Posts Tagged ‘Electoral College’

Why the Electoral College result should stand

December 15, 2016

 The original idea of the Electoral College (Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution) was that Americans would not choose a President ourselves, but instead choose the leading citizens from our communities, and delegate the decision to them.

In that way, we supposedly would avoid self-seeking politicians and only choose individuals devoted to the public good.

This idea lasted through precisely one administration, that of George Washington.  From then on we had political parties and electors pledged to particular candidates—precisely what the Founders hoped to avoid.   This reality was reflected in the Twelfth Amendment.

Now certain opponents of Donald Trump, who claim to be followers of Alexander Hamilton, say that electors should ignore their pledges and exercise independent judgment.  This is a terrible idea.

I would be perfectly happy to delegate decision-making to someone I considered to be wise and good, but that is not what I did when I voted in the recent presidential election.   Most American voters don’t know the names of the electors they voted for.  I don’t.  If you do, you’re a rare exception.

I don’t think most Americans who voted for Donald Trump (or, for that matter, for Hillary Clinton) would be willing to see their decisions over-ridden by people they’d never heard of.   This is very different from the original idea of the Electoral College.  I think that Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders would think so, too.


The need for “faithful” Electors

November 23, 2016

I got an e-mail the other day asking me to sign a petition to members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to switch their votes to Hillary Clinton.

This is theoretically possible.  “Faithless” electors have violated their pledges in previous elections.

161101154244-electoral-college-explainer-animation-orig-00002708-exlarge-169But trying to overturn Trump’s election in the Electoral College would set a terrible precedent.  It is a bad and dangerous thing even to attempt.

If I were a Trump voter in a red state, I would be furious at the idea of my vote being set aside by somebody I probably hadn’t even heard of.

It would mean that, in the future, voting would not necessarily decide the Presidential election.  The vote would be followed by an attempt to persuade, threaten or bribe the Electors into going against the wishes of the voters.

Democracy is possible only when the results of elections are regarded as legitimate, and a peaceful transfer for power is taken for granted.

When elections are not regarded as legitimate, the basis of power is armed force.  And in general the Trump supporters are better armed and better trained in the use of weapons than the Clinton supporters.


Trump’s election is not the end of the world

November 18, 2016

A few weeks ago, Democrats and liberals ridiculed Donald Trump for saying he might not accept the results of the Presidential election, and hinting of protests and riots if it was rigged against him.

Now some Democrats and liberals are protesting the results of the election and asking members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to go back on their word.

Clinical psychologists in New York City and elsewhere are flooded with calls from people who need help coping with their fear of Donald Trump.   Little Hispanic and Muslim children are terrified that Trump supporters are going to come after them.

Donald Trump giving victory speech (AP)

Donald Trump giving victory speech (AP)

They literally believe that the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to the election of Adolf Hitler.

I don’t want to make light of these fears.  I think people really are afraid.

Trump’s election was a bad thing.  A lot of people are going to be hurt because of the Trump administration (for that matter, many would have suffered under a Hillary Clinton administration).

American democracy survived Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy.  I am confident it will survive Donald Trump.  I highly recommend watching the 12-minute Ian Welsh video above and reading the links below for perspective.

Trying to negate the Electoral College vote is a terrible idea.  The effort is bound to fail, and will discredit future demands by liberals and Democrats to respect the rule of law.   Even if it succeeded, it would set a bad precedent of setting aside election results by fair means or foul.

The Electoral College has existed for more than 200 years.  It is what it is because of a compromise that was necessary to create a United States in the first place.   Progressive and liberal presidents have been elected in the past through the Electoral College system and have just as much chance of being elected in the future.


Clinton actually got more votes than Trump

November 10, 2016

The votes are still being counted, but it now seems almost certain that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump.

The same thing happened in the 2000 election.  Al Gore received more votes nationwide than George W. Bush.  Two out of the last three Republican victories were with a minority of the votes!

