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There’s No Good Reason To Get Rid Of The Electoral College

The possibility that the Presidential election could end in another split between the Electoral College and the Popular Vote as we saw in 2000, and as the nation saw three times previously in American history (and possibly in 1960 as well if you buy into this fascinating piece by Sean Trende) has lead, inevitably, to another round of reflection about the manner in which we elect Presidents here in the United States. The arguments against the Electoral College are, I think, well known at this point in time and don’t need to be repeated. In fact our own Steven Taylor has been writing about this issue extensively for years, most recently in this post, and he’s been a relentless critic of the Electoral College for some time.

As for myself, as I’ve noted here in the past I tend to support the continued existence of the Electoral College, with the modification that I would like to see the individual states adopt the District Method for allocation of electors as Maine and Nebraska have done. More importantly, though, I’ve found the arguments against the Electoral College to be lacking. If we were going to make a major change to the Constitution such as this, it ought to be for a very good reason, and I don’t think that the still unlikely possibility of a split with the Popular Vote, which has happened on an incredibly rare basis throughout American history, or the even less likely possibility of a tie, are sufficient reasons for such a major change. Given the fact that there was no major effort at reform after the 2000 election, I would suggest that the American people feel about the same about this. The Electoral College may not be perfect, but it’s not as all-fired imperfect as its critics tend to make it out to be either.

Over at National Review Daniel Foster lays out his version of the positive case for the Electoral College:

In short, the College reflects the formal and constitutional fact that the president is elected chief executive of a union of states — federated but sovereign — and not a conglomeration of people. The executive of the Constitution, of the Founders, is president of the United States, not president of America. Its detractors consider it an anachronism, but if federalism still means anything — and sadly, that’s something of an open question — then the College is as vital as ever. It affirms that we vote as citizens of the several states, not mere residents of arbitrarily drawn administrative districts.

The Founders designed the College this way in part to blunt the power of emergent factionalism. And it worked. In the words of Tara Ross, one of the College’s most able defenders, the current electoral system means that the president must secure the support of a broad coalition of “heterogeneous entities,” themselves “safe” factions “composed of individuals with a wide variety of interests.” Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland in 1888 because of the latter’s overwhelming strength in the South, but won the presidency with a coalition of states in the Northeast and Midwest and along the Pacific coast. Likewise, when Bush defeated Gore despite losing the popular vote, he did so while winning 30 states.

Foster also urges his fellow Republicans to hold their fire in the event that we really do get a result where Romney wins the Popular Vote but loses the Electoral College:

If President Obama is reelected without a popular majority, Republicans should, by all means, use this fact as leverage in negotiations over such matters as the “fiscal cliff.” They should blast the talking point until their collective faces turn blue. But they should not, under any circumstances, suggest that the president’s victory is anything less than incontrovertibly, unquestionably, unambiguously constitutional and legitimate. If prominent Republicans were instead to come out in favor of, for example, the National Popular Vote — a legally dubious conspiracy of eight-and-counting states to undermine the College by awarding their electoral votes to the national popular-vote winner — it would amount to a tactical tantrum with potentially disastrous long-term strategic consequences.

Foster’s argument is, at least to me, quite persuasive. It’s often forgotten in our modern era that the Constitution was never meant to create a purely democratic system of government.From the checks and balances and separation of powers in place between the various branches of government, to the separations between the limited powers of the Federal Government and the virtually unlimited, except by the Constitution itself, powers of the individual states, to the very existence of the United States Senate, the Constitution is full of provisions designed to blunt, or at least temper, political will. The Electoral College is one of those institutions. Originally, of course, the College was seen by the Founders as a way to keep the selection of the President as far outside control of voters as possible. Originally, in fact, there were drafts of the Constitution at the 1787 Convention that had the President being selected by Congress itself, a proposal that would have severely weakened the office and turned it into something resembling either a modern Prime Ministership or the Presidencies of most European nations, which (except for France) are largely ceremonial positions.

Over time, of course, the Electoral College changed its function as states abandoned the practices from the early days of the Republic that potentially made the actual votes cast on Election Day completely irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t still have a purpose. As Foster says, the Electoral College serves to make Presidential elections truly national, requiring candidates to register support not just in the high population areas on the East and West Coasts but also in the interior of the nation where interests vastly different from those of the Boston-New York-Washington corridor and the San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego corridor motivate voters. It also reinforces whatever remaining strands of Federalism still exist in this country, thus challenging the idea that all wisdom must come from Washington.

Jonathan Bernstein, who comes from a completely different side of the political spectrum from Foster, disagrees with Foster’s rationale but makes his own argument for the Electoral College:

I’m mostly a marginal supporter of the Electoral College on other grounds, as regular readers may recall. For example, I like the Madisonian idea of overlapping but different constituencies for different offices. That case doesn’t depend on any mystical reading of state’s rights (why should I care that, as Foster points out, more states supported Bush than Gore? So what?). Instead, it goes back to the Framers’ problem that they wanted to listen to Montesquieu, but discovered that in their Republic there were no separate estates to represent separately. There were only — are only — people. Nothing to be balanced!

On top of that, I still believe that the interests which benefit from the electoral college are, on balance, those that are hurt by other factors in the overall system. Currently, the states helped appear to be medium-size competitive states (Ohio most of all, but Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania are all in Nate Silver’s top ten tipping point states right now). It’s not as good as when California and New York were swing states, but it’s still a different set than are helped by the Senate.

And I tend to think that the chances of a “wrong” result are small enough that it doesn’t bother me – just as I’m not bothered by the chance that there will be a split between the overall vote and partisan control of the House of Representatives. If there was a persistent large EC bias, that would be a different story, but it’s usually under 1% and floats between the parties. If a “wrong” result happens in an otherwise very close race, I just don’t see a convincing democratic case against it.

