return to the former system if they previously did so. The more states which have this system in place, the greater the amount of attention which will be paid to states which have not done so by presidential campaigns.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:10 PM on June 24, 2006


Squarehead, if you go to the proposal webite, you'll find that your problem isn't a problem at all, and the opponents who are complaining on these grounds don't know what they're talking about.

The bill provides that the electors chosen by, and pledged, to the national winner will be the ones chosen in each participating state, not the electors chosen by the national loser, even if the national loser won that state.

So, in Massachusetts, it would be the Republican slate who'd vote for the Republican national winner, and in Utah the Democratic slate who'd vote for the Democratic national winner. The only problem would be the same problem we've always had, which has never actually impacted an election, that of the "faithless Elector."
posted by MattD at 4:13 PM on June 24, 2006


Squarehead, it doesn't matter who the electors are. It doesn't matter what party they're from, and it doesn't matter what they think. Electors are people who carry marching orders from their state legislatures and will vote for whomever they're told to vote for.

What matters about this proposal is that it requires the electors from a given state to make their votes for some presidential candidate without regards to how the voters in their own state actually voted.

It's not important that it might require Democratic electors to vote for a Republican candidate or vice versa. What's important is that it might require electors from a state which picked the Democratic candidate to vote for the Republican candidate anyway, or vice versa.

And that isn't going to be popular with the voters of that state -- who pick the people in the legislature of that state, who are the ones who have to act to implement this proposal.

And that's why it isn't going to happen.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:14 PM on June 24, 2006


The central legal concept of the bill precludes what Steven is worrying about: the structure only goes into effect in any state once states approving it consistute a majority of the Electoral College, and that as an interstate compact states wouldn't be free to withdraw at the last minute and switch their electoral allocation while other states couldn't switch theirs.
posted by MattD at 4:16 PM on June 24, 2006


MattD, it's been a very long time since electors actually were permitted to choose who to vote for. Even under the current system it doesn't matter in the slightest which party any given elector is from. Their vote is determined for them by law, that law having been passed by their state legislature.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:17 PM on June 24, 2006


the structure only goes into effect in any state once states approving it consistute a majority of the Electoral College

All that means is that it will never go into effect. There's still a holdout bonus, an incentive for states to be tardy in passing this in hopes of having it go into effect (because others passed it) without that particular state being a party to it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:18 PM on June 24, 2006


Thanks, MattD.
posted by squarehead at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2006


Delmoi, would that be more or less than the margin of error be for the proportional state division of delegates? Either way it needn't be limited to just a minimal sampling if they want to be more accurate. The soundness of a random ballot is its decisiveness compared to one state holding up the entire election for recounting. And to remove some incentive for local fraud in tight races. I would also suggest that it progresses towards the greater reform of eliminating the college by establishing a mechanism that competes with it.
posted by Brian B. at 4:38 PM on June 24, 2006


Random sampling of the ballot to decide the winner is another ivory-tower idea that has zero chance of actually being implemented. It means that the vast majority of voters would know that who they voted for wouldn't matter in the slightest. You really think they'd agree to such a thing?

Not a chance.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:49 PM on June 24, 2006


Get rid of the electoral college. I have yet to hear a single cogent argument that doesn't come down to "that's the way we always done it." for keeping the system.

Establish uniform federal ballots, with guaranteed paper trails.

Make all federal elections publically funded, guaranteeing equal time and equal resources, and bar private contributions to federal campaigns.

Then get some instant runoff voting going.

Et Voila - fixed Democracy.
posted by stenseng at 4:55 PM on June 24, 2006




Random sampling of the ballot to decide the winner is another ivory-tower idea that has zero chance of actually being implemented. It means that the vast majority of voters would know that who they voted for wouldn't matter in the slightest. You really think they'd agree to such a thing?



Which is different than now, how exactly?
posted by stenseng at 4:55 PM on June 24, 2006


Steven, minority votes already count for nothing in most states and they know this before going into the election. It is ceremonial and symbolic, but meaningless under the current electoral college.
posted by Brian B. at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2006


Stenseng, you're going to have to stop using common sense arguments with regards to federal voting reforms. If you persist in doing that, someone is bound to use some irrelevant historical point to bring life to a strawgolem. They will then sacrifice the strawgolem in order to prove why the electoral college should remain. They might also use your suggestion of paper trails as a sign that you are a paranoid luddite.
posted by crataegus at 5:02 PM on June 24, 2006


Fuck man, I don't care if they carve the shit in stone, or embed it in carbonite, as long as the record is there...
posted by stenseng at 5:09 PM on June 24, 2006


MattD, it's been a very long time since electors actually were permitted to choose who to vote for. Even under the current system it doesn't matter in the slightest which party any given elector is from. Their vote is determined for them by law, that law having been passed by their state legislature.

Indeed. Faithless electors, no less.
posted by kaemaril at 5:14 PM on June 24, 2006


Den Beste, you're mistaken on the holdout bonus.

It only goes into effect once the number of states that pass the measure is equal to or greater than the number needed to guarantee a win in the electoral college. When it goes into effect, it goes into effect simultaneously in all those states, which will immediately become a simple majority.

All the holdout states lose ALL power at that point, as a simple majority of the popular vote will immediately be matched by a simple majority of the electoral college. Suddenly, the only thing that will matter to ANY candidate is concentrated population centers.

It will not matter what states those population centers are in, since the most overall nationwide votes will immediately guarantee a win for that candidate. Candidates will only visit the top 50 or so biggest cities, and ignore the rest of the nation.
posted by mystyk at 5:17 PM on June 24, 2006


Correction: It only goes into effect once the number of states that pass the measure is have combined electoral votes equal to or greater than the number needed to guarantee a win in the electoral college.

