Thursday, December 29, 2016

In Defense of the Electoral College

The recent hot topic was the election of an "unpopular candidate" by a "minority" accomplished by this rickety, outdated system called "the Electoral College". It's gotta go. It isn't democratic. It's not fair! And I have to wonder.

First, what are they teaching at this college? Is it an online college, or does it have an actual campus? Is it accredited? All to be humorous, of course, but just what is this thing? So, first, a "college" may be defined as "an organized group of people with particular aims, duties, and privileges." No, this one is not part of the Big 12 or any such thing. And where does it come from? First and foremost, it is a product of the United States Constitution -- Article II, Section 1. (Thus, eliminating it would require a Constitutional amendment, not merely a change in law.) Fine, so what is it there for?

Well, as it turns out, the founders of our country were not exactly fans of democracy. Not real democracy. Not "one person, one vote" democracy. They were concerned (as are many today) about "qualified citizens". And they were deeply concerned about what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority". That is, if you could get more than 50% of the voting public to agree, you could make life miserable for the other 49% just by popular vote. So they set out a way to deter that kind of problem. They wanted more of a State-based election than a popular vote, so each State got votes. There are two for the senators and then some based on population, amounting (today) to some 538 electors. (James Madison was concerned about demagogues. If only he knew what we were going to get in our time ...) They were concerned about the Congress doing the job because they could be more easily influenced as a standing body, so the Electoral College was a gather-once-then-disband procedure. And, of course, there was the whole problem of "qualified citizens". Some of what they meant by "qualified" was in contrast with "uninformed". We still have that problem today. The Electoral College was supposed to adjust for that.

Part of the problem can be seen today in the numbers. Over 70% of Americans live in large metropolitan areas. And, generally speaking, each of these metropolitan areas these days vote the same way. Look at a state-by-state voting map. The most heavily populated states like New York and California are blue states; most of the rest are not. And that means that the 30% that don't essentially have no voice in an actual democracy.

Consider some numbers. Wyoming has an whole 586,000 residents in the entire state. The City of New York has something like 8.5 million. That's 14 votes for each person in Wyoming. Never mind, Wyoming; we don't really need to know your votes. But then, dig into these states. Look, for instance, at a voting map of New York. Turns out, geographically, that New York is a red state with the exception of New York City, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Albany. Minnesota was a blue state ... mostly just in Minneapolis. Nevada was a blue state exclusively in Las Vegas. That is, taken in terms of geographical area versus numbers of people, the country is almost exclusively Republican.

"Oh, no," you will tell me, "Hillary won the popular vote." She did. She won because California and New York voted for her. Remove California's votes (both for Trump and Hillary) and Trump would have won the national popular election by nearly 1.5 million. Take away New York, too, and Trump would have won the popular vote by more than 3 million. In other words, without the Electoral College we'd be letting California and New York decide who is our president. Do we really want them to decide?

This election saw the greatest number of "faithless electors". The term refers to people, assigned the task of representing their state in the Electoral College to vote for the person their state voted for, who do not. Prior to this election, the largest number was 2. This time it was seven. And, really, are you surprised? There was a large call in the days following the surprise election of Trump for just such a thing. They were urged to "Vote your conscience" and to switch sides from Trump to Hillary. Two did. Five switched from Hillary to Trump. Trump won with 304 votes to Hillary's 227. Without those darn faithless electors, it would have been 301 to 230. In other words, in order for this call for electors to ignore the rules and vote for Hillary to make a difference, there would have had to be 31 faithless electors that switched from Trump to Hillary (and 0 from Hillary). Of course, that would have put the outcome into the hands of the House of Representatives ... which is Republican-dominated. Not a particularly likely plan.

Maybe not. Maybe we want a democracy. Maybe we want the largest group of people to decide who our president will be. Do we also want the largest group to decide what we do about, say, gun control? Right now the numbers look like less than 50% are in favor. A poll this year said that 49% of Americans think that abortion is immoral while only 38% did not. Gallup reports that 50% think it should be legal only under certain circumstances and another 19% think under no circumstances with only 29% thinking that it should be legal under any circumstances. Shall we put it to a vote? Oh, here's one. Apparently 43% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. Vote anyone? Of course, this is nonsense. I mean, this stuff changes. Sometimes it seems to turn on a dime. The majority of Americans were opposed, for instance, to "gay marriage" until the Supreme Court made it law, and almost overnight opinions changed. Shall we really run the country on popular vote?

I'm not entirely sure that we really want a democracy. In the end it boils down to "How highly do we think of people?" If we view them as basically good, then surely we want them all to decide. If we view them as basically evil, then we would want to mitigate that evil. Of course, we know which side Scripture falls on. And, of course, we know Who is the ultimate government. Just some thoughts on that question of the day.

22 comments:

Marshall Art said...

You make the best argument against dumping the college when you offer polling results for a variety of other topics and issues. If those who want a popular vote favor gun control, they'd be losers were it to be put to a popular vote. Well done.

Anonymous said...