Bernstein’s argument is the balance of power argument that you ordinarily hear from Electoral College proponents, and it does have its value. Notwithstanding the points that Steven Taylor has made in his posts on the topic, I believe it has value. It seems rather clear that, without the Electoral College, citizens in less populous states would find themselves and their interests largely ignored as candidates worked to garner votes from high population areas like the East Coast, the West Coast, and the South. Perhaps that would be “democratic” in some sense of the word, but it would do serious damage to the idea of the United States as a united Federal Republic.

As I noted above, though, the arguments in favor of the Electoral College strike me as being far less important than the arguments against it. The advocates of eliminating the Electoral College are proposing what is, without a doubt, a radical change to our Constitutional structure. Potentially, it would have a significant impact on the relationship between the Federal Government and the states regarding the question of who exactly is the final authority when it comes to deciding the outcome of an election. It also poses potential problems of its own in the event of the admittedly rare circumstance in which an election is close enough that challenging the results is considered an option. Who is the final arbiter in those situations? Under our current system, it’s the states Bush v. Gore notwithstanding. In a Popular Vote system, would the provisions of the Constitution that give states the authority to regulate the “time, place, and manner” of elections even survive? I have serious doubts that it would, and then you end up with a Federal election bureaucracy. Finally, none of the complaints that Electoral College opponents make strike me as being sufficient to scrap a system that has been around for 220-odd years. Like Bernstein, I think the chances of a “wrong” result (and how do you define “wrong”?) are so small as to be infinitesimal, which means that I see no reason to support calls for what would be a major change to our Constitutional system.

Graphic via C-Span

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    Agreed (particularly with the District Method.)

    I also think we should strengthen federalism further by returning the election of Senators to state legislatures, and away from the people. I know, I know, that sounds barbaric and undemocratic, but really, look at what the Senate was supposed to be about (representing state interests vs. each other and the federal government) and look at Senatorial elections today. They’re farces.

    None of this should be construed as me being a member of the conservative “states’ rights” movement. States don’t have rights; only people have rights. I don’t think that states should decide issues such as abortion and gay marriage one-by-one; negative rights such as those should be universal. I do think, though, there needs to be more fiscal federalism, and just more federalism and decentralization in general. Putting all the eggs into one basket, so to speak, is not good for anybody, liberal, conservative, or libertarian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  2. Mikey says:

    It seems rather clear that, without the Electoral College, citizens in less populous states would find themselves and their interests largely ignored as candidates worked to garner votes from high population areas like the East Coast, the West Coast, and the South.

    As opposed to now, when they ignore the two most populous states in the Union and dump hundreds of millions of dollars and seemingly endless rounds of visits into numbers 4, 7, and 12 on the list.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  3. cd6 says:

    But they should not, under any circumstances, suggest that the president’s victory is anything less than incontrovertibly, unquestionably, unambiguously constitutional and legitimate.

    Why start now?

    Republicans, including elected officials & GOP presidential candidates, spent the last 4 years saying Obama’s presidency was illegitimate. You know, cause he isn’t a Merkican

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

  4. @Jeremy:

    I have a certain affinity for the “repeal the 17th Amendment” arguments. Indeed. Bruce Bartlett, who once worked for Reagan and Ron Paul but is now considered a Republican apostate, wrote a persuasive peace piece on that many years ago that he has said recently he still supports.

    However, as a practical matter, it’s as much of a pipe dream as eliminating the Electoral College, perhaps even more so. The American people are never going to support an Amendment that takes away their right to vote for their representatives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  5. Jeremy says:

    One criticism of your plan that should be raised is gerrymandering. I think before we put the District Method into action nationwide, we should first remove political redistricting of the districts and either use independent commissions or (more preferably) shortest splitline algorithms.

    http://rangevoting.org/GerryExamples.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  6. Jeremy,

    That is a fair point, I admit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. MBunge says:

    @Mikey: “As opposed to now, when they ignore the two most populous states in the Union”

    Yes, it’s so sad that those states and the big money donors who live there are so completely ignored by the campaigns and politicians in general. I mean, look at our public policy. Those two states just have NO influence at all!

    The strongest current argument for the EC is that the single best and most effective incentive to get the GOP and conservatism to be less hatefully insane would be to find themselves locked out of the White House through the Electoral College.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  8. MM says:

    Republicans, including elected officials & GOP presidential candidates, spent the last 4 years saying Obama’s presidency was illegitimate. You know, cause he isn’t a Merkican

    And given the skewed polls/voter fraud arguments that many in the GOP have been making, it wouldn’t shock me to see ANY result other than a Romney win to be considered illegitimate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. Jeremy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    “Persuasive peace”? My my, Doug, are we talking politics or diplomacy here? ;)

    I agree, mostly. It’s never really going to happen unless we have a super major crisis before us. I do think, though, that if our country is going to continue into the 21st century as a major world player and a great place to live, we’re going to have to undergo massive structural reforms in order to have a responsive, responsible, free and open government. I don’t think the status quo is really sustainable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. MBunge says:

    @Jeremy: “One criticism of your plan that should be raised is gerrymandering.”

    Eliminating gerrymandering would do infinitely more good for our politics than getting rid of the EC.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. @Jeremy:

    Gah, typos!

    And, yes, I tend to agree with you. Unfortunately, our current political climate makes that unlikely

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. gVOR08 says:

    Given the fact that there was no major effort at reform after the 2000 election, I would suggest that the American people feel about the same about this.

    May just be another case of IOKIYAR. I can’t see the Tea Party, or any Republican, being very gracious if Barack Obama wins without a majority. And their devotion to the Constitution seems to be mostly to some imaginary constitution in their heads, not the real one with the EC in it.

    Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland in 1888 because of the latter’s overwhelming strength in the South, but won the presidency with a coalition of states in the Northeast and Midwest and along the Pacific coast.

    And the same thing could happen in two weeks. It is possible the EC will protect us against a Republican Party that has become largely a Southern rump, but voting for Romney by twenty and thirty point margins. (I haven’t compared the number of EC votes in similarly pro Obama states to the number in the Confederate and cowboy states.) So this cycle the EC is serving my selfish purposes. I’m going to go all Republican and say that makes it the cornerstone of democracy, a gift from God and the Founders, that must never be diminished. Check back with me in four years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. Geek, Esq. says:

    Dump it. It disenfranchises about 80% of the population.

    It also screws over cities, big time. When’s the last time any Presidential campaign featured a discussion of things relevant to urban voters instead of suburban and rural voter?

    In this campaign–none of the top 10 largest cities in the US see any kind of campaign activity or attention.

    1. NYC–solid blue state
    2. LA–solid blue state
    3. Chicago–solid blue state
    4. Houston–solid red state
    5. Philadelphia–solid blue state
    6. Phoenix–solid red state
    7. San Antonio–solid red state
    8 San Diego–solid blue state
    9. Dallas–solid red state
    10. San Jose–solid blue state

    Only three of the next ten–Jacksonville, Columbus, Charlotte–get any attention.

    The next ten? Only two–Denver and Milwaukee.

    So, 25/30 of our largest cities get zero attention in the Presidential race.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  14. Mikey says:

    @MBunge:

    The strongest current argument for the EC is that the single best and most effective incentive to get the GOP and conservatism to be less hatefully insane would be to find themselves locked out of the White House through the Electoral College.

    I respectfully submit that it hasn’t worked that way so far.

    You might also remember that it is generally Republicans who want to keep the EC because they think getting rid of it would lend too much influence to Democrats in places like Texas and the South. Do you think the GOP might act differently if they knew they could no longer take the entire Southeast United States for granted?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Comrades, c’mon!

    You labor under the fallacy that we are a democracy.

    We are a democratic republic. And a fairly weak one at that.

    * People are not required to vote.
    * Senators can overrule representative congressmen.
    * And, if all else fails, the electoral college can negate an entire election.

    Silly rabbits.

    Unless we are ready for a rewrite of the constitution and a few amendments, then this electoral college conversation that comes up every 4 years is moot;.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  16. with the modification that I would like to see the individual states adopt the District Method for allocation of electors

    This doesn’t solve the problem.

    If you want to retain the college, with its state-centric approach and over-representation of smaller states, you should at least advocate the proportional allocation of EVs based on the popular vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  17. @Steven L. Taylor:

    You’re kind of assuming I think there’s a problem. As I said in the post, I find the anti-EC arguments unpersuasive largely because the “problems” they point out don’t seem like a sufficient reason for radical Constitutional change. I think Bernstein makes the best point in that regard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  18. Doug,

    I note that neither of the pieces you note deal with the fact that EC doesn’t even work as intended:

    How Hamilton saw the Electoral College.

    Looking to the Design of the Electoral College.

    I have come to the point that I simply do not understand high sounding theoretical praise for an institution that doesn’t even do what it was supposed to do in the first place.

    All the electoral college does is over-focus attention on a handful of states and it over-represents small states. That’s it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  19. @Doug Mataconis: If you go the district route you are actually going to create a bunch of little zones that are solid red and blue. Then, instead of swing states, we would have swing districts.

    How is this an improvement?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  20. @Doug Mataconis: If you prefer the district method, that must mean you think that there is at least some problem, else why favor any change whatsoever?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  21. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Again, I think my point is very simple.

    The Electoral College is imperfect. A pure Popular Vote system would also be imperfect.

    I have seen no compelling reason to change the status quo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  22. Console says:

    Yes, let’s risk constitutional crises every presidential election because of vapid buzzwords like federalism

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    It seems rather clear that, without the Electoral College, citizens in less populous states would find themselves and their interests largely ignored as candidates worked to garner votes from high population areas like the East Coast, the West Coast, and the South.

    Well, in a sense, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t the 998,000,000 people who live in Montana be ignored relative to the 38 million people who live in California, or the 24 millon people who live in the NYC tri-state metro area? The high population areas are more important, bluntly speaking, and should have their interets tended to.

    We have the opposite situation now, actually — citizens in populous and dynamic states such as California, NY and Texas find themselves and their interests largely ignored as candidates work to garner votes from places like Iowa.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    When’s the last time any Presidential campaign featured a discussion of things relevant to urban voters instead of suburban and rural voter?

    When I see campaign commercials, I always notice lots of shots of fields of wheat, barns, and bales of hay. Not so many of crowded subways, kids playing stickball in the street, and office workers streaming downtown.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  25. @Doug Mataconis: I must confess, I am honestly perplexed that you support the college for a libertarian POV as it does not value the individual nor does it equally protect the rights of those individuals. It certainly contradicts that Rand quote you posts on FB this afternoon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  26. Console says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Ethanol for everyone!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  27. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Becaues rural voters and small town voters are real Americans.

    Big cities are full of people whose last names end in vowels, Jews, blacks etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  28. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    How is disenfranchising the vast majority of voters and rendering them spectators at their own national election not a compelling cause for reform?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  29. @Steven Taylor:

    We live in a political system that was designed to protect minorities from the oppression of majorities. The Electoral College is part of that system. That is one reason I support it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  30. @Steven L. Taylor:

    And, as I said, I think the burden is on the proponents of change. In that respect the arguments, in my opinion, come up very, very short.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  31. @Geek, Esq.:

    Because the idea that people are being “disenfranchised” is simply absurd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  32. @Doug Mataconis: specifically which minorities are being protected from which majority and how does that protection outweigh the fact that not all individual votes are equal?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  33. Console says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that we are one close vote in Ohio away from a complete meltdown should be reason enough.