It won't matter whether you're a big state or not. It will matter what the population density in your major cities are. Rural mid-western states of decent size have little-to-nothing to gain, while California will be about equal in power to some New England states.
posted by mystyk at 5:24 PM on June 24, 2006


It seems to me that this would be a slam dunk victory for democrats, since they basically own the urban areas that would matter if this passes.
posted by empath at 5:25 PM on June 24, 2006


If the President was elected based on popular vote, candidates would totally ignore the smallest states and do the vast majority of their campaigning in the 15 largest states, which between them have 2/3rds of the population of the country.
Yes, you have the gist of it. The candidates would do the majority of their campaigning where the majority of the people live. This to me is a desirable feature of the proposal, not a problem with it.

Or are you saying it's better for the country when candidates have incentive to more or less ignore the country's biggest population centers like they do today?
posted by koreth at 5:27 PM on June 24, 2006


It seems to me that this would be a slam dunk victory for democrats, since they basically own the urban areas that would matter if this passes.
But it is being sponsored by Republicans in some states.

Vote fraud accusations aside, who had the majority of the popular vote in the last election? I don't think it's a slam dunk for anyone.
posted by koreth at 5:29 PM on June 24, 2006


I live in New York and I would like it if my vote counted as much as a vote in Wyoming. All states automatically get 2 electoral college votes, don't they, then additional votes based on population? This would make sense if states were siginificantly independent politically (like countries), but in the US these days, they really arent.
posted by snofoam at 5:41 PM on June 24, 2006


On problem with what you've said Steven: you assume that an abandonment of the electoral college would mean that small states would be abandoned because they don't matter anymore. But doesn't a similar situation exist today? How many states are largely ignored during campaigns because they are known to be solidly partisan? How much campaigning did Kerry or Gore do in Texas in 2004/2000 respectively? It has a lot of electoral votes, but since it was known to be a Republican stronghold, it didn't get too much attention.
posted by papakwanz at 5:47 PM on June 24, 2006


Al Gore didn't get a majority of the popular vote in 2000. And Bill Clinton ddn't get a majority of the popular vote in 1996 or in 1992.

What happens when nobody gets a majority of the popular vote?
posted by Jos Bleau at 5:53 PM on June 24, 2006


I think that we should move to direct elections, and that small states should take one for the team. I don't care if they control a lot of land. Land doesn't matter. What matters is people.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:03 PM on June 24, 2006


Or are you saying it's better for the country when candidates have incentive to more or less ignore the country's biggest population centers like they do today?

You misunderstand. I haven't expressed any opinion on whether the president should be selected on the basis of popular vote. What I've been saying is that it isn't going to change.

For instance, Stensing wrote:
Get rid of the electoral college. I have yet to hear a single cogent argument that doesn't come down to "that's the way we always done it." for keeping the system.

Establish uniform federal ballots, with guaranteed paper trails.

Make all federal elections publically funded, guaranteeing equal time and equal resources, and bar private contributions to federal campaigns.

Then get some instant runoff voting going.

Et Voila - fixed Democracy.
That can't happen without amending the constitution, which requires consent from 38 state legislatures, and that's never going to happen. Irrespective of whether this would be good or bad, it's politically infeasible.

Papakwanz wrote:
you assume that an abandonment of the electoral college would mean that small states would be abandoned because they don't matter anymore. But doesn't a similar situation exist today? How many states are largely ignored during campaigns because they are known to be solidly partisan?
Ah, but it's within the power of the voters of that state to change this and to make themselves critical. That doesn't require amending the Constitution.

Afroblanco wrote:
I think that we should move to direct elections, and that small states should take one for the team.
But they don't think so, and they're not going to do it, and it can't be implemented without their consent.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:26 PM on June 24, 2006


Jos Bleau, they really mean "plurality", not "majority". It's a minor quibble, really.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:29 PM on June 24, 2006


Rats, I missed a chance to prove geek cred:

.,$s/majority/plurality/
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:02 PM on June 24, 2006


elimination of the electoral college is the next most necessary electoral reform after honest elections. due to the electoral college a vote at the polls in wyoming is *three times* more powerful than a vote in my state. that's off the charts ridiculous. i'm sure if i went and tried to vote three times, somebody might have something to say about it. but in small states, it's automatic and i'm tired of it. anyway, if this state compact can effectively eliminate the electoral college and force the issue, then so much the better. one person, one vote.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:06 PM on June 24, 2006


Al Gore didn't get a majority of the popular vote in 2000.

Gore 50,996,116
Bush 50,456,169
Other 3,874,040

Strictly speaking? OK. But it looks good enough to me.
posted by kaemaril at 7:08 PM on June 24, 2006


As far as election reform is concerned, I don't even think the presidential race is the priority, because it doesn't fail democracy every time. The House of Representative seats are gerrymandered and winner take all, which make them meaningless as districts for partisan vehicles. The logic for selecting a lower house to represent the general population doesn't work well with territory, which should be the domain of the fixed upper house (which is absurdly duplicated in the Senate).

I never understood the argument that the big states would dominate the small states if there wasn't an imbalance. That's not even democratic, but a form of tyranny where delegates from small bases have more power. There was no big/small rivalry until they made one. There are so many flaws, it is hard to know where to begin. However, I would begin by rewriting the constitution to elect the House in each state based on a party list, since the elections are held on the same day, and also change the law to elect the Senate based on a territory division within the state, perhaps even urban versus rural.
posted by Brian B. at 7:09 PM on June 24, 2006


I never understood the argument that the big states would dominate the small states if there wasn't an imbalance. That's not even democratic, but a form of tyranny where delegates from small bases have more power. There was no big/small rivalry until they made one.

