Electing a US President in Plain English
July 30, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

A three-and-a-half minute video explaining the American electoral process. As a Canadian, I've also found the American electoral system a little baffling. Electoral colleges? Maine and Nebraska do it differently? I thought this video by the smart folks at Common Craft did an excellent job of explaining how somebody gets to the White House.
posted by dbarefoot (88 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Somebody ought to send this to the news networks -- they keep talking about the national polls like they mean something.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:14 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was even worse when they were continuously talking about the popular vote during the primaries, literally discounting caucus states.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:21 PM on July 30, 2008


It's nice that they've made a video to explain how the electoral system works. Now justifying why some peoples' votes are more important than others is another matter.
posted by Loudmax at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


That was a very clear explanation. (And I'm another Canadian who just learned something.)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2008


That was a bizarrely low-tech explanation. Clear, concise, great, but, wow.. all that papercraft.. Hey, go with what works, right? I'd just have a nightmare trying to cut up all those little states. Using some cheap video software would actually work faster for me, but I imagine that's my dexterity-challenged bias.
posted by cavalier at 12:29 PM on July 30, 2008


There's a misrepresentation in the video, in that circle, square, and triangle all show electors in their buckets. In practice, only circle and square get electors. Voters for triangle, hexagon, and semi-circle don't have anything to show for it.
posted by Llama-Lime at 12:31 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, what does happen in Maine and Nebraska? I felt somewhat let down that the video kept mentioning them as different, but provided no explanation.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:40 PM on July 30, 2008


Also, Nebraska and Maine may not be the only outliers for long.
posted by mkb at 12:41 PM on July 30, 2008


Don't forget about unfaithful electors!
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:47 PM on July 30, 2008


So, what does happen in Maine and Nebraska?

IIRC.

Each US House district elects one elector.

The two electors "representing" the Senate seat goes to whichever candidate gets the most votes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:49 PM on July 30, 2008


SO is the odd and rather aproximate nature of the US electoral process, which seems to avoid doing a strauight count of votes at all costs, a technological issue based on the limits of 18th century technology and the size of the country?
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on July 30, 2008


This is how Canadians learn?
posted by jckll at 12:53 PM on July 30, 2008


"This is how Canadians learn?"

Rarely is the question asked: "Is our Canadians learning?"
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:01 PM on July 30, 2008 [9 favorites]


SO is the odd and rather aproximate nature of the US electoral process, which seems to avoid doing a strauight count of votes at all costs, a technological issue based on the limits of 18th century technology and the size of the country?

Nah, its a choice, it would be less of a choice if there were more electors, but to do that we need more representatives.
posted by Rubbstone at 1:01 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


SO is the odd and rather aproximate nature of the US electoral process, which seems to avoid doing a strauight count of votes at all costs, a technological issue based on the limits of 18th century technology and the size of the country?

That was an original reason. But the reason it persists is the same reason the primary system hasn't been reformed: because of the undue influence it gives to a few swing states, who won't allow it to be reformed.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:28 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Artw, we have the Electoral College for three reasons:

1. The Jeffersonians wanted democracy and the Hamiltonians didn't, so we got a compromise instead. It looks like Jefferson won, but Hamilton did.

2. The slaveowners needed a way to count their states' slave populations as part of their power-- the Constitution defines a slave as 3/5s of a person so the slave population can be a factor in giving a state power in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. It's why Virginia was so influential before the Civil War.

3. The Electoral College is very useful in keeping US democracy confined to two parties, both easily controlled by the rich. That's why the Democrats, who have been shafted by the EC repeatedly, continue to support it.
posted by shetterly at 1:39 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


SO is the odd and rather aproximate nature of the US electoral process, which seems to avoid doing a strauight count of votes at all costs, a technological issue based on the limits of 18th century technology and the size of the country?

Not really; there were other options that were considered at the time. The Electoral College system was a compromise due to many factors. I think this article actually sums it up fairly well. The money shot:
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered several methods of electing the President, including selection by Congress, by the governors of the states, by the state legislatures, by a special group of Members of Congress chosen by lot, and by direct popular election. Late in the convention, the matter was referred to the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters, which devised the electoral college system in its original form. This plan, which met with widespread approval by the delegates, was incorporated into the final document with only minor changes. It sought to reconcile differing state and federal interests, provide a degree of popular participation in the election, give the less populous states some additional leverage in the process by providing "senatorial" electors, preserve the presidency as independent of Congress, and generally insulate the election process from political manipulation.
It's essentially there for several reasons, one of which is quite patently undemocratic: it's a method by which the mob (or as we prefer in America, "the People") could be checked.