    I’m sorry but the EC does nothing more than promote the interests of swing states. Swing states could be large or small. Claiming it does anything more then that is just abstract academic talk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  34. Steven,

    I think I covered that in the post.

    Once again, the burden is on the opponents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  35. @Doug Mataconis: I just reread the post and I would submit that you don’t cover that loin at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  36. Point, that is :). (On my phone)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I guess we’re in the world of Animal Farm, where some voters are more enfranchised than others.

    Undecided voters in California and Texas? Irrelevant.

    Undecided voters in New Hampshire and Colorado? Vitally important.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  38. Just Me says:

    If you want to retain the college, with its state-centric approach and over-representation of smaller states, you should at least advocate the proportional allocation of EVs based on the popular vote.

    I generally have been a fan of the district method, although proportional allocation would make some sense, and would perhaps lessen the issue of gerrymandering.

    It would be interesting to see models run with the current EC, popular vote, district allocation and proportional allocation methods run for the last several elections.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  39. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The EC is a bogus device because it allows tiny tails to wag big dogs and it devalues a person’s voting power. The popular vote is a bogus device because it’s gives far too much power to Zombieland and potentially could result in a national farce of a national recount. It also devalues the individual states and their respective demographic and economic realities. So it’s a definite quandry. A veritable Hobson’s choice.

    If someone gave me the plenary power to fix the current system I’d switch to a national popular vote, but I’d match the minimum voting ages to the Constitutional prerequisites for the various federal offices (25, 30 and 35, accordingly), and I also would provide for a shadow EC system as a backup, in the event of a < than 0.50% margin in the popular vote, under which recounts would be based upon EC votes and not the total vote; IOW, it's a national vote but if we get a 1960 or 2000 redux you don't recount the entire nation, you only recount the state(s) that could flip the outcome as far as electoral votes are concerned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  40. BTW, you are simply incorrect that the EC ever worked as designed. It became a fuction of partisan interests starting with the third election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  41. David M says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    I’d match the minimum voting ages to the Constitutional prerequisites for the various federal offices (25, 30 and 35, accordingly)

    Those older people aren’t going to be around as long as younger ones, how about do the opposite and set a maximum voting age of 40.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  42. Console says:

    What kills me is that the system is pretty much destined to implode on itself. The EC dramatically increases the chances of a disputed election… but there isn’t any consistent way to resolve the dispute. You just hope one of the candidates can gracefully bow out.

    Hell, how do you even type this sentence without alarm bells going off:

    “Who is the final arbiter in those situations? Under our current system, it’s the states Bush v. Gore notwithstanding.

    Recipe for disaster. There is no final arbiter. There is no consistency. The only thing guaranteed is that swing states are going to have close elections, and large swing states are going to tip elections. If Texas ever becomes a swing state… dear god.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    the 998,000,000 people who live in Montana

    When did that happen?! That’s a whole lot of dental floss tycoons…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  44. Kylopod says:

    Doug,

    You claim to have reviewed the arguments against the EC, but you never mention the writings of Hendrik Hertzberg, one of the most vocal opponents of the EC and advocate of a National Popular Vote system among mainstream pundits. I suggest you start reading up on what he has to say before dismissing this view out of hand. One point he makes is that the biggest problem with the EC is not the possibility of an electoral/popular split–though that is a problem–but the fact that presidential elections are decided by a small slice of states, which not only effectively disenfranchises most of the country but leads the candidates to ignore most of the states during their campaigns. That’s something that happens in every election and is a much more salient consequence of the EC than relatively rare situations like what happened in 2000.

    Also, the effect of gerrymandering on a district-based system of awarding electors is no mere theoretical possibility. As Nate Silver noted recently, the Nebraska legislature has redrawn its map to prevent a repeat of the “debacle” in which Obama managed to win one of the state’s electoral votes. If all the states operated like Nebraska and Maine, you’d see this kind of thing on a grand scale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  45. Mikey says:

    @Console:

    The EC dramatically increases the chances of a disputed election… but there isn’t any consistent way to resolve the dispute.

    Indeed. If it worked as intended (which, as Dr. Taylor points out, it never has), the electors themselves would throw the process into the House of Representatives.

    But it doesn’t work as intended, so we end up with Bush v. Gore and all that (and the possibility of a repeat in every election).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. J says:

    Doug just stop. Please stop. Steven is eating you for lunch right now. Each response you post only shows that you have no intention of listening to anything contrary to your position. And regarding your comments about keeping the status quo. Slaveowners during the confederacy thought we should keep the status quo and continue slavery. The Nazis wanted to keep the status quo and continue burning Jews. So basically you are only okay with the status quo currently because you are not negatively affected by it. How American of you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  47. EMRVentures says:

    Anyone advocating a congressional district allocation should recognize that all tha does is more surgically disenfranchises urban voters. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but lost narrowly in the EC. Fine, under the rules everyone knew and played by, a just outcome. It’s my opinion that if both candidates had been playing for popular vote from the outset, Bush would have won easily as he was less known and had an opportunity to do soft introductions in blue states that was not available to Gore after eight years as VP. Stil, under a congressional allocation system, Bush would have won handily in 2000, and current election would also be over at this point, in favor of Romney. He’s going to win probably 58 percent of the congressional districts in the country. That you can bank on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  48. J,

    None of you have made a compelling argument for eliminating the Electoral College. The burden is on you. And you lose.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 20

  49. @Doug Mataconis:

    None of you have made a compelling argument for eliminating the Electoral College. The burden is on you. And you lose.