It might be worth bringing up Clinton cabinet nominee Lani Guinier. By my memory, she favored gerrymandering to give more power to black Democrats, and also giving a black voter multiple voting points versus one point for each nonblack voter. Maybe someone can confirm or refute my recollection.

toto said...

Being a constitutional republic does not mean we should not and cannot guarantee the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes. The candidate with the most votes wins in every other election in the country.

Guaranteeing the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes and the majority of Electoral College votes (as the National Popular Vote bill would) would not make us a pure democracy.

Pure democracy is a form of government in which people vote on all policy initiatives directly.

Popular election of the chief executive does not determine whether a government is a republic or democracy.

The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes used by 2 states, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by states of winner-take-all or district winner laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

The Constitution does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for how to award a state's electoral votes

Stan said...

You, I would then assume, have no problem with the domination of the majority over the minority and no concerns about the basic sin nature of humans. You don't see any reason to make it a "States" choice rather than a popular choice. You don't mind eliminating the opinions of the smaller, less populated states. You believe that the standard American voter is intelligent, not swayed by demagogues and nonsense. You believe that the Founding Fathers were mistaken when they were concerned about "qualified citizens" and the whole thing should never have happened or, at least, ought to be scrapped because Americans, at their core, are good, intelligent, reliable people and whatever the majority decides is probably the best thing for everyone. Right?

David said...

You know, that is an excellent argument for the electoral college, breaking it down to an understandable system. But it still doesn't encourage me to vote for a president. I did, but my vote meant nothing.

Marshall Art said...

As each state can and does enact its own system for awarding electoral votes, anybody who does not like how his state operates can lobby to have the rules changed.

toto said...

Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In 1789, in the nation's first election, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors by appointment by the legislature or by the governor and his cabinet, the people had no vote for President in most states, and in states where there was a popular vote, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

The current winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution. It was not debated at the Constitutional Convention. It is not mentioned in the Federalist Papers. It was not the Founders’ choice. It was used by only three states in 1789, and all three of them repealed it by 1800. It is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method. The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes became dominant only in the 1830s, when most of the Founders had been dead for decades, after the states adopted it, one-by-one, in order to maximize the power of the party in power in each state.

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state's electoral votes.

States have the responsibility and constitutional power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond. Now, 38 states, of all sizes, and their voters are politically irrelevant in presidential elections.

Stan said...

David, we've all heard (even said) this before: "my vote meant nothing." I know I've felt that way more than a few times. I would assert, however, that it depends on what you mean by "means something". If "My vote decided the outcome" is the definition of "means something", then it ain't likely to happen ... ever. More to the point, in a Christian worldview, God establishes authority. Thus, for a Christian's vote to mean something, it would have to be something more than "my vote made a difference in the outcome."

I believe my vote made a difference. It said something to the party. It said something to the government. I believe it is a duty and obligation to participate in the governance of the nation in which God has placed me, so, as an act of obedience and faith, I think it was not "nothing".

I understand the feeling. I've been on the losing side of voting issues more often than not. I don't believe "winning" defines "means something". You shouldn't either.

Stan said...

toto,

It appears that you are not in favor of the Electoral College. Nor would you be in a minority if that was true. The loudest voices today are calling for its dismemberment.

"The current winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution." True. Nor is it currently the case. Nebraska and Maine do not. True, they are exceptions. And, true, it has not always been this way. I'm not sure what the point is.

In terms of politics, "conservatism" is the intent to preserve what is. In American conservatism, that would mean preserving that on which America was built. I am a conservative. I understand the concerns of the Founding Fathers. I'm not opposed to changing how the Electoral College works now; I am opposed to eliminating it. I'm opposed to the tyranny of the majority as I am opposed to the current tyranny of the minority. And I am concerned with a worldview that says we're all basically good and trustworthy so let's all decide together. None of those concerns were addressed in your disagreement.

Stan said...

One other thing, toto. You said, "Now, 38 states, of all sizes, and their voters are politically irrelevant in presidential elections."

In 2016, Trump lost most of the biggest Electoral College states. Of the top 10, California (55), New York (29), Pennsylvania (20), Illinois (20), Michigan (16), and New Jersey (14) all went in for Hillary. All by themselves that's 154 votes for Hillary -- more than halfway to the required 270 minimum. In fact, those states traditionally always vote for the Democrats. That means that the smaller states, the "meaningless votes" of those little guys -- those "politically irrelevant" ones -- made all the difference in the world.

toto said...

Trump won Pennsylvania (20) and Michigan (16)

toto said...

Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In 1789, in the nation's first election, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors by appointment by the legislature or by the governor and his cabinet, the people had no vote for President in most states, and in states where there was a popular vote, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

The current winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution. It was not debated at the Constitutional Convention. It is not mentioned in the Federalist Papers. It was not the Founders’ choice. It was used by only three states in 1789, and all three of them repealed it by 1800. It is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method. The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes became dominant only in the 1830s, when most of the Founders had been dead for decades, after the states adopted it, one-by-one, in order to maximize the power of the party in power in each state.

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state's electoral votes.

States have the responsibility and constitutional power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond. Now, 38 states, of all sizes, and their voters are politically irrelevant in presidential elections.

The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.

toto said...