Keep in mind that originally, many states didn't have actual popular voting for President; the Constitution left the selection of Electors up to the states, and many of them handled it through their respective Legislatures. The system we have today is significantly more direct than the original plan (or at least its early implementation).
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:40 PM on July 30, 2008


This is how Canadians learn?

Why, yes. Gather round, American friends, and let me tell you all about it. You see, every morning, after a hearty breakfast of beavertails and maple syrup, all the virtuous and polite little Canadians trudge in their mukluks to the Canadian School Igloo. There, a man called His Most Royal Highness The Right Honourable Education Minister gathers everyone in a circle. His hands fly at what seems impossible speed as he trims and rearranges many little pieces of paper, to the collective gasps of the little canucks as understanding dawns. Then they all sing God Save the Queen and leave the Igloo to be picked up by their parents' dog sleds, and enjoy a satisfying ride home under the magical flickering lights of the Aurora Borealis. Then it's Hockey Night in Canada, and under the furs for another night's rest.

It's different where you're from?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:45 PM on July 30, 2008 [17 favorites]


This is what Americans are for?
posted by Free word order! at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2008


3. The Electoral College is very useful in keeping US democracy confined to two parties

This is simply false.

What encourages two parties at the presidential level is the winner take all rules that 48 states use. But these are simple matters of state law, not the electoral college itself. There's no constitutional or electoral-college reason that a state couldn't assign electors using some PR formula. They just don't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:08 PM on July 30, 2008


What encourages two parties at the presidential level is the winner take all rules that 48 states use.

True dat (cf. Duverger's law).
posted by designbot at 2:17 PM on July 30, 2008


I have found most arguements against the electoral college to be fairly weak. As it stands, historically, The electoral college fairly consistently reflects the popular vote. When it comes in to question is those few times when the popular vote is essentially a statistical tie. And in that case you have an election that doesn't neccesarily reflect a mandate of the people, but rather the mandate of the States themselves.Another way to look at the electoral college is to consider how powerful your vote is? How do you measure the power of a vote? One way is to measure it is the chance that a single vote could break a tie. The chances of a tie breaker are much smaller in a large pool such as the entire United States, but in the context of a single state, the chances are much greater. This leads me to what I think the best defence of the Electoral College. No election is perfect I think we can safely assume there is some hanky-panky going on in any presidential election in the US. There are countless examples of possible shenanigans in the hotly contested state of Florida in 2000. But notice, it all came down to Florida. If we were left with just the Popular Vote as our measure we would have to not only look at what happened in Florida, but also every other state. I suspect it would be a lot easier for votes to be stolen in states that are heavily "blue" or "red". think about it, if you were going to try and inject a few hundred fake votes for the republican candidate, would you do it in a state that was a "swing state" where there are plenty of people on the other side of the isle to watch what you are doing and second guess any actions that might be questionable. With the electoral college in place any attempts to steal any votes in a state like, say, Alaska, which is fairly consistently "red" will be meaningless. And come an election like the 2000 election we don't even need to look at any states that are fairly assuredly in one direction or the other, instead we can focus those few states that were questionable like Florida and Ohio. The election of 2000 might seem like the best case scenario for throwing out the electoral college, but I would argue if you re-ran the election as a popular vote, we'd still be counting the votes today, because not only would Florida be in question, but EVERY SINGLE DISTRICT in the whole of the United States would be in question. The mess of the 2000 election had NOTHING to do with the fact that it was an electoral college, and the knee-jerk reaction call to get rid of it is sorely unwarranted. As a practical matter getting rid of the Electoral College would do very little to prevent corrupted votes and would do *A LOT* to make stealing votes easier. In the day and age of the electronic vote this is even more important, and I think it somewhat ironic that the "outdated" electoral college might be the single best measure we have against having the presidency stolen (yet again!)
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 2:17 PM on July 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker has been eloquently advocating electoral reform for years. The solution to this mess can be found here.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2008


Lies, all lies. This is the real election process.
posted by ymgve at 2:32 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just been reading Cass Sunstein's "Designing Democracy" and he says that the electors were originally meant to deliberate rather than just vote on preordained line.
posted by athenian at 2:52 PM on July 30, 2008


As a practical matter getting rid of the Electoral College would do very little to prevent corrupted votes and would do *A LOT* to make stealing votes easier.

Er... you mean the way that stolen votes happen in the rest of the world, or at least that overwhelmingly large part of it that uses direct voting?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:03 PM on July 30, 2008


As a Canadian, I've also found the American electoral system a little baffling.