    Now look, you can state that you are not convinced, but you can’t both refuse to address arguments AND unilaterally declare yourself the winner of he argument.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 2

  50. Console says:

    @EMRVentures:

    The problem isn’t that the electoral college and popular vote differed (although that does bring problems of its own) the problem with the 2000 election is that it was essentially decided by a supreme court decision. Not a recount, not the state of florida… the supreme court. Why? Because the constitution wasn’t equipped to deal with such a circumstance happening. A system that never envisioned people voting for president… has no real applications for resolving disputed elections.

    The ideal is that the states resolve this stuff… the reality is that if a state is having close elections, then the state government probably isn’t exactly monolithic and isn’t magically going to work together to pick electors by December

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  51. wr says:

    @Steven Taylor: “Now look, you can state that you are not convinced, but you can’t both refuse to address arguments AND unilaterally declare yourself the winner of he argument. ”

    That’s funny, I thought you already knew Doug…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  52. @Steven Taylor:

    What I am saying is that the people advocating radical change have not the burden of proof and that, in my opinion, their argument is unconvincing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  53. Let's Be Free says:

    I am one of the million people who live in Montana and I support this message, not only on behalf of our human poplulaton, but also in support of the 2.5 million cattle, the legions of deer, elk and antelope and more than a few bison and moose who populate the Treasure State as well.

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  54. @Doug Mataconis: Yes, but that is different that actually refuting the arguments.

    I would beg to differ, by the way, that this is a “radical” change. Going to a parliamentary system would be a radical change. Electing presidents the way that every other presidential system does is not radical (especially since it is the same way we elect every other kind of executive in the United States).

    I still say that you do have some obligation to at least explain why you refuse to address the individual liberty problem inherent in the EC. To just say that you are unpersuaded doesn’t mean that your argument is superior, it just means you are unwilling ti defend your position.

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  55. And by the way, just for the sake of information, in recent decades (especially in former Eastern Block countries, but not exlusively) there are a number of semi-presidential systems (like France) that have popularly elected presidents that are not ceremonial (the ceremonial ones are only the ones in parliamentary systems that lack monarchs),

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  56. @Steven L. Taylor:

    And my post was not intended to refute the arguments, largely because I don’t necessarily accept the premises of the anti-EC arguments. My point is that the burden in this argument is on those advocating change and, again in my opinion, that argument is unpersuasive.

    I view the burden differently. I see it as being on someone to convince me why something that has been part of the Constitution for 225 years should be abandoned. So far, I’ve heard nothing convincing.

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  57. (in fact, semi-presidential systems are the most numerous type–slightly outpacing parliamentary systems. I posted a graph here once. I will see if I can find it).

    Of course, all those systems uses that everso radical popular vote (usually a two-round system that require as an absolute majority).

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  58. michael reynolds says:

    So there’s a big foreign policy debate in which Mitt Romney reverses his positions on, among other things, the actual war we’re fighting.

    And what does OTB – the blog owned by foreign policy expert James Joyner — give us? Electoral college, sequestration and free tuition.

    Now why do you suppose that is?

    I have a theory. James can’t criticize Romney’s FP idiocy because there might be a job at stake. So a sudden silence descends on OTB on foreign policy and Mr. Romney.

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  59. @michael reynolds:

    Perhaps you missed this

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  60. @Doug Mataconis: Yes, but as intellectual exercise this is equivalent of saying ‘nyah nyah nyah.”

    If you truly think it is not worthy of discussion, why discuss it (i,e., why write a post on it, if it is beneath intellectual discussion)?

    You are taking a position but are unwilling to defend it save by saying “I am right, you are wrong.” You have every right to take that position. I could take the same position, but then again I am trying to engage in discourse on the subject.

    The bottom line is this (and read this, please, as being delivered in a dispassionate tone): you are factually wrong on the history of the EC (as I have noted in a recent post) and you likewise incorrect on its effects (one example: that is leads to the small states being taken seriously). I have recently written posts on this recently. You can certainly just dismiss all of this out of hand, but then I, and the readers, have no reason to take you seriously on the subject, yes? I mean, one what basis should I, because you say so?

    It has alwasy struck me that if one aspires to be a public intellectual, one has to be willing to defend one’s positions if the arguments being proffered against them are reasonable. I am not saying that cows should vote or that the Bush family ought to be made into a hereditary monarchy–those would be positions worthy of dismissal out of hand. Instead, I am noting several key issues:

    1. The individual liberty issue.
    2. The fact that the institution does not function as intended.
    3. The fact that system ends up favoring only a handful of swing states and does not even elevate small states in some sort of protection for minority rights.

    There are others, but those are the ones I have raised here. I remain sincerely perplexed by your lack of an answer for #1.

    If you really think that that appropriate answer to all of this is dismissal, I will leave it at that.

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  61. David M says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I see it as being on someone to convince me why something that has been part of the Constitution for 225 years should be abandoned. So far, I’ve heard nothing convincing.

    I’m not sure doing something for a long time necessarily means it shouldn’t be changed. I find it unlikely that the rules for elections from 225 years ago wouldn’t need updating.

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  62. @michael reynolds:

    And what does OTB – the blog owned by foreign policy expert James Joyner — give us? Electoral college, sequestration and free tuition.

    Now why do you suppose that is?

    I have a theory. James can’t criticize Romney’s FP idiocy because there might be a job at stake. So a sudden silence descends on OTB on foreign policy and Mr. Romney.

    In fairness, James has blogged less and less on this site since he took his most recent job simply due to time constraints (the same reason I go silent or near-silent for days). And, of course, recent events have made his blogging time even less of late.

    You get the EC stuff because that falls far more into my area of expertise and I find the tuition thing to be of philosophical interest. I am sincerely interested in the ideological perspectives of the parties and their partisans.