Until and unless the Electoral College is abolished, this is likely to happen again, and always in favor of the Republicans.

trump-clinton1The reason is that Americans do not vote directly for President, but for members of the Electoral College, who then choose a President, and that the Electoral College is tilted in favor of small states—most of them rural states with Republican majorities.

Each state gets a number of electoral votes equal to its representation in the House of Representatives, which is apportioned according to population, plus its representation in the Senate, which is two per state.

Democrats are concentrated in cities and in large states with large cities.  Republicans are more spread out across the country, and are more over-represented in the Senate and in the Electoral College (and also in the House of Representatives, due to gerrymandering).


GOP becoming the party of disenfranchisement

January 24, 2013

Republican-controlled legislatures in key states that voted for Barack Obama are considering proposals to rig their electoral system against Democrats, urban voters and members of minority groups.

Richie_MAPRepublicans in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio want to allocate their states’ electoral votes by congressional district, instead of giving all the electoral votes to the Presidential candidate who wins a majority statewide.  While this doesn’t seem unfair on the surface, the result in the previous election would have been to give a majority of these states’ electoral votes to Mitt Romney instead of Barack Obama.  That is because the congressional districts are drawn so as to dilute Democratic, urban and minority representation and give the advantage to Republican, rural and white voters.

Such proposals are only surfacing in states carried by Obama.  Republicans are content with the winner-take-all system in states where Romney won a majority of the vote.

Each state’s electoral votes are equal to their representation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  The Virginia state senate has reported out a bill that would award the state’s electoral votes by congressional district, and the two remaining votes not to the candidate who won a majority of Virginia voters, but the one who won the largest number of districts.  Under this system, Obama, who won 51 percent of Virginia’s vote, would have got only 4 of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.

Meanwhile the voter ID laws and all the other voter suppression measures remain on the books.   It is true that what the Republican leaders are doing is not nearly as bad as the literacy tests, the poll tax and the other ways in which African-American voting was suppressed in the Jim Crow era.  It is true that nobody is being murdered for exercising the right to vote.  But the present vote-rigging and vote-suppression laws are intended to serve the same purpose—denying representation to minority voters.

This represents intellectual bankruptcy on the part of the Republican Party.  If they had a plausible plan for achieving peace and prosperity, they would win votes of African-Americans and urban dwellers.  By adopting their present tactics, they let the Democrats off the hook.  All the Democrats have to do to win the urban and minority vote is to not be Republicans. (more…)

The continuing battle over the vote

January 16, 2013


The Republican voting coalition since Richard Nixon’s administration has been based on polarization of middle-class and working-class white people against troublesome racial minorities, welfare recipients, elitist intellectuals and what George Wallace called “the exotics”—feminists, gays and hippies.

This polarization distracted attention from the fact that wages were stagnant, many workers were falling behind and a tiny fraction of the population held a huge and growing share of national income and wealth.

But in the past 40 years, the makeup of the country has changed and the Nixon-era division now favors Democrats.  Many of the Republican leaders, rather than try to broaden their party’s base, seek to narrow the franchise through voter ID laws and other means and to change the ways the votes are counted, to the advantage of the Republican Party.

Emily Scultheis of Politico noted that eight states—New York, North Carolina, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas and Alaska—are considering legislation to enact or strengthen voter ID legislation.  Getting Voter ID can be a problem if you don’t have a car, can’t get time off from work or don’t have money to pay fees.

Another group of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio—are considering legislation to have electoral votes counted by congressional district (each state has electoral votes equal to the number of its Senators and members of the House of Representatives).  Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog pointed out that if this system had been in effect in the past Presidential election, Mitt Romney would have been elected, even though Barack Obama got a majority of the votes.

American voters historically have divided along lines of race, religion, ethnicity and geography rather than economic class.  This makes it easy to ignore the fact that both parties are beholden to Wall Street fianciers and Fortune 500 executives, and neither one has a program for achieving a high-wage, full-employment economy.  A party whose leaders brought about peace and prosperity would win the votes of whites and blacks, Anglos and Hispanics, old and young, heads of households and single women.