And the Canadian system isn't baffling? Like the 1993 election, a popular vote of Chretien 41%, Manning 19% and Campbell 16% translates into seats as Chretien 60%, Manning 18% and Campbell >1%.
posted by bobo123 at 3:03 PM on July 30, 2008


Nice video. Would be nice to add in a sentence about the rationale for each state getting 2 base (senatorial) votes. (This is true both for the EC and for the Congress)

I tend to think of this in terms of the huge regional variation in the interests of the population, arising from the sheer size and geographic variation of such a big country. Consider for example the states in the desert southwest. They might be much less populous, so much so that they could be completely swamped if it were a popular vote system -- but their most central interests might be very different from other parts of the country due just to geography (eg maybe for them, water for irrigation is hugely important). So it makes some sense to put a finger on the scale for them, to ensure that their interests aren't completely overruled -- otherwise you might get policies that so undermine their make-or-break interests that those states would become unsustainable.

If the US wants to keep population in relatively hard-to-inhabit areas, the system of giving a baseline level of representation to each region (ie, not just doing representation on a pure population basis, but on a geographic basis) makes sense.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:05 PM on July 30, 2008


A possibly ignorant question from a usually not ignorant Canadian....

- Do the electors actually go somewhere and vote as a physical act? Or is this unnecessary, as the outcome is already known for certain.
If they do physically vote:
- are the electors required by law to vote as their districts (or state) have chosen?
What would be the consequences if they went against what their state expected when it came time to vote?
Would it have only in-state reprecussions for them, or federal ones as well?
Would it have an impact on the overall presidential election (Would it have to be re-run?)
posted by TravellingDen at 3:09 PM on July 30, 2008


- Do the electors actually go somewhere and vote as a physical act?

The electors of each state meet in their state's capitol and then send the results to DC.

- are the electors required by law to vote as their districts (or state) have chosen?

Some states require them to vote for who they're pledged to vote for, but it's not clear that any such laws are enforceable.

What would be the consequences if they went against what their state expected when it came time to vote?

They would piss off their party, and cast a vote for someone else. It would be the end of their political life. If they lived in a state where there was a nominal law requiring them to vote their party's choice, they might face a trial.

In practice, this isn't a problem. Electors are chosen largely as a party favors from among True Believers. If it was a contest between their party's candidate and Christ Himself there in the flesh, they'd pick Not Jesus.

Would it have an impact on the overall presidential election (Would it have to be re-run?)

It would just mean that some other candidate got a vote. If it decided the election, then it did. No need to re-run. Again, faithless electors, as they're called, are not a practical problem as far as picking presidents goes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:19 PM on July 30, 2008


If we were left with just the Popular Vote as our measure we would have to not only look at what happened in Florida, but also every other state.

Al Gore won the popular vote by 543,895. George Bush won Florida (or "won," whatever) by 538 votes.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:51 PM on July 30, 2008


And the Canadian system isn't baffling? Like the 1993 election, a popular vote of Chretien 41%, Manning 19% and Campbell 16% translates into seats as Chretien 60%, Manning 18% and Campbell >1%.
posted by bobo123 at 6:03 PM on July 3


It's not baffling to us. Since moving to the US, I've had more Americans tell me, "I don't understand the Electoral College either," than Americans be able to explain it to me.

There's no popular vote for Chretien or Manning or Campbell. Canadians don't vote for the Prime Minister (unless they happen to live in their electoral district). They vote for their local federal representative (Member of Parliament) and then whichever party has the most elected representatives forms the government (and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister). You can talk about popular vote by party, but not by party leader.

So an MP who wins by 90% of the vote in their electoral district counts exactly the same as an MP who wins by 40% (and because we have more than two parties, winning by 40% is pretty common). Which is bad luck for the NDP (and the Tories, in the 1993 election), for example, because getting about 7% of the vote in every electoral district means you don't win any districts and therefore have no seats.

A lot of Canadians are upset that our system so warps the popular vote, too, and every now and again somebody will agitate for electoral reform. But at least our system is pretty easy to understand.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


TravellingDen: on what happens when electors don't vote the way they 'should', google "Faithless Electors"
posted by athenian at 4:11 PM on July 30, 2008


And the Canadian system isn't baffling? Like the 1993 election, a popular vote of Chretien 41%, Manning 19% and Campbell 16% translates into seats as Chretien 60%, Manning 18% and Campbell >1%.

You're not factoring in the number of goals, assists, average points per game, and penalty minutes in the previous season for each of them. Once you include those, the formula is pretty easy to figure out. Of course, if they play goal, we use shut-outs, save percentage, and goals against average - that formula is more complex. Fortunately, not many goalies run for Parliament.
posted by never used baby shoes at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The mess of the 2000 election had NOTHING to do with the fact that it was an electoral college, and the knee-jerk reaction call to get rid of it is sorely unwarranted.

