An Homage To The Electoral College

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The only reason the New York Times is calling for the end of the electoral college is that its candidate lost. Had Hillary Clinton won, there would be no cries, no sad tears, no editorial. But disingenuous motives don’t change the merit of the argument.

By overwhelming majorities, Americans would prefer to elect the president by direct popular vote, not filtered through the antiquated mechanism of the Electoral College. They understand, on a gut level, the basic fairness of awarding the nation’s highest office on the same basis as every other elected office — to the person who gets the most votes.

Cool links, but neither supports the proposition for which it’s included. Americans love platitudes, as they eliminate the need for deeper thought or greater understanding. Smart people, and make no mistake, the nice folks on the editorial board at the Times are smart, use that to their advantage, to manipulate the understanding of their lessers. An ironically popular platitude is “one man*, one vote.”

Seems pretty obvious, right? Except that the United States is comprised of, well, states. When it was formed from colonies, which were populated by people with differing backgrounds and perspectives, they were wary of what a powerful federal government might do to their local ways, their ability to control their own destinies by usurpation of local control. Sure, they understood the benefits of joining together in this enterprise to be called America, but they also understood that they didn’t want people in Massachusetts dictating how people in New Jersey got to live their lives.

The electoral college was a choice, a compromise, to equalize disparities in population and local norms. Some of which were, notably, bad, particularly in light of societal changes over the past couple centuries

The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.

So the electoral college is just a nod to slavery? Not quite. While it was one factor in the mix, it’s unduly simplistic to reduce complex motives to a single factor. Shame on the Times for doing so, even thought the smart folks are just trying to play the crowd.

Want to know what else is “a living symbol of America’s original sin”? The Senate. Every state gets two senators, which makes as much sense as, and no more sense than, the electoral college. It’s a means of equalizing control between the more and less populous states. Does it make any sense for Wyoming to get two senators, just like California? Not under a simple majority-rules notion. California has way more people, so it should have way more say. That its sensibilities happen to comport with those of the Times editorial board is just coincidence.

Today the college, which allocates electors based on each state’s representation in Congress, tips the scales in favor of smaller states; a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 3.6 times as much as a Californian’s. And because almost all states use a winner-take-all system, the election ends up being fought in just a dozen or so “battleground” states, leaving tens of millions of Americans on the sidelines.

Except then, the people in Wyoming won’t want to play with California, nor should they. The problem isn’t that it’s unfair, but that it’s unfair no matter which way it goes. Either it’s unfair to California or to West Virginia. Unless, of course, we’re ready to do away with states altogether, congeal as one nation and share a unified view of how to live our lives.

For whatever reason, people in some states harbor different beliefs than people in other states. Both are certain their beliefs are the better ones, and so it would behoove everyone to reach a consensus. But they couldn’t. So the choice was made way back when, a compromise to create a nation out of dissonant states. It’s how the founding fathers decided to play the game, and they wrote it into the Constitution to seal the deal.

To undo what happened way back when today, because the Times editorial board really, really hates the election outcome, would require amending the Constitution. That’s not only an onerous burden, but one that would likely fail, because there are a lot more states that maintain their ridiculous belief that the president shouldn’t be elected by California than not. Plus, once that door was opened, there’s a good chance that America would hit delete good and hard for nine of the first ten amendments, leaving only the third intact, because the others make them sad.

So, the Times has come up with a quick and easy solution, knowing that Mencken was dead and buried.

There is an elegant solution: The Constitution establishes the existence of electors, but leaves it up to states to tell them how to vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, representing 165 electoral votes, have already passed legislation to have their electors vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on. This would ensure that the national popular-vote winner would become president.

There is a certain elegance to the solution, in that it does no more than obligate faithless electors to ignore the votes in their state and vote in accordance with the will of the populous states. If you’re in Wyoming, you’re screwed unless you share Los Angeles sensibilities. If enough states signed on to control the electoral college’s outcome, it would obviate the impact of less populous states. The bulk of the states would become irrelevant.