Another problem with the electoral college

November 10, 2012

The brilliant statistical election analyst, Nate Silver, pointed out that if Mitt Romney had won the popular vote by as big a margin as Barack Obama did, he would still have lost the electoral vote, provided the distribution of his vote among the states was the same as it was.

Silver-Nate-artSilver said Romney would have had to win by three percentage points—more than any Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988—in order to win the electoral vote.  Moreover, Silver said, the Democratic advantage in the electoral vote is likely to persist for the next few elections.

I’m of the opinion that the Presidential candidate who gets a majority of the votes is the one who ought to be declared the winner.  I’m aware that the rules are different, and I don’t blame anybody for playing by those rules, but I think the rules should be changed.

Besides being more fair and just, an election by popular vote would dilute the influence of voter suppression on the Presidential election.  Voter suppression matters most when, as in Florida in 2000, a small number of votes more or less than tip the electoral votes of a big state.

Click on As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are At an Electoral College Disadvantage for Nate Silver’s full report in his FiveThirtyEight column.

Click on National Popular Vote for a plan for reforming the Electoral College.

Statehood for Puerto Rico?

November 9, 2012

A plurality of the voters of Puerto Rico supported a non-binding referendum in favor of statehood for the U.S. territory.  A few observations:

  • prcaribPuerto Rico as a state would elect two U.S. senators and five members of the House of Representatives, probably all Democrats in the near-term future.  For this reason statehood for Puerto Rico is unlikely unless Democrats control both the Senate and the House.
  • Since representation in the Electoral College is based on representation in the Senate and House, Puerto Rico would have seven electoral votes, probably all Democratic in the near-term future.  This would make total U.S. electoral votes an odd number—making a tie vote impossible in a two-way race, unlike at present.
  • Statehood for Puerto Rico would rule out independence for Puerto Rico.  There is precedent for a U.S. territory, the Philippines, becoming an independent nation.  There is no precedent for a state peacefully leaving the union.

Statehood for Puerto Rico is fine by me if that is what Puerto Ricans want.  Likewise independence or continued Commonwealth status.  I hope that if Puerto Ricans do ask for statehood, they are sure this is what they really want, because if they have second thoughts, it may be too late.

Anyhow, the outcome of the referendum is ambiguous.  It was in two parts – whether the voters wanted a change in the island’s status, and, if so, what change they wanted.  The vote represented a majority of those voting on the second question, but not on the first.


What happens if the electoral college is tied?

November 6, 2012

A Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College is highly unlikely because it would require approval of legislatures or conventions in three-quarters of the states.

Another way to do it is to have state legislatures pass a National Popular Vote law directing their electors to vote for whoever gets a majority of the popular vote, such laws to go into effect when enough states have passed such laws that such states would have a majority of the electoral votes.  Nine states, with 132 electoral votes, have passed such laws.

Click on National Popular Vote for more.

A post-election crisis of legitimacy?

October 29, 2012

Some friends of mine made an argument I hadn’t considered as to why liberals should vote to re-elect President Obama, even if they live in states certain to go for either Obama or Governor Romney.  They fear a crisis of legitimacy, due to Barack Obama winning the electoral vote and Mitt Romney possibly winning the popular vote.   That is a real danger.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight poll analysis

Prior to the 2000 election, it looked as if Al Gore might win the electoral vote and George W. Bush the popular vote (you’ll recall the actual result was the reverse).  The Republican Party was geared up to challenge the legitimacy of a Gore victory.  I think the same thing can be expected in the event Obama loses the popular vote, or even wins by an extremely narrow margin.  There will be lawsuits, bogus charges of voting fraud and endless protests.

This danger, arguably, could be lessened by Green Party supporters holding our noses and voting for Obama.