Do you really not know what the popular vote was in 2000? Or do you just think the loser should win every now and then? Republicans who lost the popular vote have become president three times now. None of them have been especially good presidents, and the latest may be history's worst.

Why Democrats are content with this, I still dunno, but they don't oppose it.
posted by shetterly at 4:39 PM on July 30, 2008


Thats a great video. Clear, concise, and factually incorrect. Kansas actually has 4 congressional districts, not 3, and has for at least 30 years. Dan Glickman, former secretary of agriculture, and current president of the RIAA held that seat for 18 years. Now its held by Todd Tiahrt is facing a serious opponent for re-election from state Senator Donald Betts. Senator Betts, as an aside, was also the youngest person ever elected to the state senate at the age of 29. He is a personal friend of mine and I hope he whips the pants off of Tiahrt.

Ok, I nitpick.. that video was pretty good.
posted by jlowen at 4:47 PM on July 30, 2008


"Do you really not know what the popular vote was in 2000? Or do you just think the loser should win every now and then? Republicans who lost the popular vote have become president three times now. None of them have been especially good presidents, and the latest may be history's worst."

You may think you know what the popular vote was in 2000, but given that every single district in the US could have been called in to question (in the "perfect" world where we only count the popular vote), we really don't know what the popular vote really was, now do we. And considering it was as close as it was, are we willing to just throw our arms up in the air and say it was conclusive, just because the guy you wanted to win would have possibly won that popular vote. I see little relevance in the fact that those elections resulted in republicans in the white house. The 2000 election could have easily gone the other way, considering how close the vote was, and we could have ended up with Gore winning Florida but with Bush ending up with a larger popular vote. In that case I would make the same exact arguement. And would this be a good time to point out that NEITHER of them captured the majority of the popular vote, and what would we have done then? Just give it to the guy who had the most votes? Would that be an honest "mandate of the people"?
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 5:18 PM on July 30, 2008


Sir Mildred, half a million people is enough of a margin of error that I'm content. Some folks like kings, and some like democracies, but why anyone likes an Electoral College-- Well, I guess if you can't have a king, it's better than nothing.

If you were arguing for Instant Runoff Voting or my preference, Approval Voting, I'd be with you. But saying we should stick with the Electoral College is like saying our soldiers should be armed with flintlocks.
posted by shetterly at 5:40 PM on July 30, 2008


You may think you know what the popular vote was in 2000, but given that every single district in the US could have been called in to question

Again, like how it's done everywhere else?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:05 PM on July 30, 2008


Ahh, Canada. America's hat.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:26 PM on July 30, 2008


Which by extension would make us the covering for America's brain..
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:30 PM on July 30, 2008


Since when does America have a brain?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:44 PM on July 30, 2008


Ahh, Canada. America's hat.

Ah, America: Canada's ass.

*teasing!*
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:14 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, given that we sent William Shatner and Celine Dion down there..
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:24 PM on July 30, 2008


"Sir Mildred, half a million people is enough of a margin of error that I'm content."

So what happens when the margin is much closer?

"Some folks like kings, and some like democracies, but why anyone likes an Electoral College-- Well, I guess if you can't have a king, it's better than nothing."

Yeah, I'm not sure how a system that would harder to tamper with would be more like "having a king", your comment makes no sense. You know, if we lived in a perfect world where we didn't even have to worry about people stealing votes, yeah I could maybe see the popular vote working. But we don't live in that world, and if given the chance people will steal elections. That sounds like a democracy to you? *that* sounds more like a king to me. Shall we just throw practicality out the window just so we can claim we are having a pure democratic election simply for the sake of being able to claim we live in a democracy, even if the actual result is an election that is far easier to steal, and a presidency that is anything but "mandate of the people"?
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 9:05 PM on July 30, 2008


Why do you keep ignoring the fact that most of the rest of the world does it without anything like an Electoral College, and does so quite successfully?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:29 PM on July 30, 2008


What is so difficult about "the person receiving the most votes wins"? Easy, peasy.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:23 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ahh, Canada. America's hat.

Ahh, the USA. Canada's dirty panties.

Teasing aside, this is important. There is simply no way to believe that the American electoral system is secure, let alone representative. It is a terribly broken system.

The USA and Canada both would benefit greatly by using the Australian model of election management.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:12 PM on July 30, 2008


Shall we just throw practicality out the window ... even if the actual result is an election that is far easier to steal

It may just be me, but it seems that this argument boils down to "the present system is good because we're too stupid (and/or evil) to devise a better one, like everyone else did".
posted by pompomtom at 11:19 PM on July 30, 2008


"Why do you keep ignoring the fact that most of the rest of the world does it without anything like an Electoral College, and does so quite successfully?"