But elegance aside, the plan merely shifts battleground states from the ones that are now in play, that have a decent number of electoral votes but remain in play for either candidate, to the states with the biggest populations. And those states, like New York, Texas, California, have proven fairly intransigent in their politics, such that they can be reliably trusted to vote one way or another.

The elegance of a facially neutral plan thus does nothing more than to let the coasts choose the president and end the tyranny of flyover country. The outcome, at least until some seismic shift in politics turns everything upside down, will be a foregone conclusion. Problem solved, right?

Or it’s just a means to subjugate the handful of states now in play to a handful of states that can be trusted to vote the “right way,” as far as the Times editorial board is concerned. Now, if we could only get rid of that horrifying bi-cameral legislature so that worthless states like Wyoming didn’t get to ruin everything, it wouldn’t be nearly as exhausting to make America great again.

*It’s now phrased as “one person” because women get to vote too.

33 comments on “An Homage To The Electoral College

  1. REvers

    I agree, it’s hard to give the Electoral College much respect. Hell, they didn’t even make it to a bowl game this year.

  2. B. McLeod

    Without the Electoral College, what would give fanatic people hope that, by marching around in the cold for a day or two, they could change the results of an election?

  3. John Barleycorn

    And you still don’t have the stones to write a difinitively enlightened grand jury post.

    What’s up with that?

      1. John Barleycorn

        Only on the days the days the Baileys’ needs a little help from Balvenei to settle the coffee beans just right.

        And besides if you squint just right when putting another log on the morning fire the Electoral College and the grand jury have some interesting parallels.

        Fuck….it’s only Tuesday.

  4. Keith

    “Want to know what else is “a living symbol of America’s original sin”? The Senate. Every state gets two senators, which makes as much sense, and no more sense, than the electoral college.”

    Don’t get so crazy there, SHG. Start out small and work your way up.
    California (as of the 2010 Census) had 37,254,503 people (representing 12.18% of the population) living there and 53 seats in Congress. Meanwhile Wyoming had 563,767 people (representing .18% of the population and gets 1 representative.

    How can this travesty be permitted? California has 1 rep per 702,915 people, but Wyoming has 1 per 563,767? This isn’t one person one vote! I’d call it taxation without equal representation. The Times needs to get on this immediately.

    And don’t even get me started on Rhode Island, coasting in with one rep per 526k people. No wonder they all look so happy.

    And I know I’ve seen some Times board members comment about how the irregularities and old voting machines in MI made a recount impossible to do accurately. What happens when you need to recount the whole nation? Glad they went with the tried and true SCOTUS trick of not touching the most logical consequence of a narrow decision. Much better to keep us guessing.

    Any new cool tricks to make democracy 2.0 better?

  5. DaveL

    I’m sure the New York Times doesn’t understand why those hick provincials don’t give up on the country being ruled only mostly by large coastal cities, and embrace it being run entirely by large coastal cities. After all, the NYT thinks it’s a good idea, and they certainly would know better than those hillbillies out in the sticks. After all, they say so, and who would know better than they?

  6. PAV

    California’s over here with a new secessionist movement over this. Used to ruling our own more rural types from the cities, they can’t comprehend a world where they don’t rule everyone else, too. The Democrats thus cry that “their voices are unheard” when other states don’t sit down and STFU like they’re told to.

    So they want to make California a seperate country. My home state gets nuttier every day.

      1. Jim Tyre

        We don’t need no stinkin’ secessionist movement. It’s true that, when The Big One hits, we’ll separate physically from the rest of the nation. What people get wrong is that we’ll be the ones staying afloat, the rest of the nation will sink. (Whether that will give new meaning to SHG being a Nebraska Admiral is beyond the scope of this comment.)

  7. John J Lentini

    In a nationwide vote for President, a vote cast in a big city would be no more (or less) valuable or important than a vote cast in a suburb, an exurb, a small town, or a rural area.

    When every vote is equal, candidates know that they need to solicit voters throughout their entire constituency in order to win. The argument that campaigns would focus only on big media markets does not hold water. Los Angeles does not control California. Reagan and Schwartzenneger both won the governorship without winning LA.