Pure democracy itself is a failure of balanced representation. Pure democracy favors the majority and puts the minority at a significant disadvantage. This is why our country is a Republic. While the founders knew that creating a "ruling class" might create issues in itself, the French Revolution taught them that the majority, uneducated, and out of touch, cannot be trusted with power. The Supreme Court, the Senate, and the Electoral College are all acknowledgements by our Founders that "majority rules" by itself can lead to the destruction of this nation's government.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:27 PM on June 24, 2006


Gore 50,996,116
Bush 50,456,169
Other 3,874,040


One problem, of course, is that vote counting is subject to error. Some experts put the aggregate margin of error in the popular vote as high as 3%, with conservative estimates somewhere between .5 and 1%. The recent election vote counts are within even these conservative estimate of the margin of error. If elections, particularly national elections, continue to be so close, we need some reform in simple counting methodology, even if we don't implement more radical changes.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:29 PM on June 24, 2006


That's a good argument in favor of the electoral college, Monju_bosatsu.

If the president is elected by popular vote, then massive voter fraud in any single major city could sway the election. But under the current system it can only sway the assignment of the electors from that particular state. That may still be enough to sway the election, but it's also possible that it could make no difference at all.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:40 PM on June 24, 2006


Pure democracy itself is a failure of balanced representation. Pure democracy favors the majority and puts the minority at a significant disadvantage. This is why our country is a Republic. While the founders knew that creating a "ruling class" might create issues in itself, the French Revolution taught them that the majority, uneducated, and out of touch, cannot be trusted with power. The Supreme Court, the Senate, and the Electoral College are all acknowledgements by our Founders that "majority rules" by itself can lead to the destruction of this nation's government.

Seizetheday, this makes no sense. Pure democracy is not what we are describing, but representational democracy, aka, a democratic republic. The minority is only a temporary minority in disagreement, so it's begging the question to say it exists absolutely, as in wealth or education or status. Also, "trusting the majority with power" is also circular, because they already have any power they want under any justification they want, you simply refer to trusting them at all. You misunderstand what the majority rule is, by the way, making this an encounter with Ayn Rand. The majority rule means that any law applies to everyone, not a select minority. The 'minority' defined by and opposed to the majority always go around projecting tyranny and minority rule onto them. My reforms, by the way, were election reforms, not government reforms.
posted by Brian B. at 7:46 PM on June 24, 2006


That's a good argument in favor of the electoral college, Monju_bosatsu.

No, it's not. You can flip your argument around and demonstrate that the potential impact is much larger under the electoral college. Imagine a situation in which error in California turns a .5% win for one candidate into a .5% loss. In a national popular election there is a small impact, amounting to 1% of the votes cast in California. Now, California is a big state, but that's still a small percentage of the nationwide total. Now, imagine the same scenario under the electoral college. Instead of a swing in the nationwide popular vote amounting to 1% of the votes cast in California, there's a swing of 55 votes in the electoral college. That's 55 out of 538, or more than 10% of the nationwide total.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:49 PM on June 24, 2006


While the founders knew that creating a "ruling class" might create issues in itself, the French Revolution taught them that the majority, uneducated, and out of touch, cannot be trusted with power.

The US Constitution was written in 1787. The French Revolution was in 1789.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:04 PM on June 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Monju_batsu, my point was that under a direct-election scenario, any significant voter fraud anywhere affects the result. In the current system there are a lot of places where certain kinds of voter fraud would make no difference at all.

For instance, suppose that there had been voter fraud in California in 2004, converting Kerry's 54% to 74% and adding a couple of million votes to his total. Wouldn't have made any difference at all, right?

Voter fraud is a problem with all voting systems, but our current system is less vulnerable to it. (Note that I did not say that it was invulnerable.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:07 PM on June 24, 2006


Forgive me, for I've had a few drinks.

Brian, there was in fact a rivalry between big states and small states, and there continues to be this rift (though not a very popular topic of discussion). During the writing of the Federalist Papers and during drafts of the Constitution the big sticking point to get the Constitution ratified was proper representation for the smaller states, like Rhode Island and Delaware. The point of my comment, though now I can see is completely hidden since I just wrote a lot of big words without actually making a coherent argument, was that this rivalry wasn't invented. It was, and continues to be, very real, and now extends beyond just big state-small state discussions.

My point to saying anything was to suggest that disproportionate representation to minorities is not tyrannical, but necessary, to preserve democracy.

And SDB, yes, you're right. But the electoral college was reformed several times after the French Revolution, the Supreme Court only got it's teeth during Marbury, and the Senate did become more democratic (which kills my argument, but I'm saying it anyway) long after.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:18 PM on June 24, 2006


Seizetheday, thanks for further clarification, I fully acknowledge that equality among states is a valid argument in many circumstances, under the one-member-one-vote criterion, especially in methods to make federal laws, But it seems invalid when that concept is exported to the general election to assert an inequality. Not related to our discussion, but logically questionable, is also the idea of one person being able to vote for both senators, essentially cloning the results statewide. Cheers.
posted by Brian B. at 8:35 PM on June 24, 2006


I wish people would put as much effort trying to shift power more locally (and out of the federal government) as they do arguing about the electoral college. If your state had more power (i.e. the commerce clause was interpreted more narrowly, majority of taxes were local, not federal, etc) you're local government would wield more influence than DC. Also, your vote would count more and the guy/gal you want to win would have a greater chance of winning. In my opinion continuing to push power to the federal government is a mistake, as centralized governments tend to polarize and disenfranchise.
posted by forforf at 8:52 PM on June 24, 2006


This is one of the best threads I've read on MeFi. Many thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

I read the CSM article yesterday and have been thinking about it. Y'all have given me much more to think about.

Thanks again, all.
posted by taosbat at 9:25 PM on June 24, 2006


koreth writes "Or are you saying it's better for the country when candidates have incentive to more or less ignore the country's biggest population centers like they do today?"