Well for one, I don't necessarily know that is a "fact", you certainly haven't presented a lick of evidence supporting your claim. Do you really think it would be that hard for me to dig up a "democratic" election that was tampered with? Hell I'd only have to go back a couple of months to find one. Most nations of the world aren't even close to the population of the United States, and unless you want to hold up China and Russia as examples of democratic electoral systems that work "quite successfully", it's hard to compare without coming off as apples and oranges.

For the most part the Electoral College has worked quite successfully. But then again maybe I have a broader definition of "successful". It successfully reflects the will of the people, but when the people are essentially tied, it successfully reflects the will of the states, and I fail to see how that is a bad thing; and it successfully (and inherently) protects the whole system from corruption (at least much better than it would in a popular vote). My god, what a horriblly unfair and disenfranchising system that is, eh?

"What is so difficult about "the person receiving the most votes wins"? Easy, peasy."

It all depends on how they got the most votes. Doing it fair and corruption free can be QUITE difficult. A nationwide recount of a few hundred million votes doesn't sound "easy, peasy" at all. But then again I don't live in this strange perfect world that everyone else seems to think we live in where votes are never stolen and a pure democracy is the only way to ensure that that system remains uncorrupt, and everything else is the direct polar opposite (i.e the horrible electoral college is as bad as having a monarchy.)

But really, lets get practical, how are we going to prevent people from stealing an election based on the popular vote? I certainly wouldn't claim it would be impossible to steal an election in the electoral college (we all saw that happen in 2000), but I certainly can't see why it wouldn't be much more difficult than in a popular vote. How are you going to audit the thousands of voting precincts, every one of them being a potential place where votes can be stolen (as opposed to in the electoral college, where only the "swing states" can offer an opportunity to illicitly turn an election around, and as such greater scrutiny can be placed on those few states where the vote is very close.)...

Embracing the ideals of pure democracy for the sake of democracy, while ignoring the *inherent*and unavoidable pitfalls in such a system is an invitation for fascism and despotism and it will only be democracy in name.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 11:29 PM on July 30, 2008


"It may just be me, but it seems that this argument boils down to "the present system is good because we're too stupid (and/or evil) to devise a better one, like everyone else did"."

Whatever system is in place, we can always imagine that there might be something better. The assumption that a pure democracy based on a popular vote is the best system is just that, an assumption. I haven't seen any real good arguments for that system beyond the simplistic "your vote will *really* be counted, cuz with the electoral college it ain't really counted".

But as I've said before, I think the electoral college *is* the better system. It doesn't make-believe that a successful "mandate" can be achieved in what is essentially a statistical tie, that just turns the election in to a video game, lets see who can get the high score! In such a tie, it defers the mandate to the states, and I fail to see why that's a bad thing.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 11:40 PM on July 30, 2008


Dude, the USA isn't a special snowflake. Voting there can be done the same simple way it's done everywhere else: pencils on paper, counted by hand, overseen by a resolutely nonpartisan system.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:10 AM on July 31, 2008


that just turns the election in to a video game, lets see who can get the high score!

Errrrrrmmmmmmmmmmm.... that's what an election is. Whoever gets more votes wins.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:11 AM on July 31, 2008


It'll be interesting to see what happens in November when Obama gets 90 million votes and wins the popular vote in a landslide...

...and McCain only gets 30 million votes but wins the EC by 1 or 2.
posted by Avenger at 12:55 AM on July 31, 2008


half a million people is enough of a margin of error that I'm content

Dude, that's like, .16%. That's not a margin of error by any estimation.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:59 AM on July 31, 2008


It'll be interesting to see what happens in November when Obama gets 90 million votes and wins the popular vote in a landslide...

...and McCain only gets 30 million votes but wins the EC by 1 or 2.



That's why the electoral college is so important.

And don't forget: the U.S. is NOT a democracy (thank goodness).
posted by tadellin at 8:06 AM on July 31, 2008


"It'll be interesting to see what happens in November when Obama gets 90 million votes and wins the popular vote in a landslide...and McCain only gets 30 million votes but wins the EC by 1 or 2."

Yeah, I honestly can't come up with a legitimate scenario where such a thing is possible. It certainly isn't backed up by anything that's ever happened in history. Thankfully the Electoral College doesn't work that way. The 2000 election was such a long shot (Popular vote being very close, Electoral College vote being very close, and the single state that would push either candidate over the limit being even closer), your scenario is infinitely less likely.

"Dude, that's like, .16%. That's not a margin of error by any estimation."

