When people in other countries have our Electoral College system explained to them, their reaction often is, “you must be kidding”. Is there any other country where voters, instead of directly voting for a candidate to their highest office, vote for electoral delegates (who are not necessarily bound to follow the will of the voters and can vote for whomever they wish)? This odd and convoluted system is made worse by the winner-take-all rules that most states follow. If the vote is 50.1% to 49.9%, the winning candidate gets all the electoral votes. This, by most any means of reckoning, disenfranchises those who voted for the other person. It also means that someone who received fewer votes than his opposition can become president, as happened in 2000 when Al Gore bested George Bush in the popular vote. With all due respect to the founding fathers, this seems to be a goofy system.
A new proposition measure hopes to change that, and has been cleared by the Secretary of State to gather signatures. It would apportion electoral delegates based on votes by Congressional District, and was spearheaded by conservative activist Ted Costa. Aha, some on the left might say, he’s just trying to get more votes for Republicans. This may well be true. But based on his filing letter (PDF), he makes valid points that are worth considering.
Among them are:
- The winner-take-all system in California means presidential candidates often ignore the state because the conclusion is foregone and instead focus on smaller states. We get left out.
- The 800 pound gorilla called Los Angeles has so many voters that as it goes, so does the state. This disenfranchises those in other regions as well as those in rural areas.
- Third party candidates are ignored and forgotten.
Thus, if 30% of Congressional Districts went Republican, then their candidate would get 30% of California’s electoral delegates, with Democrats presumably getting 70%. This certainly is fairer and more democratic. However, while there are some Congressional Districts where third party candidates do quite well, they seldom if ever win. So, they would still be ignored.
An even better system would be to apportion electoral votes based on statewide vote totals. This way third party candidates who polled about 2% would get at least one of California’s 55 delegates. Then, no one could say that third party votes don’t count. This would raise the visibility of all third parties and perhaps even make the two major parties pay more attention to them. If this were done on a nationwide basis, then in a close election, the third parties might cast the deciding votes. This is how most European democracies work. If you get 3% of the votes, you get 3% of the seats. If a major party wants the votes of a small party to win an election and form a ruling coalition, then they need to address at least some of the concerns of their junior partner (rather than ignoring them, as mostly happens here.)
This proposition is a step in the right direction to a more equitable and democratic election of our presidents.
I can see why apportioning electoral votes to the popular vote would accomplish what’s being promoted here. But given that most CA CDs are at least as blue or red as the state is blue, why would we expect this proposal to deliver? Seems more like a transparent attempt to advantage the Republican party in presidential elections. (Here’s how to convince me otherwise: show me the same proponents making the same proposal in Texas.)
The National Popular Vote initiative makes much more sense, and would have a nationwide effect.
Is the National Popular Vote initiative to make it based on popular vote total throughout the country?
That’s the effect, yes. The downside is that it still allows popular plurality winners, but the EC does as well.
This is NOT a step in the right direction. It would make presidential elections just as susceptible to gerrymandering as our congressional districts now are (remember that 90%+ incumbent reelection rate!). Two better ideas are the national popular vote plan (which would have a majority of states, at least, award their votes to the popular vote winner) or proportionally allocating electoral votes (ie, if someone gets 40% of the vote in a state, they get as close to 40% of the electoral votes as possible).
I stand corrected. You and Jonathan Lundell are right.
I won’t say the EC is perfect, but it serves a very important purpose, which is to buffer a concentrated majority in our federal system. Both proposals appear to defeat that purpose. These proposals sound like unitarism, a terrible structure that fails even in small countries because it creates the probability of tyranny by the majority.
What could possible be wrong with that, I hear you asking? The majority *should* rule, right?
Wrong. The very premise of democracy is respect for minority opinions, especially when those opinions are concentrated in geographic regions. If you think today’s rancorous politics are bad, imagine a system in which the majority gets to completely ignore any and all minorities. All they need are their own votes to get elected.
This, coupled with an increasingly powerful central government that the winner wields to the benefit of his/her electors, creates an unequal system in which there is no recourse. After that the bullets start flying. And by then it’s too late – the majority, certain of its righteousness, sees federation as a threat to national unity. I can’t think of an instance in which unitarism has reverted to federalism without serious bloodshed – if even then.
Make no mistake: The establishment of a unitary government is an act of violence.
DJ, I generally enjoy your comments here and I’m usually in agreement with you. But I must strenuously disagree with your thoughts on Democracy.
First of all the electoral college is a perfect example of how the founding fathers Democracy. They hated it. They bemoaned the “leveling impulse” of the rabble. People have a natural propensity to be egalitarian. We enjoy sharing what we have.
At the Constitutional Convention Madison explained that the primary purpose of the state they were creating was to protect the minority of the opulent. That’s the “minority” the only minority, protected by this state.
Democracy is about having a say in decisions that impact you.
“Democracy is about having a say in decisions that impact you.” Can’t argue with that. And having seen the unitary state in action, I can say with certainty that a majority rule leaves geographic minorities out of the decision-making process, making violence virtually inevitable.
You say that the EC protects the wealthy. Well, heck, the entire power structure protects the wealthy, and abolishing the EC won’t change that. We will still be ruled by two parties of elites in a power-lock unsanctioned by the Constitution. In that sense, the EC isn’t even part of the problem because it doesn’t matter which branch of the Democratic-Republican Party gets elected.
However, just abolishing the EC will make things worse. Sure, the Dems lost in 2000 despite the popular vote. I didn’t like that much. But I’m not willing to see the U.S. devolve into civil war because I didn’t happen to like how an election turned out.
Do I exaggerate? I spent 15 years working to end a civil war whose direct cause was unitary government. The U.S. increasingly appears to be proceeding down the same path– the polarization, the lack of civility, the desire of all sides to lock the others out of power. Maybe civil war is unavoidable, but I believe there is still hope.
The unitary state looks logical on paper, but its effects are far-reaching and negative. We are a diverse nation, a federation of states If we are to survive, we must acknowledge our differences and structure our democracy accordingly. Throw out the EC? Sure – but replace it with something better or say goodbye to the nation as we know it.
I don’t quite get how a popular vote totaled nationwide for president and VP would limit the opposition, which could still get lots of seats during the state-wide and local elections for Senators and members of the House.
Um, can you back up your opening statement about other countries? Many Americans make the same assumption that you do, but I don’t believe it’s correct. I’ve written on this (http://www.saveourstates.com/2010/the-electoral-college-versus-the-world/) and I’d be interested in your rebuttal if you disagree with my conclusions.