Seems better than ignoring the residents of 95% of the land mass. The more views brought to the table the better with less chance of extremism nationally. Things are different in rural areas and it can be tough to get differences across. We often see this here in Canada (plus the Anglophone/Francophone split) in for example the registration of long guns which was vigorously opposed by those who actually use them (rural residents) and seen as required by urban politicians.
posted by Mitheral at 9:27 PM on June 24, 2006


Seems better than ignoring the residents of 95% of the land mass.
Ah, the heart of the matter. Since when does land get to vote? How high does an area's population density have to go before the worth of its residents' votes starts to decrease?

Take Australia. 95% of the land mass there makes rural America seem downright metropolitan. (Their respective population density maps make that very clear.) Should outback residents therefore get an even bigger say than rural U.S. citizens in the selection of the national government? Say, a 10x multiplier on their votes rather than the U.S.'s 3x, so that the land mass is properly represented despite its infinitesimal population? (Obviously Australia has a substantially different electoral system than the U.S. I simply use it as an example of the logical conclusion of saying that the land mass is significant in deciding whose votes count how much.)

Your example about gun registration seems to me to be more of an argument for decentralization of authority (putting the decision in the hands of regional governments) than an argument for disenfranchising voters who happen to live close to one another.
posted by koreth at 10:28 PM on June 24, 2006


The more views brought to the table the better with less chance of extremism nationally. Things are different in rural areas and it can be tough to get differences across.

Hasn't helped so far... Seems to me extermism still tends to crop up more frequently in rural areas, making the political attitudes of rural populations less representative of the nation as a whole (and having election outcomes reflect the attitudes of the nation as whole is kind of the point of elections, no?).

Also, on an election reform tangent: Why not provide some mechanism for a presidential recall vote? If we can recall governors why the hell not presidents (might keep 'em a little more honest than they have been in recent decades)...
posted by saulgoodman at 10:42 PM on June 24, 2006


Mitheral, adopting an arbitrary system based on land, opposed to population, may be destroying us economically, raising those concerns of a qualified minority tyranny in kind. The blue states have our advantage in a global economy and are more educated, but have least representation. Environmentally, they also have the awareness of population pressures, not to mention labor issues by dint of organization ability.
posted by Brian B. at 10:48 PM on June 24, 2006


Yes, you have the gist of it. The candidates would do the majority of their campaigning where the majority of the people live. This to me is a desirable feature of the proposal, not a problem with it.

Hear, hear. It's mind-boggling to me that some people really think it's acceptable that someone's vote should count for more because they live in a sparsely-populated state.

We often see this here in Canada (plus the Anglophone/Francophone split) in for example the registration of long guns which was vigorously opposed by those who actually use them (rural residents) and seen as required by urban politicians.

This is a good point, and it's certainly a problem, but I don't see how allowing residents of rural areas to impose their worldview on city-dwellers is any less problematic than the obverse. We all take our blindered prejudices to the polls, and very few of us have the diversity of experience to make decisions like these for people very different from ourselves. As koreth points out, this is a better argument for restricting national, large-scale legislation to only the most important and universal issues and leaving the rest in the hands of local governments than it is for letting the residents of Kentucky to decide that gay people in Manhattan shouldn't be allowed to get married.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:54 PM on June 24, 2006


Math Against Tyranny - A long read, but one of the best arguments I've ever heard for keeping the electoral college. It's based on the power of each individual's vote. Direct voting makes sense only when the race is extremely close - near 50/50. When the race is more one-sided, those in the minority start losing out big time, but EC brings back some of the power of those in a minority. EC keeps all candidate's positions towards the center viewpoint of the electorate. The article is about the ideas of Alan Natapoff and not only does he think that the EC is good for the USA, he thinks it would help in Iraq, too.
posted by rjd at 11:05 PM on June 24, 2006


another quick thought on election reform: why not establish a system of polling facilities as part of our national infastructure to bring more uniformity to federal and local election processes? development of such a system would require a large upfront investment of federal tax dollars, but the costs could eventually be recouped by leasing the facilities out to local election authorities for state and local elections and other civic uses. (the fact that polling places are usually small community centers that primarily serve other purposes--churches typically, where I live--really seems to create a lot of potential for election malfeasance at the local levels)... really, i don't see any other way to ensure a consistent, unified federal election process, which is what we really need, IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 PM on June 24, 2006


those in the minority start losing out big time, but EC brings back some of the power of those in a minority.

what minority, though? i don't get this minority thing... you mean less densely populated states? how do the citizens of less densely-populated states in any meaningful sense constitute political minorities?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:15 PM on June 24, 2006


how do the citizens of less densely-populated states in any meaningful sense constitute political minorities?

See Yucca Mountain. Basically the federal government is shoving nuclear waste down Nevada's throat. If enough small states formed a coalition to oppose this, presidential elections would be forced to deal with this issue.

And there are literally hundreds of issues like this where states are railroaded by the federal government in the name of "national interest". Think eminent domain on a national scale as one example.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:20 PM on June 24, 2006


rjd, from the article you link:

But that potential tie-splitting power puts all voters in a powerful position; candidates will give each of you a lot of respect.


Yes, but district and state boundaries are arbitrarily drawn, so each individuals vote doesn't count equally, it has more or less weight depending on how the boundaries are drawn. So who gets to decide who's votes should be worth more? And on what basis? This is a meaningless argument.

In the real world of large nations and uneven contests, voters get more bang for their ballot when they set up a districted, Madisonian electoral system--usually a lot more.

Should read: "some voters get more bang for their ballot." Specifically, those that live in less densely-populated states--which just brings us back to the original question: Why should voters from less densely populated regions' votes be given more weight than others?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 PM on June 24, 2006


Basically the federal government is shoving nuclear waste down Nevada's throat. If enough small states formed a coalition to oppose this, presidential elections would be forced to deal with this issue.

This sounds like the makings of a good point. I'm not convinced, just yet, but you've got me thinking about it...