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  63. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Perhaps you missed the fact that James said nothing about the amazing policy reversals. He dodged it my talking about who won and who had what demeanor and then dismissed the whole matter as irrelevant. This from an actual, real, live FP wonk?

    Yeah. Not buying. You’re burying the policy issues because there’s no way James can talk about them in any positive way and hold onto a shred of self-respect. And there’s no way he can attack a man who now may actually win and spread his minions all through the DC foreign policy establishment.

    It’s okay. I get it. I tend to pull my punches when it comes to Rupert Murdoch — for whom I work indirectly. And I’m measured in what I have to say about Amazon, too. But it doesn’t go unnoticed.

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  64. Console says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that very recently we had to go outside of the constitution to resolve an EC dispute isn’t reason enough??

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  65. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If Mr. Romney wins in two weeks it’s the equivalent of a corporate takeover of the Republican FP establishment n DC. No?

    As I admit above, I take it easy on the people who pay me, too. So I confess my hypocrisy. But at least I do confess.

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  66. @michael reynolds: We now range into an area about which I can only speculate. IMHO, I do not think that this is an issue, however.

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  67. @michael reynolds:

    I think that unsubstantiated attacks on the personal integrity of someone who hasn’t even participated in this comment thread comes close to being a Comment Policy issue.

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  68. Drew says:

    Is the apportionment of electoral college nominees equal to the apportionment of Congressional representatives?

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  69. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Calling that an attack is absurd.

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  70. @Drew: Every state is allocated electors equal to the number of house and senate seats that they have. This does create an imbalance in favor of small states. The most egregious is Wyoming, which does not have a sufficient population to equal a regular house seat in a state with multiple seats.

    It is worth noting, for those who are concerned with such things, that the disparity between CA and Wyoming is far greater as a ratio than was the case between VA and RI back at the framing of the Constitution.

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  71. Drew says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Thanks, Steven.

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  72. @Drew: No prob. I forgot to add that DC gets the same amount of electors as the whatever the smallest state gets, which is currently (and likely always will be) three.

    Hence, there are 538 total electoral votes, 435 because of the House, 100 because of the Senate, and 3 for DC. One has to win an absolute majority (which is currently 270 and will remain such unless we add states or expand the size of the House, which is set by law) to become president. If no candidate received an absolute majority of the EVs, the House of Representatives decides, with each state delegation getting one vote, and to become president one would have to get an absolute majority (i.e., 26) of those votes.

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  73. Andre Kenji says:

    1-) Implementing the popular vote would require the creation of a *Federal* Election Law and the creation of a Federal Bureaucracy to organize elections. If states still have the power to organize elections you would have the problem of blue states giving the right of vote to all kinds of felons while Red States would do the opposite. We also could have an extreme scenario, like suspiciously high numbers of people voting in states dominated by a single party.

    The point is, it´s not so easy. There is also the problem of state initiatives and local elections. The proportional allocation of delegates is the best solution in part because of that. The big reason that the EC exists is precisely because states used to decide who could vote(There was also the issue of slaves). And yes, that´s a radical change.

    2-) There is just only one country other than the United States that is as large as the United States is, and that has a very large population, Brazil. Since 1989, when Direct elections where established, there were just two candidates that went to the Presidential Runoff that did not come from São Paulo(And one of them, Dilma Rousseff, was only elected because she was the chosen successor of a politician that made his career here). And Presidential Candidates spend a lot, really a lot of time in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro(Frankly, even us, that lives in the suburbs of São Paulo, do not see any campaigning)

    OK, Brazil and United States are different countries, but there is no other country in the world that comes close in this aspect. I don´t know what would happen if the United States comes to adopt the Popular Vote(No one knows), but there is a good chance that candidates would spend almost all their time in just three or four mega-metropolitan areas. And that we would only see candidates from the NYC area, with some candidates from Texas. There is also the issue of playing for the base. Churches is the best way to increase the turnout, and the Evangelicals and people like Al Sharpton would be even more powerful inside the Democratic and Republican Parties.

    3-) A bigger problem is the size of Congressional Districts. By the way, many of problems of the Electoral College are due to the size of the Congressional Districts.

    4-) On the other hand, yes, there is not easy solution for this.

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  74. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    Yes, I seem to have added a few too many zeroes….

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  75. Rafer Janders says:

    @Steven Taylor:

    Now look, you can state that you are not convinced, but you can’t both refuse to address arguments AND unilaterally declare yourself the winner of he argument.

    I’m sorry, are you familiar with Doug Mataconis….?

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  76. @Andre Kenji: I am going to note that I think you have an overly Latin American viewpoint on the big city issue (something that recent comments have highlighted). By this I mean the fact that Latin American countries tend to have one or two major metropolitan areas, usually one of which is the capital (granted, this is not the case in Brazil). Argentina is the quintessential example, but the model holds for a variety of countries in the region.

    In the US there are a number of major, and significant metropolitan areas. In Texas alone there are three (or four, depending on how you want to count): Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio-Austin (which are really separate). In terms of “power cities/metro areas” outside of Texas there is Los Angeles and San Francisco in California (not to mention Organe County and San Diego). Also across the country: Chicago, New York, Miami, DC/northern Virgina/Baltimore, as well as Atlanta. The power (political and economic) is far more spread out than is the case in Brazil, so the comparison really doesn’t work (and I would note that is usually one of your main arguments).

    Further, the electoral college is not responsible for, say, the fact that the Governor of Arkansas (Bill Clinton) become president–and there is no reason to argue that a national popular vote wold change that dynamic.

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  77. @Andre Kenji:

    3-) A bigger problem is the size of Congressional Districts. By the way, many of problems of the Electoral College are due to the size of the Congressional Districts.

    Actually, those are unrelated.