    Under the current system, a Republican’s vote in San Francisco is worthless, as is a Democrat’s vote in Cheyenne. Even in states where their party controls, some voters feel no need to vote because their state is a lock.

    1. SHG Post author

      Your last paragraph reveals part of the fallacy of the popular vote outcome. If you’re a Dem in Cheyenne, no reason to waste the ten minutes to vote because you’re no more likely to win than the Rep in LA. People may not be particularly politically aware, but many know better than to waste their time just to add to the back end numbers.

      But the Times doesn’t suggest a straight nationwide vote because it would require a constitutional amendment, and it won’t happen. So why are you talking about it?

      1. John J Lentini

        Who is talking about a constitutional amendment? It surely won’t happen. Now the interstate compact idea would work if half of the states (270 electoral votes) signed on.

        1. SHG Post author

          You can’t have it both ways. You were talking about “a nationwide vote for President.” Now you’re talking about something entirely different. And no, an interstate compact of 270 electoral votes would mean that half the nation was disenfranchised if states with 270 votes joined in. And it still means you campaign only in high pop states and ignore the rest.

      2. kohler

        [Ed. Note: This and your five additional thousand word comments deleted. This isn’t your soapbox to spew. You’re free to make a cogent and concise argument, but regurgitate your thousands of words of cut and paste propaganda elsewhere.]

    2. DaveL

      When every vote is equal, candidates know that they need to solicit voters throughout their entire constituency in order to win.

      Only if they’re bad at math. When 1% of the vote in California is outweighs 50% of the vote in North Dakota, you absolutely don’t need to solicit voters throughout the constituency in order to win. A clean sweep of the top 9 states is enough to get you the popular vote, even if nobody else in the other 41 states votes for you. A two-thirds majority in the top 20 is also enough.

  8. Allen

    I suppose it’s just too hard for the candidate to actually campaign in states where they need to win the electoral college votes. Or maybe even court the voters and answer their concerns, no, too radical.

    1. SHG Post author

      Even if they couldn’t manage to find the time to go to “inconsequential” states on their private planes, they could always, you know, give a shit about the issues that concern them.

    2. Keith

      What many people appear to be missing is the concept of equilibrium and its effect on the finite resources of time and money. People know that TX is a Red State because it’s been that way for a while and they predict it will be for the next cycle.

      If you change things up, they will re-“settle” into a new equilibrium. It will soon become apparent which places mean something to a particular candidate and which places mean something to a different one. You focus on your best chances. It’s not hard to see why.

      John Lentini doesn’t like that a Republican finds San Fran worthless under the current system? Ok, how do you think that Republican is going to like San Fran under any other system?

  9. kohler

    Trump, November 13, 2016, on “60 Minutes”
    “ I would rather see it, where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes, and somebody else gets 90 million votes, and you win. There’s a reason for doing this. Because it brings all the states into play.”

    In 2012, the night Romney lost, Trump tweeted.
    “The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. . . . The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”

    Recent and past presidential candidates who supported direct election of the President in the form of a constitutional amendment, before the National Popular Vote bill was introduced: George H.W. Bush (R-TX-1969), Jimmy Carter (D-GA-1977), Hillary Clinton (D-NY-2001), Bob Dole (R-KS-1969), Michael Dukakis (D-MA), Gerald Ford (R-MI-1969), and Richard Nixon (R-CA-1969).

    Recent and past presidential candidates with a public record of support, before November 2016, for the National Popular Vote bill that would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate with the most national popular votes: Congressmen John Anderson (R, I –ILL), and Bob Barr (Libertarian- GA), Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN), Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee (R-I-D, -RI), Governor and former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean (D–VT), U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R–GA), Senator and Vice President Al Gore (D-TN), Ralph Nader, Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD), Jill Stein (Green), Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Senator Fred Thompson (R–TN).

    Newt Gingrich summarized his support for the National Popular Vote bill by saying: “No one should become president of the United States without speaking to the needs and hopes of Americans in all 50 states. … America would be better served with a presidential election process that treated citizens across the country equally. The National Popular Vote bill accomplishes this in a manner consistent with the Constitution and with our fundamental democratic principles.”

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