(Wrote that last comment before I read SeizetheDay's post.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 PM on June 24, 2006


Perhaps it's time to start talking about Kenneth Arrow. Without going into too much detail, Arrow won the Nobel Prize in Economics for mathematically proving that all voting systems with certain characteristics will have some people whose votes count more than other people's votes, if those voting systems don't have other flaws which are even worse.

Basically, he came up with a short list of properties that he felt an ideal voting system should have, and then proved that no voting system can exist which has all of them. It's an extraordinary and quite pernicious result. Economists and mathematicians have been looking at his proof for more than fifty years and no one has found a flaw in it. (And given the unpalatability of his result, a lot of bright people were strongly motivated to locate such a flaw.)

Ishmael Graves sez: It's mind-boggling to me that some people really think it's acceptable that someone's vote should count for more because they live in a sparsely-populated state.

Actually, it's not that I think that it's acceptable, so much as that I think it's unavoidable. If it wasn't them it would be someone else. (I'm half facetious on that, but only half.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:44 PM on June 24, 2006


If enough small states formed a coalition

Why does it have to be a coalition of small states? Big states could just as easily be induced to form a coalition, I'd think. You seem to think something like the big states have it in for the small states, for some reason--do you really think it works that way? The state could just appeal to the voting public, couldn't it?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:44 PM on June 24, 2006


sorry for being only semi-coherent. it's past my bedtime.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:46 PM on June 24, 2006


To continue my argument, though I don't like the way I'm getting there:

Apparently, over 70% of Alaskans are in favor of opening up ANWR to digging for oil. Yet because of national politics, the initiative has stalled. Once again, states' rights are trumped by the national government.

Note: I oppose drilling, but this is another recent example of small states being ignored/run over by the federal government.

You seem to think something like the big states have it in for the small states, for some reason

I think that it's possible for smaller states to lose their vote more easily than it is for larger states, which is why I'm in favor of the Electoral College, among other institutions the Constitution has established to protect minorities.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:55 PM on June 24, 2006


Natahoff's theory rests on the assumption that someone has more voting power because they belong to a single game that may win the series, from a single home run perhaps (which may have been a meaningless run if all the runs were added over all the games). However, this proves the opposite. Just as some games may not be played at all by the same method, some states are not courted at all. A voter in a district that is already counted in the candidate's corner makes up the difference in Natahoff's calculations of increased power, a conservation of energy as it were. Someone in a non-battleground state is paying the negative power price for the increased vote power in the aggregate. The candidate has no time to waste on them or their needs.

Natahoff actually tipped his hand and said that it makes the sport of baseball more exciting, not more fair or accurate. He also seemed to confess that the EC was responsible for breeding the same candidates, but the same concept made baseball more exciting? He also seemed to miss the point that Madison was probably trying to dilute the popular vote and insure a more aristocratic outcome if the mob got excited. Anyway, the net effect of the electoral college is low voter turnout (waste of time in some place, same message in others), sliding in the face of Natahoff's theory. Anything that doesn't increase participation is not increasing the candidates will to cater.
posted by Brian B. at 12:47 AM on June 25, 2006


Brian B. writes "The blue states have our advantage in a global economy and are more educated, but have least representation. Environmentally, they also have the awareness of population pressures, not to mention labor issues by dint of organization ability."

Exactly what I was trying to say, each of the states bring unique viewpoints to the union. It would be a weaker union if population centres were the only voices heard.

saulgoodman writes "having election outcomes reflect the attitudes of the nation as whole is kind of the point of elections, no?"

But in a popular vote election the only attitudes reflected are those of high population centres.

rjd writes "EC keeps all candidate's positions towards the center viewpoint of the electorate."

From the article: "A presidential candidate worthy of office,[..] should have broad appeal across the whole nation, and not just play strongly on a single issue to isolated blocs of voters."
posted by Mitheral at 12:50 AM on June 25, 2006


Mitheral, I should have said that they have less than average representation, as in being cheated. I wasn't suggesting they should be grateful for what they have.
posted by Brian B. at 12:58 AM on June 25, 2006


Steven: Only swing states have presidental clout under today's system. From the FAQ:

Because small states are apt to be one-party states, 12 of the 13 least populous states are non-competitive in presidential elections. Non-competitive states—with or without a bonus of two extra electoral votes—simply do not matter in presidential politics.
posted by froghopper at 4:49 AM on June 25, 2006


Didn't America already get it through the backdoor in the last couple of elections?
posted by pracowity at 5:10 AM on June 25, 2006


I think that it's possible for smaller states to lose their vote more easily than it is for larger states, which is why I'm in favor of the Electoral College, among other institutions the Constitution has established to protect minorities.

Amplifying certain people's votes and protecting minority rights have nothing to do with each other.
posted by oaf at 8:09 AM on June 25, 2006


why not establish a system of polling facilities as part of our national infastructure to bring more uniformity to federal and local election processes?

There's a damn good question. For some reason, it is the state's duty to provide us with the mechanisms to vote. Why not let the feds do it? It seems that like the more locally something is administered, the easier it is for corruption to seep in. Let the feds administer elections, and then all eyes will be on one single entity. Say buh-bye, Ken Blackwell.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:30 AM on June 25, 2006


Why not let the Feds do it? Well, there's the 10th Amendment, for one thing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:56 AM on June 25, 2006


Wasn't the orginal idea behind the electoral college to put the vote for president into the hand of learned men? It has evolved into putting the vote into the hands of a few bought and paid for stooges. You want to reform the electoral college then remove the cloak? Have an election a year before the presidential election where electoral college candidates have to prove through a lifetime of action - not words - that they are truly non-partisan. Only those people may even be nominated for a state-wide vote for electoral college. Once this group is elected, then let each candidate pick from that pool who they feel has the most character. Then let the cards fall where they may.
posted by any major dude at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2006


The original purpose of the electoral college was one of logistics. The populace (80-ish% engaged in subsistence agriculture) could not be expected to communicate their preferences to a national center feasibly. Thus, electors were intended to act as a proxy for the geographically distant voter. This technological problem no longer obtains.

