Electoral College – a Debate

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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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Electoral College – a Debate

The race is heating up. The next few weeks will see more debate on the value of the Electoral College, the process of electing the President of the United States of America. This is an important equalizer in American politics.

The Founding Fathers established a process based on their immense knowledge and understanding of history. They did not take this lightly – and they have proven many times to have been correct in their evaluation of government process. Like those before us, we should not take this lightly.

First let us be clear – our vote counts. The Electoral College is comprised of representatives, selected by party process, but dedicated to following the wishes of the vote of the people. Each State is granted Electoral votes according to their representation in Congress. One vote for each Senator and one vote for each Representative. Every State is guaranteed two Senators and at least one Representative; so every state is guaranteed at least three Electoral Votes. Representatives are apportioned based on population, I think Missouri has 9 and California has something like 3,000.

I48 States do the winner-take-all thing – the winner of the popular vote in a State gets all the marbles, all the Electoral College votes. Two States grant the Electoral votes by popular vote in Congressional Districts.

This winner-takes-all process serves to protect the voice of minorities. In Missouri, for example, less than 7% of the population is agrarian – farmers. Most of the population is centralized in Kansas City and Saint Louis. The metropolitan areas get a lot of attention from candidates – that is where the majority of votes are.

The 7% of farmers would have 7% of the voice in an Electoral process based on popular vote alone. Farmers are important cogs in the wheel of our society. We must listen to their needs. In a close election, that 7% is empowered, they are empowered to swing all Electoral Votes to one candidate or the other.

The Electoral College serves our country well. We might not like the outcome – as in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College Vote. Perhaps Gore was not catering to minorities, that study is for another day.

2008 sees more value in the Electoral College.  The race is close – and that means that small states like Vermont with 4 Electoral votes will have an impact on the eventual outcome.  Obama and McCain will be forced to give attention to the little guy.  This writer likes that aspect of America – the little guy has a voice.

The point is simple – keep the Electoral College – it is fundamental to protecting the voice of minorities.

There Are 10 Responses So Far. »

  1. The present system of electing the President does not “work well” because the winner-take-all rule (currently used by 48 of 50 states) awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state.

    Because of these 48 state laws, presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the concerns of voters of states that they cannot possibly win or lose. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of “battleground” states. 88% of the money is focused onto just 9 closely divided battleground states, and 99% is concentrated in just 16 states. Two thirds of the states, are effectively disenfranchised in presidential elections.

    Another effect of the winner-take-all rule is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide — something that happens in 1 in 14 elections (1 in 7 non-landslide elections).

    If the National Popular Vote bill were to become law, it would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would still have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

    see http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

    Susan

  2. Quoting Laura Kirshner of Washington, DC

    “. . . The NAACP voted recently to endorse a national popular vote for president. Here’s why:

    The influence of minority voters has decreased tremendously as the number of battleground states dwindles. In 1976, 73% of blacks lived in battleground states. In 2004, that proportion fell to a mere 17%.

    Battleground states are the only states that matter in presidential elections. Campaigns are tailored to address the issues that matter to voters in these states.

    Safe red and blue states are considered a waste of time, money and energy to candidates. These “spectator” states receive no campaign attention, visits or ads. Their concerns are utterly ignored.

    Clearly, minorities should not and do not oppose the abolition of the Electoral College.”

  3. The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive in presidential election. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York’s use of the winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming—both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

    see http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

  4. What the U.S. Constitution says is “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, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) 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, the people had no vote for President in most states, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote, and only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). Since then, as a result of changes in state laws, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states.

  5. Susan, I think your argument proves the opposite of what you intended. The 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive state are represented by 40 electoral votes, while the 11 million people of Ohio are represented by 20 (exactly half). 20 votes is 20 votes – it is trumped by 40 votes every time.

    Your argument that the “spectator” states receive no attention (in terms of campaign visits or ads) is less valid now than it might have been 100 years ago. In this day and age of instant communication, political ads are viewable across the United States (and internationally) via YouTube and on the candidate’s websites. As for the campaign visits, it seems the candidates repeat the same stump speeches over and over again – the only thing that changes is the name of the state they are visiting. Meanwhile, we all watch these speeches (over and over again) on the national news.

    Your argument about “winner take all” is stronger. There are states in which your vote is virtually invalid if you represent a minority opinion. However, the danger of a national popular vote is that it would expand that territory; minority votes would be invalidated nationwide instead of only in a few states.