This is a strong argument, but for me a crisis of legitimacy would be a lesser evil than acquiescing in the legitimacy of (1) creation of a secret paramilitary force (described in a recent Washington Post article) with a mission to executive an ever-expanding list of death warrants based on secret criteria, (2) an open-ended policy of expanding undeclared war based on flying killer robots, (3) impunity for torturers, continuation of secret CIA interrogation centers and condition of a policy of rendition, (4) protection of Wall Street bankers from financial failure and prosecution for financial fraud, and (5) the undermining of Social Security, Medicare and other basic safety net programs.

These are all things on which Obama and Romney agree.  The worst thing that President Obama has done is to convince so many American liberals to accept these conditions as normal and as a framework for debating the issues.

In 2008, I voted for a candidate who ran on a slogan of hope and change.  Now, in 2012, I am being asked to re-elect that candidate on the grounds that there is no hope and that change is impossible.

I’m not sure that a Romney administration would be greatly different from a second Obama administration.  Under a Romney administration, liberal Democrats might remember that they are liberals, and would be able to oppose abuses of power without being constrained by party loyalty.

Many Democrats are bitter about Green Party supporters in Florida in 2000, saying that if they had voted for Al Gore instead of Ralph Nader, Gore would have won.  But that was only one factor in Gore’s defeat, and not the major one.  The most important reasons for Gore’s defeat were the blatant bias against him of the Washington press corps, the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida for bogus reasons, the “white collar riot” of Republican activists to block a  recount, and a partisan Supreme Court decision. Al Gore himself, acting (as he thought) for the greater good of the country, accepted defeat and told the country to move.   I don’t think that Mitt Romney and his supporters will accept defeat so gracefully.

But if President Obama loses the popular vote, or the popular vote is close, it will be his own fault, not my fault.  He would be more popular if he had not gone against public opinion in pro-actively protecting the Wall Street banks against financial failure and criminal prosecution, and in expanding rather than winding down U.S. wars.

Click on President Obama Could Lose The Popular Vote, Win in the Electoral College for an explanation of what could happen.

Click on FiveThirtyEight Blog for Nate Silver’s continuing expert analysis of poll results.

Our never-ending presidential campaign

October 27, 2011

I am old enough to remember when Presidential election campaigns started after Labor Day, and the Christmas shopping season started after Thanksgiving.  I get as tired of Presidential campaigns that start 18 months before the election as I do of Christmas shopping seasons that start around Halloween or sooner, but I don’t see what can be done about it.  Both politics and retailing are like an arms race.  If there is an advantage to getting a head start over your rivals, almost everyone will seek that advantage, and those who don’t will fall by the wayside.

Our system of selecting Presidents is directly counter to what the Founders intended.  They thought the office should seek the leader, not the candidate seek the office.  They would be horrified at the sacrifice of time, energy and dignity required of presidential candidates today.  They hoped to avoid a party system, in which members of each party sought to block the other party’s measures and support their own, regardless of merit.

When they wrote the Electoral College into the Constitution, they had in mind an alternate system in which citizens do not vote for candidates, but for electors.  The electors, presumably the leading citizens of the various parts of the United States, were supposed to meet, deliberate and choose as President the best-qualified person.

The only President ever chosen in the way the Founders intended was George Washington.  He did not campaign for office.   Washington was chosen because it was the consensus of the electors that he was the best person for the office.

That system quickly broke down.  In 1800, Federalist electors pledged to John Adams ran against Democratic-Republican electors pledge to Thomas Jefferson.   In the early days of the Republic, candidates were chosen by the congressional caucuses of the parties.  Caucuses were replaced in Andrew Jackson’s time by political party conventions, which were supposed to be more open to public participation.

In a way, the congressional caucuses and party conventions were a substitute for the Electoral College.  Leading political figures from various sections of the country came together and agreed on a candidate.  The public campaign did not begin until they made their choice.

In the 19th century and early 20th century, candidates maintained the convention that they did not seek the offices.  Generally the candidates stayed away from the conventions until a delegation came and notified them of their nominations.   They thought it undignified to actively campaign themselves.  Their supporters did most of the campaigning for them.