However you choose to reform the college (or abandon it) you'll effect no substantive change. I don't get free choice of candidates - practically speaking I get to choose between two rich white guys who are plutocrats that wear slightly different ties.

The party system is an aristocracy wholly immune to changes in the electoral college and even less subject to modification.
posted by fydfyd at 12:37 PM on June 25, 2006


The "2 party system" is an emergent feature of "winner take all" electoral systems.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:00 PM on June 25, 2006


First a flamebait to keep you reading: In a 50.1-49.9 situation, statistically any candidate you put in power is "good enough" in terms of representation.

0.1% of error may mean a lot in terms of fairness, but, in statistical terms, it is surely "good enough". Hell, an outbreak of diarrhea keeping voters at home in some part of the country could tip the results of the popular vote. The problem is that simply you cannot have two ~50% preference candidates running without pissing off ~50% of the population. Democracy certainly isn't meant to be two almost-nemesis parties fighting for the right to shove the victorious party views through the throat of the loser. A govern that represents half the population and disgusts the other half isn't satisfactory.

We have two possible solutions: split the parties into small parties, or split the power into small powers.

Of course, getting rid of the bipartisan paradigm is not going to happen. America has two parties, each of them with at least 3 very diverse subparties inside, but both are afraid to break up into logical pieces and lose the critical mass advantage. They are not going to split and each part be landslided by the massive opponent.

Splitting power could be some form of coalition government (which is also hard to get in an even split situation like this - it would be constant struggles over any minor issue), or separating the head of government in several smaller positions (say, for example, two head positions, one for the "chief of economy, external commerce and fiscal policy", and one for the "chief of social issues and exterior relations", so that these could be decoupled, instead of current situation, where rich liberal people have to vote democrat even though they want less taxes, and religious socialists have to vote republican because they prioritize their need to fight teh ghey menace). This would be feasible (I'd guess neither party is always very fond of the winner takes it all system. Of course, the party in power is "momentarily" happy with the system, but that'll change as soon as they step down), except it is unconstitutional in so many levels it can't possibly be put in practice.

So, all that can be done is hope that each party gets sick of having to appoint soulless almost-centrist candidates in order to win, and this gets solved somehow.

Yay for comments that take over the entire screen! :)
posted by qvantamon at 3:12 PM on June 25, 2006


Stephen, I think Kenneth Arrow's proof says more about the "ideal" qualities of his voting system than it does about his proof. I would question whether the Condorcet method is the way to go. Raymond Lull originally discovered that pairwise runoffs were the best way to find a winner, and Condorcet combined this into one election with various methods of ranking. However, Lull's method, if done tournamentally, is not a ranking, and therefore allows for subtle contradictions in an individual vote (voting for A over B, B over C, and C over A).

Condorcet methods do not typically allow this subtlety by the instant ranking method. I think there is a flaw in assuming voter perfection that is not apparent. Furthermore, a simple Condorcet method of ranking assigns an ordinal number, but uses it cardinally to rack up the count. That would seem to be problematic, since range voting avoids this, passes Arrow's criterion, but is not a Condorcet method. It could also mean that wanting a Condorcet winner that requires a Condorcet method is avoiding Lull's method.

It comes down to whether ideal voting is not in fact a question of balancing criterion, rather than proving the obvious, as Arrow did, that voting is just a method to approve decisions, not to validate them.
posted by Brian B. at 3:14 PM on June 25, 2006


Actually, there's an interesting idea I ran into a while back that has a lot to recommend it. It goes like this:

The real purpose of elections is to convince the losers to accept defeat. The true function of voting is to prevent armed revolution. As long as it succeeds in doing that, everything else is unimportant details.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:22 PM on June 25, 2006


If we assume that voting is just another way to represent people's interests, and not a funded popularity contest that demands that voters trust a sales pitch, then there are other ways to achieve a democratic republicanism. Theoretically, we don't even need a vote. Computationally, it is possible to select representatives based on a few simple inputs from each voter, then select the most broadly qualified citizens on a volunteer basis which both models and achieves balance for those criteria. However, this is too progressive for most.
posted by Brian B. at 5:29 PM on June 25, 2006


I read about this in the New Yorker a few months ago, and the question I had was this: how on earth could the states be persuaded to accept each others' tallies of the popular vote? Sure, the states all report those numbers now because they don't matter for anything, but if 20 small states were resisting this power grab (aka power equalization) from the coalition of larger states, what would stop them from declaring popular vote counts a state secret? At that point, Ohio and Fla can secretly tally their votes, announce that their electors are red, and leave California hanging with no way to pledge its electors towards the winner of a popular vote.

It is hard enough to count the votes within each state, and the only thing that has made it possible so far is the constitutional idea that it is basically each state's own personal problem to figure out who its citizens want.

Now if we had every national voter's retinal-scan-encrypted fingerprint-logged cheek-swab-DNA-activated voting console reporting directly to the central tallying computer, we could hope to know the will of the nation. But THEN when the diebold report looked fishy I would feel even more terrified about our splintering democracy than I do currently. Plus you would come out of the voting booth half blinded and with mouth herpes.
posted by damehex at 5:30 PM on June 25, 2006


steven c. den beste wrote: Why not let the Feds do it? Well, there's the 10th Amendment, for one thing.

Let's consider your argument. Here's what the 10th amendment says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

I assume that taking responsibility for building uniform polling centers would constitute an exercise of "power" on the part of the Federal government, in your enlightened view. So I guess building interstate highways and bridges is also in some sense an oppressive, unconstitutional exercise of power. What about legally defining the criteria for marriage--where does the constitution explicitly delegate that power to the federal government? Or how about anti-communist crusading--where does the constitution delegate the right to fight the creeping menace to the feds? How about federal laws prohibiting the use of medical marijuana when interstate trade isn't a factor? Where does the constitution explicitly delegate any of these powers to the feds? You seem to suffer from a serious case of power-fixation, Mr. Den Beste, because you view everything in terms of power conflict. In the world outside your head (which despite what some may have told you, actually does exist), sometimes it's not about who has power, but about who's better equipped to solve a problem.