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  78. (now, granted, if we had more seats in congress, that would help some as it would create more equity between CA and WY)

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  79. Jeremy says:

    @Geek, Esq.: I was going to say it screws over rural areas more. In New York, for example, it always goes blue thanks to the Big (Marxist) Apple, but the rest of the state is fairly conservative and Republican red. Yet voters in Upstate never seem to get their votes for Republicans counted in the end, because there are simply less of them. So I see the opposite; I see urban areas paid attention to, and rural areas ignored. Not sure I like that very much (I can see divisive problems erupting from that) which is why I go for the District Method Doug espouses rather than the National Popular Vote method which everyone else does.

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  80. Moosebreath says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    Trust me, as a resident of Philly’s suburbs, it has seen lots of activity in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 campaigns. Just not this time.

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  81. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Brazil is not Argentina. All the Spanish colonies in South Amerca became a dozen of countries, all the Portuguese Colonies in South America became just one country. There are some large Metropolitan Areas all over the country (Manaus, for instance, a city located in the middle of the Amazon jungle that can be only reached by plane or boat, is larger than Las Vegas or San Diego. Bigger than any Metropolitan Area of Ohio).

    By the way, the biggest difference is that there is nothing close to the Northeast Corridor in Brazil. You can still find Indians inside the city of São Paulo, by the way. We don´t know what would happen if there was popular vote in 1992, but it´s safe to say that anyone coming from the Northeast Corridor would have big advantages over someone from the Deep South.

    There is also the issue of the influence of the Evangelicals inside the Republican Party. But, as I said, the point is that there is no easy answer to that.

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  82. @Andre Kenji: Granted-and I did not mean to suggest such,. But you have to admit that the urban development in Brazil is more akin to the general South American pattern than it is to the US pattern.

    And while Manaus is quite large, the isolation you note makes it rather different than the metro areas I noted.

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  83. Jeremy says:

    I hear some folks talking about size of districts. Interestingly, William Watkins of the Independent Institute just wrote a piece arguing we should create many more Congressional districts, and thus reduce their size from around 700,000 constituents per district to maybe around…well, he doesn’t actually give a number, though the comparisons at the end of the article invite speculation as to what the optimal number for the US would be.

    http://independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=3466

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  84. @Andre Kenji:

    We don´t know what would happen if there was popular vote in 1992, but it´s safe to say that anyone coming from the Northeast Corridor would have big advantages over someone from the Deep South.

    Not really, because regardless of population centers, the GOP currently has deep and broad support in the South, something that is not the function of the EC, but of other factors. Further, there are not enough voters in the Northeast to elect the president by itself (not to mention that no region is unanimously affiliated with one party). Further, population flows have been south and west for the last three decades.

    Three of the four largest states are not even in the northeast.

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  85. @Jeremy: We definitely should have a larger House. The current number was set back when we had a fraction of the current population.

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  86. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jeremy:

    Yet voters in Upstate never seem to get their votes for Republicans counted in the end, because there are simply less of them.

    You mean that in a democracy, the side which has less votes loses and the side which has more votes wins? The horror!

    I mean, christ sake, yes, the fact that there are simply less of them is why they lose. That’s the whole point. Would you want the side with less votes to win?

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  87. @Andre Kenji: I also think that regional support is often not what it is cracked up to be. Al Gore did not carry his home state of Tennessee and Mitt Romney will not carry the state he was governor of nor will he carry the state of his birth.

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  88. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: More or less. It´s true that the Political Division of São Paulo includes very large rural areas in the North and in the South of the city, but both cities have similar population density. The difference is that there is nothing like the Northeast Corridor in Brazil, and that makes the problem of Regional Disparity bigger, not smaller.

    I used Manaus as an example. There are 21 other cities that I could have used.

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  89. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Three of the four largest states are not even in the northeast.

    But all these four states have large areas where no one lives, there is no such thing in the Northeast Corridor. A candidate could go to campaign rallies in four of the ten largest metropolitan areas of United States, in the same day, by the way. ;-)

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  90. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I also think that regional support is often not what it is cracked up to be.

    Yes, but name recognition still matters. If you are the governor of a State that has more than 10% of the population you have a huge advantage on that. But, again, as I said the point is that the issue is more complicated. The EC as it exists today is horrible, but the point of Regional disparities is not trivial.

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  91. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Not really, because regardless of population centers, the GOP currently has deep and broad support in the South

    But most Southern governors does not have big name recognition inside the South.. The governor of NY has.

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  92. Robert Levine says:

    The argument that it doesn’t matter that the EC and popular vote produce different winners because it happens rarely is hardly one from principle. I think most of us would agree that such divergence would be highly problematic if it were to happen regularly. But why? It’s because we all intuitively recognize that elected officials should be those that get the most votes. There’s no principled basis for saying that elections should be effectively decided by the popular vote most of the time (which is currently the case, as the popular vote almost always lines up with the EC result) but not all the time.

    For no other elected office in the US would we accept such a system. It seems likely to me that “one person, one vote” would make such a system unconstitutional for any office other than President.

    One more thing. If Obama loses the popular vote but wins the EC, Republicans will do whatever it takes to intimidate the EC into voting for Romney. There were, as I recall, plans to put pressure on Electors should Bush have won the popular vote but lost the EC (which was considered a more plausible outcome than what actually happened). What would happen this year would make the post-election period in 2000 look like a bucolic outing. I suspect it would be the next thing to a second civil war.

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  93. bill says:

    maybe when the masses vote 75% one way and the EC goes the other way will we ever hear a good argument to dump it. as in any contest, the rules are what guides the competitors- like it or not.

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  94. Console says:

    @bill:

    In 1860, 60 percent of the electorate voted for someone else…

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  95. Console says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    The last 5 presidents of the US are from: Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Texas, California. All of those states but one are in the top 5 in population. New York ties for most presidents produced.