Presidential primaries were introduced during the Progressive Era around the turn of the last century, but they did not come to control the nominating process until 75 years later.  I remember how the 1956 Democratic presidential nomination went to Gov. Adlai Stevenson, even though Senator Estes Kefauver won a majority of the vote in primaries; leaders such as ex-President Truman dismissed the primaries as a “beauty contest.”  Senator John F. Kennedy’s victories in the 1960 Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries were important not because of the delegate votes he won, but because he showed party leaders that a Catholic could carry predominantly Protestant states.

Today both Democrats and Republicans have presidential primaries in all the states.  This is supposed to open up the process to public participation, but the unintended consequence is to create a need for the individual candidate to be able to raise money for the necessary advertising, publicity and campaign staff to get into the public eye.  The idea that the office should seek the candidate has been forgotten.  The political campaign is an ordeal that many qualified people would not want to go through.

In many ways the present system is worse than the old political machines.  Tammany Hall and Chicago’s Daley machine were corrupt, but at least they did things of tangible value for people in their patronage networks in return for their votes, which today’s media-based campaigners do not.

Sometimes I think we would be better off trying to go back to the original concept of the Electoral College.  Instead of voting for candidates directly, voters would vote for electors – one from each congressional district and two from each state – whose names would appear on the ballot without the names of a pledged candidate.  The electors would then meet and make their choice, which could be someone who had not actively put themself forward.

But as I think it over, I see that it wouldn’t work.  Powerful monied interests would know the sentiments of the individual electors, even if the average voters didn’t.  And the electors would wind up being as beholden to monied interests as candidates are today.

One advantage of the present presidential primary system is that it starts in small states—the Iowa caucuses, and then the New Hampshire primary.  Relative unknown candidates sometimes win in Iowa and New Hampshire, and this gives them the credibility to raise money.

In short, we have a badly flawed system, and all the past attempts to open it up have done nothing or made things worse.  I don’t have good ideas as to what to do to make things better.  Does anybody else?

Pennsylvania and the electoral college

September 16, 2011

Pennsylvania Republicans are considering a plan to change that state’s winner-take-all system for awarding electoral votes for President.  Instead of the state’s 20 electoral votes going to whichever candidate carries Pennsylvania, 18 of the electoral votes would go to whoever gets a majority in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts, with the remaining two going to whoever carries the state.

PA congressional districts

Only two states—Maine and Nebraska—award their electoral votes this way.  All the rest go with winner-take-all.  The Pennsylvania Republican thinking is that Democrats normally carry Pennsylvania as a whole, but Republicans carry many individual congressional districts, so that the change would work to their advantage.  In fact, because of the way Pennsylvania congressional districts are gerrymandered, a Democratic Presidential candidate could gain a majority of the state’s popular votes, while the Republican candidate got a majority of the electoral votes.

If it were up to me, I would have each state direct its electors to vote for the Presidential candidate who won a majority of the national popular vote.  But there is a certain rough balance in the present system.  Each state gets a vote in the Electoral College equal to its members of the House of Representaives and the Senate; that is, a number based on population plus two more.  Small states have more representation that their population warrants, but the winner-take-all system makes the large states more influential because a larger bloc of votes is in play.

If Pennsylvania gets rid of winner-take-all, this might be good for the Republican Party nationwide, but it would reduce the influence of Pennsylvania in national elections.  For this reason I don’t think the change is likely to happen.


Redrawing the map of the states

March 25, 2011

Double click to enlarge

California, with nearly 33.9 million people, is about 69 times more populous than Alaska, with 493,782 people (according to the 2000 census).  But they each have two Senators and the smaller states get extra representation in the Electoral College.  An artist and urban planner named Neil Freeman for fun redrew the state boundaries so they would have roughly equal populations of roughly 5.7 million people.

Click on Electoral College Reform to get his thinking.