You went on to say:

The real purpose of elections is to convince the losers to accept defeat.


And I can't help but notice that, yet again, your comments reveal you to be more preoccupied with power than with problem solving. When will all of you "it's all a game" types realize once and for all that, no, it's not a game--by definition, life is not a game. games don't have real-world stakes; games serve as mechanisms for practicing and honing real-world skills in low-stakes contexts. That's what makes game-playing valuable--we're forced to cultivate certain strategic and other valuable skills because our options are constrained by the accepted rules of the game--until someone cheats, and then the game becomes as worthless as the cheater. No game can really be "won" by cheating. And when cheating becomes the rule, the game itself becomes nothing more than a meaningless farce.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:31 PM on June 25, 2006


But THEN when the diebold report looked fishy I would feel even more terrified about our splintering democracy than I do currently. Plus you would come out of the voting booth half blinded and with mouth herpes.

So demand a paper trail to go with the retinal scanners. It's not an either/or.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:33 PM on June 25, 2006


I assume that taking responsibility for building uniform polling centers would constitute an exercise of "power" on the part of the Federal government, in your enlightened view. So I guess building interstate highways and bridges is also in some sense an oppressive, unconstitutional exercise of power. What about legally defining the criteria for marriage--where does the constitution explicitly delegate that power to the federal government? Or how about anti-communist crusading--where does the constitution delegate the right to fight the creeping menace to the feds? How about federal laws prohibiting the use of medical marijuana when interstate trade isn't a factor? Where does the constitution explicitly delegate any of these powers to the feds? You seem to suffer from a serious case of power-fixation, Mr. Den Beste, because you view everything in terms of power conflict. In the world outside your head (which despite what some may have told you, actually does exist), sometimes it's not about who has power, but about who's better equipped to solve a problem.

Climb down off your high horse. Let's take those one at a time, and let's make clear that I'm not a rubber-stamp for the current administration.

So I guess building interstate highways and bridges is also in some sense an oppressive, unconstitutional exercise of power.

Article I, section 8: Congress shall have power... to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.

What about legally defining the criteria for marriage--where does the constitution explicitly delegate that power to the federal government?

I don't think it does, and I oppose attempts to make laws about that at the federal level. (I also think gay marriage should be legal.)

Or how about anti-communist crusading--where does the constitution delegate the right to fight the creeping menace to the feds?

There are several relevant provisions which make conduct of foreign policy exclusively a power of the Federal Government. The Constitition also defines the crime of treason. If one concludes that international Communism was an enemy of the United States, then attempting to find communist sympathizers inside the US government was a legitimate exercise of Federal power. (Which is not to be read by anyone as an endorsement by me of the tactics employed by Senator McCarthy.)

How about federal laws prohibiting the use of medical marijuana when interstate trade isn't a factor?

I think that was one of the worst decisions by SCOTUS in recent memory. Now that O'Connor is gone, I have high hopes that it will be reversed. The "interstate trade" clause of Article I, Section 8, is the most abused clause in the Constitution bar none, but in this case it was warped completely out of all recognition.

In the world outside your head (which despite what some may have told you, actually does exist), sometimes it's not about who has power, but about who's better equipped to solve a problem.

No, it's about who has been granted authority to do so. If we lose track of that, then we will soon be living in a tyranny. For who shall decide who's "better equipped to solve a problem"?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:15 PM on June 25, 2006


Et Voila - fixed Democracy.

Forgive me for saying so, but I think there are a lot of other things that would need to be addressed (lobbying and corporate interests, to pick one (or two)) before you could dust off your hands and declare it democratic millertime.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2006


When will all of you "it's all a game" types realize once and for all that, no, it's not a game--by definition, life is not a game.

Interesting point of view. I'm inclined to say it is a game, mostly because of the unavoidable fact that everyone dies eventually.

But the differences in attitude are illuminating to follow through to their logical ends.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:21 PM on June 25, 2006


stavrosthewonderchicken: some principle akin to "separation of state and commerce" would be nice.

den beste: sorry if i was a little shrill. it seems we're more in agreement than i originally thought.

however, i still think there's a strong case to be made that ensuring the transparency and consistency of federal elections processes should be a federal responsibility. they are, after all, federal elections processes. and any measures that would promote greater consistency and transparency in those processes would be good for the nation right about now.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:28 PM on June 25, 2006


(as long as those measure included safeguards such as paper trails...)
posted by saulgoodman at 6:28 PM on June 25, 2006


Interesting point of view. I'm inclined to say it is a game, mostly because of the unavoidable fact that everyone dies eventually.

From my point of view, everyone's already dead. And that's life. But it's still not a game.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:30 PM on June 25, 2006


Perhaps a problem here is that we're using the word "game" differently. In these kinds of discussion I tend to use it the way an economist does, i.e. in the phrase "game theory". In that sense, there's nothing trivial or frivolous about "games".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:34 PM on June 25, 2006


however, i still think there's a strong case to be made that ensuring the transparency and consistency of federal elections processes should be a federal responsibility. they are, after all, federal elections processes.

That's been done, most notably the "Voting Rights" act. But that was based partly on Article IV and on the 14th Amendment.

Article IV: The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

Amendment 14: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Voting Rights act was justified under those clauses. But outright changing the way elections are handled doesn't seem to me to flow from those provisions, and I know of no others which are relevant. Which means the 10th Amendment applies, and responsibility for the mechanics of running elections belongs to the States.

Your last statement approaches sophistry, if you'll pardon my saying so. As a strict matter of constitutional law, they are not federal elections. They are state elections held to fill federal offices.