Dude, who cares.. what if it was like .0016%? What's it matter, whoever gets the most votes wins! Winner takes all! The coolest game there ever was. Who cares if the votes are in question. Who cares if the winner stole the votes needed to put him over the top? Who cares if it'll be too much of a chore to go through all 200 million votes to find out what really happened? We'll just let the Supreme Court decide. Who cares if the candidate who stole the election is essentially a despot?

At least in the end we can claim we are a pure and beautiful democracy instead of one of those dirty horrible Republics.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2008


The fact that votes can / are stolen doesn't mean the system shouldn't be changed. It just means you've got to work on making sure votes aren't stolen , then you can change the system.
posted by RufusW at 10:26 AM on July 31, 2008


"The fact that votes can / are stolen doesn't mean the system shouldn't be changed."

I can agree with that, but I don't think the system needs to be changed, as I've said before, I think it really is the better system, and not just because it is much more difficult to rig an election in that system, but because it also delivers a legitimate mandate, even if it isn't a mandate of the people (in the rare cases of a close tie), instead being a mandate of the states. No one has said anything as to why that is such a bad thing.

"It just means you've got to work on making sure votes aren't stolen , then you can change the system."

So lets shore up the system we have, and *then* switch to a new system? That's a bit pointless. The ways in which votes would be tampered with wouldn't necessarily be the same in the old system as in the new system and your work towards legitimizing the votes in the original system wouldn't necessarily translate over in to the new system.

To spell it out in a real world example. The way the system is set up now, you can only steal votes in those few "swing states" where the vote is in question before the election. It would be pointless to mess with the votes in a state that is heavily "blue" or "red". Lets drop the Electoral College and go in favor of a Popular Vote. I would suggest that most of the hanky-panky going on would go on in highly partisan districts, where there are fewer supporters of the opponent. In those places it would be easier to both initially tamper with the votes and to cover it up after the fact.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 10:48 AM on July 31, 2008


(The Electoral Colledge is good) BECAUSE (Zimbabwe) is some awesomely fucked logic.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on July 31, 2008


"(The Electoral Colledge is good) BECAUSE (Zimbabwe) is some awesomely fucked logic."

Perhaps if that was the *only* argument I made, but you know otherwise, dontcha. But I was merely pointing out that some supposedly democratic popular vote elections are far from democratic. The logic (The Popular Vote is good) BECAUSE (It works everywhere else) isn't just fucked up logic, it simply isn't supported by the facts. Bringing up Zimbawe was in direct response to his claim that the Popular Vote works just fine everywhere else. Try reading the whole post next time.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 11:12 AM on July 31, 2008


(The Popular Vote is good) BECAUSE (It works everywhere else) would be a little strained if, say, you didn't factor in anything else whatsoever. (The Electoral colledge is good) BECAUSE (It would solve all problems everywhere else) would be equally stupid.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on July 31, 2008


"(The Popular Vote is good) BECAUSE (It works everywhere else) would be a little strained if, say, you didn't factor in anything else whatsoever. (The Electoral colledge is good) BECAUSE (It would solve all problems everywhere else) would be equally stupid."

Agreed.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 11:25 AM on July 31, 2008


So we are agreed then: Other countries manage to popular votes just fine, obvious despotic hellholes with entirely unrelated problems aside?
posted by Artw at 11:27 AM on July 31, 2008


This is why the electoral college is good. It makes it clear that we are winning.

As I said at the tippy-top of this thread, the media mostly ignores how badly Obama is beating McCain by focusing on the national polls. State-by-state polls like this one wouldn't allow for the media to focus on the "horse race" that's going to goose their ratings for the next 90-odd days.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:43 AM on July 31, 2008


Bookhouse: "As I said at the tippy-top of this thread, the media mostly ignores how badly Obama is beating McCain by focusing on the national polls. State-by-state polls like this one wouldn't allow for the media to focus on the 'horse race' that's going to goose their ratings for the next 90-odd days."

If McCain'd get rid of that scary death's-head rictus, he might gain a few votes. "Friends ... " [lips pull back towards ears] "AHHH! Run for the hills!"
posted by WCityMike at 2:21 PM on July 31, 2008


He's heard of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, apparently, which is slightly more pop culture awareness than I would have expected. I'm waiting on a Brangelina reference.
posted by Artw at 2:48 PM on July 31, 2008


"So we are agreed then: Other countries manage to popular votes just fine, obvious despotic hellholes with entirely unrelated problems aside?"