The bill retains the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections, and uses the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

Stan said...

"Trump won Pennsylvania (20) and Michigan (16)"

Sorry ... earlier map. Doesn't change the point. The big states voted Hillary. The smaller states decided for Trump.

It appears that you are NOT seeking to eliminate the Electoral College and I was not arguing that it must operate precisely as it does today. You appear to be favoring keeping the Electoral College. Since my post was "In Defense of the Electoral College" and you are suggesting changing, perhaps, but not eliminating, I don't think we're on different sides. If, however, you would prefer to make it a majority-based genuine democracy, I'd disagree with yout ... for the reasons I've stated.

toto said...

Trump won 7 of the top 10 most populous states.

Of the 25 smallest states
11 Clinton
14 Trump

Stan said...

Your point then is ...?

... you're opposed to the Constitutional Electoral College and want it eliminated?

... we live in a country where votes don't count, where the Constitution (by way of the Electoral College) eliminates the votes of 38 of 50 states?

... you believe that we should be living in a democracy, not a republic, where the majority rules and every vote defines our world?

... you have no problem with the Electoral College except for how it is currently operating and think it might need to change, still within the confines of the Constitution?

... you just like to argue the details?

In the end, I suppose, I just don't know what you're trying to argue for or against, except that it feels like it's just against me.

toto said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country. It does not abolish the Electoral College.

The National Popular Vote bill would replace state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), in the enacting states, to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States.

The bill retains the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections, and uses the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes. It ensures that every voter is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

Under National Popular Vote, every voter, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would matter in the state counts and national count.

The bill would take effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

The National Popular Vote bill would give a voice to the minority party voters for president in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the presidential candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate.

In 2012, 56,256,178 (44%) of the 128,954,498 voters had their vote diverted by the winner-take-all rule to a candidate they opposed (namely, their state’s first-place candidate).

And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state, are wasted and don't matter to presidential candidates.
Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004.
Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004 -- larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes).
8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

toto said...

Being a constitutional republic does not mean we should not and cannot guarantee the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes. The candidate with the most votes wins in every other election in the country.

Guaranteeing the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes and the majority of Electoral College votes (as the National Popular Vote bill would) would not make us a pure democracy.

Pure democracy is a form of government in which people vote on all policy initiatives directly.

Popular election of the chief executive does not determine whether a government is a republic or democracy.

The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes used by 2 states, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by states of winner-take-all or district winner laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution

The Constitution does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for how to award a state's electoral votes

Stan said...

"Under National Popular Vote, every voter, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant"

I know people like to say that and I know people like to think that. I also know it's not true. In a national popular vote only the majority matters. Since 70% of Americans live in large population centers and the majority of large population centers traditionally vote themselves more money ... sorry ... liberal/Democrat, I think we can tell where this is going. Further, by making it a "national popular vote" without respect to the electoral college, why keep the electoral college? Seems like an unnecessary step and a wasted process. This would certainly not address the concerns of the Founding Fathers.

So, I'm back to my post on the Electoral College, why it is there, and the concerns of the Founding Fathers. I suppose, given our current state of the Tyranny of the Minority, no one really cares anyway. They want the illusion that "My vote counts" and aren't at all concerned about what those old guys were worried about ... even though their fears are coming to fruition.

toto said...

In every other election in the country, won by the candidate with the most votes, every voter, everywhere, for every candidate is politically relevant.

Voters in the biggest cities are almost exactly balanced out by rural areas in terms of population and partisan composition.

16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation's Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America has voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.
The population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States.

Suburbs divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

A successful nationwide presidential campaign of polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, with every voter equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida. In the 4 states that accounted for over two-thirds of all general-election activity in the 2012 presidential election, rural areas, suburbs, exurbs, and cities all received attention—roughly in proportion to their population.

The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states, including polling, organizing, and ad spending) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every voter is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

With National Popular Vote, when every voter is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren't so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

toto said...

Anyone who supports the current presidential election system, believing it is what the Founders intended and that it is in the Constitution, is mistaken. The current presidential election system does not function, at all, the way that the Founders thought that it would.

Supporters of National Popular Vote find it hard to believe the Founding Fathers would endorse the current electoral system where 38+ states and voters now are completely politically irrelevant.
10 of the original 13 states are ignored now.

Stan said...

You go ahead and keep saying that the Founding Fathers would prefer your system. You go ahead and keep saying that 38 states don't matter. I don't think the figures bear you out. And, in the end, I doubt if my opinion on the subject will matter. We've moved beyond our Constitution in multiple ways. Freedom of speech? Not so much anymore. Freedom of religion? Definitely not. Right to privacy? Well, yeah! Except that one isn't in there. We've moved beyond the Founding Fathers, their concerns about demagoguery and the sin nature of humans, their worry over citizens capable of making informed votes. We're all wonderful people. We're good enough, we're smart enough, and everyone loves you. That's what we tell each other.

So, toto, you've made your point. You have failed to address any of the concerns I offered, but you've made your point. And I'm quite confident that the voting public will gladly vote down the Electoral College, good or bad. Thanks for playing.