There are no electoral processes in the US where the votes of citizens of several states are aggregated. All elections in the US happen exclusively within individual states.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:45 PM on June 25, 2006


Unless I missed something, we have yet to settle on a definition for minorities: does living in a sparsely populated state give one a certain mindset such that Alaska and Nevada would have enough in common to constitute a minority faction? I'm asking a question about categories: one can be in the minority on a policy, like abortion or the commerce clause, or an ideology, like evangelical christianity or metrosexuality, but can one be in the minority by dint of geography? I mean if we're going to have nuclear waste at all, better to store it in the Nevada desert than NYC, right?

Isn't the point of low density places that there literally aren't a lot of people who share your point of view? Or am I missing something?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:05 PM on June 25, 2006


Article II: Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress."

Nothing here prevents the legislatures from using the popular vote to appoint their electors. Moreover, you only need eleven states to sign on: the eleven states who get screwed by the system regularly:
1 California 55
2 Texas 34
3 New York 31
4 Florida 27
5 Illinois 21
6 Pennsylvania 21
7 Ohio 20
8 Michigan 17
9 Georgia 15
10 New Jersey 15
11 North Carolina 15

These states are all subtly discriminated against by the electoral college. And together, they have 270 electoral votes, which is enough to win the college if they pool their votes. So the small states can't stop them, and they've got a good incentive to proceed. I'm not seeing how this fails, frankly.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:15 PM on June 25, 2006


You're absolutely correct that nothing prevents those states from doing this. That's why it's an interesting proposal.

But it isn't going to happen. It doesn't fail on the basis of constitutional test, it fails because there's no way it will be done -- because in fact they do not have a good enough incentive to proceed, and there are major incentives to not do so. (Already described above, so I won't rehash them.)

It's not that it's illegal or unconstitutional, it's just that it's politically infeasible.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:46 PM on June 25, 2006


Steven,
The best argument I've seen for political infeasibility is this from MattD: "The proposal will fail from its lack of support in the big swing states. Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all reap tremendous goodies from the fact that their votes have decide the Presidency for the last four elections."

After that, we sort of dropped the big-state question. But really, I'm not sure these states are acually receiving the windfall described here. All of these states lose federal tax dollars to less-popular (hehe) states, for instance, because of the legislative correction from the Senate. Was there another comment you had in mind?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:04 PM on June 25, 2006


There were several. One is that I don't think that voters in a given state will really be thrilled by the idea of sometimes having their electors all vote for a candidate who was not the plurality winner in that state. And those voters are the ones who pick the state legislators who would have to pass the laws to implement this proposal.

But that's not the only one, and as I said I do not want to rehash the arguments.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:21 PM on June 25, 2006


Your last statement approaches sophistry, if you'll pardon my saying so. As a strict matter of constitutional law, they are not federal elections. They are state elections held to fill federal offices.

Not sophistry so much as imprecision. But to address your substantive point here and make a minor clarification: I'm not suggesting that elections be administered federally, just that the federal government either provide or fund dedicated, uniform polling facilities. I think something along those lines would both help make elections processes less chaotic and have the added psychological benefit of reinforcing the idea that we live in a country that takes the democratic process seriously; as it is now, elections processes almost feel like an afterthought, which doesn't do much to help motivate participation.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 PM on June 25, 2006


Climb down off your high horse. Let's take those one at a time, and let's make clear that I'm not a rubber-stamp for the current administration.

Done. In fact, I just had the horse shot.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:31 PM on June 25, 2006


Well, actually the fact that your vote currently only matters if you live in a "swing" state is a big reason why I think the EC should be killed, and I disagree that this would be harmful for small states in our current political system.

If you look at the actual county-by-county maps, most of the United States is varying shades of purple, and most states are mottled with Democratic and Republican strongholds. A popular vote system would give historically minority state parties a chance to play in the federal election.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:54 PM on June 25, 2006


I don't think that voters in a given state will really be thrilled by the idea of sometimes having their electors all vote for a candidate who was not the plurality winner in that state.

This is a major innovation in imaginative polling. Last I heard, 75% of voters would prefer to abolish the Electoral College. If they were confident their electors would be forced to vote for the national plurality winner, it's at least as likely they would follow their natural inclination towards popular elections. But I can see why you wouldn't want to rehash these arguments: they're not very good. There's much to be said for the justice, stability, and wisdom of the EC. There's a lot less to be said about its feasibility in the future: the US has been focused on the twists and turns of EC strategy since we began televising election results. The citizenry doesn't like it, and the parties believe an urban-center strategy would be cheaper and easier to win. There's plenty of inertia to overcome, certainly. But the interstate compact sidesteps a lot of it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:05 AM on June 26, 2006


I don't how many times it has been proposed federally, but a state like Wyoming will only give up the idea of 100% of their 3 EC votes going to the winner if they know the same law will force California to give up on sending 100% of their EC votes. This would be a delegate split proposal based on the D'hondt method or something similar, and it just won't happen until they all agree to it. This new approach will give politicians more reason to campaign in every state, and we will begin to lose that silly red state, blue state division (another reason Natapoff's theory above is wrong--spelled correctly this time).

Under this fair method, any one vote could swing the number the delegates at any time during the D'hondt process, not just for the win itself. Discouraged people will want to vote, even in places Utah, because their one vote might decide that one extra delegate. That makes EC politics interesting and fair, plus the learning exercise in party delegate methods. I still support random balloting however, for decisiveness, to end the recounting. I also think ways could be devised to incorporate this random sample into a verification process too.
posted by Brian B. at 7:17 AM on June 26, 2006


If the President was elected based on popular vote, candidates would totally ignore the smallest states and do the vast majority of their campaigning in the 15 largest states, which between them have 2/3rds of the population of the country.

The bigger states would be Enron, Haliburton, GE, Carlyle group?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:16 PM on June 26, 2006


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