Nope, I agreed that comparing the two are stupid because "(The Electoral colledge is good) BECAUSE (It would solve all problems everywhere else)" is not something I would agree with. I don't think the system is perfect and I have acknowledged that it can run in to issues (the 2000 election being a prime example of the Electoral College not working quite as well as one would hope.) But I would conjecture if the 2000 election were a popular vote election it would have been an even bigger mess because the inherent issues in ANY system where a vote count is close to a tie would be all the more exagerated in that case.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2008


And yet other countries that are not the US or Zimbabwe seem to manage it...
posted by Artw at 3:45 PM on July 31, 2008


Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are kind of yesterday's news, though. He's even out of touch in his attack ads. Besides, McCain's more like Britney than Obama is.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:14 PM on July 31, 2008


"And yet other countries that are not the US or Zimbabwe seem to manage it"

I'm sure plenty do, I have yet to have anyone actually post any examples, which I have asked for, but most of those countries, I would assume, are far smaller than the US and that's what makes the difference, possibly, between a manageable election and an unmanageable one. (my third grade teacher would crucify me for that run on sentence!)

The electoral college divides the election up in to more manageable chunks and as such, I believe, it makes it that much more difficult to rig or steal the election.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 4:39 PM on July 31, 2008


Knock yourself out

most of those countries, I would assume, are far smaller than the US and that's what makes the difference

Well I used top think scale was a factor back in the day, but apparently I’m wrong on that. From what I've seen the US electoral process seems to be a bit weird and clunky and hacky at whatever level you look at them, but it seems like that's out of tradition rather than because there's any reason they HAVE to be.
posted by Artw at 4:55 PM on July 31, 2008


McCain's more like Britney than Obama is.

McCain, if anything, appears to be turning into Hilary Clinton.
posted by Artw at 5:36 PM on July 31, 2008


The EC system isn't what's broken with the US.

What is broken with the US is (a) that its voting machines are fraudulent and (b) electoral districts are gerrymandered. Between those two problems, it is almost pointless to discuss any other aspect of the system's strengths and weaknesses.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:03 PM on July 31, 2008


Dude, who cares.. what if it was like .0016%? What's it matter, whoever gets the most votes wins! Winner takes all! The coolest game there ever was. Who cares if the votes are in question. Who cares if the winner stole the votes needed to put him over the top? Who cares if it'll be too much of a chore to go through all 200 million votes to find out what really happened? We'll just let the Supreme Court decide. Who cares if the candidate who stole the election is essentially a despot?

I can't tell if you're agreeing with me or arguing with me.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2008


Sir Mildred: India uses a form of electoral college for their presidentials, but (like Germany IIRC), it's just made up of already-elected politicians. In both cases the role is little more than ceremonial.

In terms of electing the head of government, most large western democracies are Parliamentary systems (Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, UK) which has a similarity to the electoral college in that 'safe' areas get no attention and marginal areas get loads of it. Of course, individual votes are cast for MPs and parties rather than for national candidates.

The only large western democracy that uses nationwide direct personal election for a meaningful elective office is France, I think.
posted by athenian at 6:41 AM on August 2, 2008


And how do they do it?

By making marks with pencils on pieces of paper that are counted by hand.

But they're a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, so clearly they don't know what they're doing. USA! USA! USA!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:47 PM on August 2, 2008


Voting is not transparent.

I agree that we should keep the identity of a voter secret. If you don't want your family to know you voted left when they wanted you to vote right, your secrecy should be protected. I'm not questioning that. I'm questioning the counting of said votes, and I question the entire electoral college system. It's fraudulent, and I'll tell you why.

For the past twenty some odd years my vote has gone into a box. That box has a computerized thingamajigger on it and the number goes up by one when i put my ballot into it, and it thanks me for voting. I can't follow my ballot to see if it gets where it's supposed to go. I have no idea if that box I put my ballot in actually gets opened up or counted or whatever. For all I know, it's dumped into a landfill, and someone else tells people that I voted conservative republican, when I most certainly never did, but every year since Carter, that's where all the electoral votes went - conservative republicans.

Yes. There's a lot of republican voters in the more rural parts of Texas. Maybe their numbers are greater than mine. However, because ALL Electoral votes for a state go to the same candidate, despite the fact myself and a significant percentage of voters in Texas do NOT vote conservative republican, our voice is squelched by the Electoral College, and the rest of the country thinks this is a red state. It's not. It's purple. Somewhere from that ballot box I actually see, to the electoral college person whom I never see, my vote is quite literally and selectively LOST. It's painted over. It's stolen from me. My voice is silenced.

This is why I refuse to vote any longer, and I encourage other Americans to do the same.

It's not that the American voting system is broken. It's not broken. It's doing precisely what the Powers That Be want it to do. They want you to think it works the way you want it to, when it's actually working the way they want it to. I am no longer going to continue doing what they want me to do. I am no longer pretending that my vote actually matters.