  6. Because so few of the 22 small and medium-small states are closely divided battleground states in presidential elections, the current system actually shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states. The New York Times reported early in 2008 (May 11, 2008) that both major political parties were already in agreement that there would be at most 14 battleground states in 2008 (involving only 166 of the 538 electoral votes). In other words, three-quarters of the states were to be ignored under the current system in the 2008 election. Michigan (17 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), and Florida (27) contain over half of the electoral votes that will matter in 2008 (85 of the 166 electoral votes). There are only three battleground states among the 22 small and medium-small states (i.e., New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada). These three states contain only 14 of the 166 electoral votes. Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.
    The fact that the small states are disadvantaged by the current system has also been recognized by prominent officials from smaller states. In a 1979 Senate speech, Senator Henry Bellmon (R–Oklahoma) described how his views on the Electoral College had changed while he had served as National Campaign Director for Richard Nixon and a member of the American Bar Association’s commission studying electoral reform.

    “While the consideration of the electoral college began — and I am a little embarrassed to admit this — I was convinced, as are many residents of smaller States, that the present system is a considerable advantage to less populous States such as Oklahoma … As the deliberations of the American Bar Association Commission proceeded and as more facts became known, I came to the realization that the present electoral system does not give an advantage to the voters from the less populous States. Rather, it works to the disadvantage of small State voters who are largely ignored in the general election for President.”

  7. The small states DO NOT oppose a national popular vote.

    The facts speak for themselves. As of 2008, the National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by Hawaii. It has also has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers in small states, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states. In fact, the small states are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states is not a new discovery. This fact has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court. These states argued that New York’s use of the winner-take-all rule effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer an influential battleground state (as it was in the 1960s). Today, New York suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states, because it too has become politically non-competitive. Today, a vote in New York is equal to a vote in Wyoming (or any of the smaller non-competitive states) because votes in both states are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

    The Electoral College and the current system for electing the President is not the bulwark of influence for the small states in the U.S. Constitution. The 13 smallest states have an extra 26 electoral votes by virtue of the 2-state bonus—not a large number in relation to the total of 538 electoral votes. The 13 smallest states (i.e., those with three or four electoral votes) cast 3% of the nation’s popular vote and possess 6% of the electoral votes. The small states do indeed have more electoral votes than their population alone would justify; however, the extra 3% is a minor factor in presidential elections (particularly since they are equally divided between red and blue states). The 13 smallest states with 3% of the nation’s population have 25% of the votes in the U.S. Senate — a very significant source of political clout. In fact, the bulwark of influence for the small states is the equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate — not the small number of additional electoral votes that they have in the Electoral College.

  8. In 2004, the presidential candidate concentrated two-thirds of their visits and money in just five states, 80% in just nine states, and 99% of their money in just 16 states. The 2008 presidential election is focused on, at most, 14 closely divided battleground states. Under the current system, three-quarters of the states are “fly over country.” The reason that presidential candidates ignore three-quarters of the county under the current is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state). Presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, OR PAY ATTENTION TO THE CONCERNS OF ANYONE IN STATES WHERE THEY ARE SAFELY AHEAD OR HOPELESSLY BEHIND. Candidates concentrate their attention on a small handful of closely divided battleground states.

    Under a national popular vote, every vote would be equally important. There is nothing special about a vote in a big state or a small state. Although no one can predict exactly how a presidential campaign would be run if every vote were equal throughout the United States, it is clear that candidates could not ignore voters in any state. The result of a national popular vote would be a 50-state campaign for President.

  9. Electoral College…………A complex system for the professional politicians to control what should be (especially in our high tech society)a total voice of the people. We can run around this all day with convoluted explanations and run arounds to make it sound like the right way. Keeping all things real and keeping them simple is always a good thing. Like, if Vermont has a popular vote that runs Republican and California has a popular vote of Republican, who is disenfranchised? If the popular vote nationwide is Republican and this is so for 45 out of 50 states, who is disenfranchised. If we are truly concerned that the populations of smaller states are disenfranchised because of that. Perhaps we should start rearranging borders based on equal populations. Whoops, I’m sure they already gave that a quick thought. Bottom line is; we are told we are a country by the people for the people and popular vote is to easily counted in this age. Or if you are a Republican in California, maybe you should move to Texas. There’s always another way if you’re willing.

  10. They already arrange borders within States for congressional districts – this is done to keep the population equal in each district – the problem is that they carve the district up to create favorable conditions for either party – depending on who is in power during congressional redistricting.

    Also, it the President was elected by a majority of national votes the elections would favor the values of urban voters – because the majority of the population is urban. Who would speak for the farmer?

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