If the American people can't see what's happening behind closed doors, that automatically makes it fraudulent. Even if it's not. This is not Schroedinger's Cat. It's not that fraud may or may not be happening inside that ballot box. Are they hiding something? That something is wrong.

If they have to hide something, it's cuz they don't want you to see what's going on. If they ain't doing anything behind closed doors that's fraudulent? No reason to hide it.

EOA
posted by ZachsMind at 7:57 PM on August 4, 2008


Although not American, I would be surprised if you couldn't go and see your box being opened and counted somewhere. Here in the UK all vote counting happens in public.

It is quite boring.
posted by athenian at 11:43 PM on August 4, 2008


Exactly, athenian.

Up here we have a completely nonpartisan commission which handles voting, voter registration, and ballot counting.

And all we do is take a pencil, make some marks on a piece of paper, put it in a box. Which is then sealed. And then unsealed and counted in front of Elections Canada officials and representatives of that riding's candidate.

This really isn't a difficult thing to do. But both the Democrats and the Republicans are terrified of giving up any power over the electoral process; it seems that in their minds it is a zero sum game: if they lose some control, the other side gains it.

But hey, democracy!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:13 PM on August 5, 2008


Just for fun, I put together some maps reflecting the current race on a state-by-state basis.

First, the core states. These are states where one candidate has an average lead of at least 15% in the polls. This represents home turf for Obama and McCain; these are states where they don't have to worry about playing defense.

Currently:
Obama 154
McCain 20

Next, the strong states. These are states where a candidate averages at least a 10% lead in the polls. Ten percent or more is a very solid lead, and unless something catastrophic happens to the frontrunner in that state, they're unlikely to lose there.

Currently:
Obama 200
McCain 82

Finally, the leaners. These are states where a candidate leads by an average of 5% to 10%. That's a pretty good position to be in, but represents a state potentially poachable by the opponent, particularly if it's a smaller state where less money and manpower is required to compete effectively.

Currently:
Obama 264
McCain 154

That leaves eleven tossup states worth 120 electoral votes between them, with a minimum of 270 needed to win. A McCain victory is by no means impossible, and polls can shift a lot in three months, but the narrative being pushed by the media that this is a tied race is just silly.

I used pollster.com's polling averages, and 270towin for their handy map utility.
posted by EarBucket at 5:02 PM on August 15, 2008


The other day I was talking to a (republican) friend and I happened to mention that scientists are still debating over whether or not Pluto is a planet and how I found that amusing (I really do. can't get enough of this really).

Her response? "So long as it doesn't affect my Salvation, I don't care."

I'm seeing bumper stickers down here saying "Hispanics for McCain." I kid you not.

Texas is not a leaner, EarBucket. It's a core republican state. Texas has gone red since Carter -- almost three decades now. McCain starts with 64 and not 30. Obama couldn't win Texas if he wore a ten gallon hat and spurs.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:15 PM on August 15, 2008


I mostly agree with you there, ZachsMind. I don't think it's at all likely to go for Obama, hence my caveat that leaners are more likely to be poached if they're small and more easily canvassed. Nonetheless, I think he'll keep it within single digits there, which helps with his overall popular vote total, which does matter in terms of political capital. In any case, he certainly doesn't need it to win, but it's not nearly as strong for McCain as, say Utah. He's only leading by around seven points right now.

It won't help any if people who don't want John McCain to win just throw up their hands and refuse to vote, of course.
posted by EarBucket at 6:33 PM on August 15, 2008


I should say, though, that I think most of the "leaner" states are pretty darn safe for both candidates. Of Obama's leaners, Michigan and maaaaaybe New Hampshire are the only ones that look even slightly possible for McCain, and Georgia and South Carolina are probably the closest chances Obama has to pick off deep red states, and they don't look terribly likely. But among the tossups, I'd say he's pretty likely to get Colorado and Ohio, Virginia's a good shot, and I'm feeling guardedly optimistic about North Carolina.
posted by EarBucket at 6:36 PM on August 15, 2008


"It won't help any if people who don't want John McCain to win just throw up their hands and refuse to vote, of course."

More importantly, it won't hurt if you choose not to vote. If you participate by voting, you are contributing to the lie, and that is hurting us.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:16 PM on August 18, 2008


Oh! Almost forgot to mention. Check out Common Craft's other stuff. Their Zombie How-to is awesome!
posted by ZachsMind at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2008


More importantly, it won't hurt if you choose not to vote.

What a load of cobblers.

If you participate by voting, you are contributing to the lie, and that is hurting us.

Riiiiiiiiiiight. A bigger load of cobblers.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:25 PM on August 18, 2008


I am not going to be able to eat peach cobbler without associating it with your ballsack now, dnab. Thanks, thanks a lot.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 PM on August 18, 2008


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