    There are logical reasons for why the electoral college should reduce this phenomenon. But it doesn’t really. The simple fact remains that politicians benefit from being in large state with a large powerful political party apparatus that has lots of money and influence. So large states still produce the most presidents.

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  96. anjin-san says:

    Now look, you can state that you are not convinced, but you can’t both refuse to address arguments AND unilaterally declare yourself the winner of he argument.

    Sure you can. Doug does it all the time.

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  97. Fred says:

    If one really wants to shake things up and get more people involved and seeking broader consensus on issues, states should eliminate Congressional districts and elect all their Congresscritters at large. There would be no ‘safe’ districts, and there would be no need for primaries.

    As another twist that might promote bringing folks together, candidates ought to be able to donate some of their votes to others at a 50 percent discount. In other words, Bubba could donate 1000 votes to Mabel’s election, lifting Mabel’s total by 500 votes.

    This would promote candidates, and voters to tend towards working together to solve issues instead of taking each other down with continuous negative campaigns and personal attacks. It would also allows for dynamic coalitions to form and dissolve across all sorts of lines that are currently not part of the political landscape. If someone wants to represent green causes, or rural, or suburbia, or blacks, they’d all be able to make their case in a fair and even fashion, without the limits of fixed politically drawn lines.

    It’s time to face facts that Gerrymandering, not the electoral college, is at the heart of many of our nation’s political woes.

    There is nothing in the Constitution that requires a State to break it’s Congressional representation into districts instead of being elected at large with additional provisions to help promote political consensus and voter awareness on many issues. Gerrymandered party politics has divided and conquered and split our nation apart. It’s time to consider bringing things back together so the nation can return to moving forward together.

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  98. anjin-san says:

    @ Mikey

    Can you get Jan to do something about that nasty poodle?

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  99. @Fred:

    It’s time to face facts that Gerrymandering, not the electoral college, is at the heart of many of our nation’s political woes.

    I agree with this. However, you can see how much resistance there is to a simple idea (calling it “radical” is, quite frankly, ridiculous) as electing the president via the popular vote. As such, changing the way we elect congress would be treated like an alien invasion.

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  100. @Console:

    New York ties for most presidents produced.

    Of course, it has been a rather long while since he had a president from NY. As the country has grown and expanded, the sources of the candidates and the winners have as well.

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  101. @Andre Kenji:

    But most Southern governors does not have big name recognition inside the South.. The governor of NY has.

    Yes, but the last president who had served as Governor of NY was FDR. And while Gov Cuomo (the father) was talked about as a presidential candidate (as the son will be), there hasn’t been a nominee from either party, IIRC, from NY in going on a century.

    Since FDR our presidents have come from:

    Missouri (Truman)
    Born in Texas/Raised in Missouri (Eisenhower)
    Massachusetts (Kennedy)
    Texas (Johnson)
    Nixon (California)
    Ford (Minnesota)
    Carter (Georgia)
    Reagan (California)
    Bush (Born in Mass, lived in Texas, DC, Maine, etc)
    Clinton (Arkansas)
    Bush (Born in Connecticut, but clearly identified with Texas–moreso than his father)
    Obama (Hawaii/Illinois)

    No Northeast corridor candidate in the bunch. Really, there really isn’t much of pattern (and the N is small). CA and TX have done well. None of this has much of anything to do with the electoral college, however.

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  102. @Andre Kenji:

    Yes, but name recognition still matters. If you are the governor of a State that has more than 10% of the population you have a huge advantage on that.

    One more point on this: while name recognition is nice, and size of state can matter. If (and it is a big if) people are going to know the name of a governor of a state not their own, it is probably going to be that of CA, TX or NY (although they are more likely to know the name of the mayor of NYC than the gov of NY).

    Still, that only goes so far (ask Rick Perry) and often obscurity isn’t an issue (ask Sarah Palin).

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  103. @Andre Kenji:

    But all these four states have large areas where no one lives, there is no such thing in the Northeast Corridor. A candidate could go to campaign rallies in four of the ten largest metropolitan areas of United States, in the same day, by the way. ;-)

    True–there are a lot of empty spaces in Texas. But there are still a lot of voters. You could, with a private plane, hit the #4 and #5 metro areas in day (Dallas and Houston) or #2 and #11 (LA and Bay Area in CA).

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  104. Mikey says:

    @anjin-san: Not until I figure out where she hid those zircon-encrusted tweezers.

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  105. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Ford (Minnesota)

    Ford was from Michigan, actually.

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  106. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have come to the point that I simply do not understand high sounding theoretical praise for an institution that doesn’t even do what it was supposed to do in the first place.

    Dr. Taylor, that statement accurately describes the entire federal government.

    The Supreme Court doesn’t work the way it was originally intended. Federal elections are not the way they were originally intended. The Senate and House of Representatives do not represent who they were originally intended to represent. The President of the United States was never intended to have this much power.

    The pre-14th amendment constitution was, for the most part, not intended to restrict the states.

    I would call it “Emergent Genius*”. No, this is not what the framers set out to create; by itself, however, that doesn’t make our constitution any less Genius.

    * See Emergent Design

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  107. @John D’Geek:

    Dr. Taylor, that statement accurately describes the entire federal government.

    Yes and no. The Congress legislates and the Courts adjudicates, but the EC does not function at all as intended.

    Of course, the fact that things no longer work exactly as intended means that perhaps we should abandon simplistic original intent arguments and attempt to make the government function for 21st century needs.

    The pre-14th amendment constitution was, for the most part, not intended to restrict the states.

    True. But the 14th Amendment is now part of the constitution.

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  108. Andre Kenji says:

    @Fred:

    If one really wants to shake things up and get more people involved and seeking broader consensus on issues, states should eliminate Congressional districts and elect all their Congresscritters at large. There would be no ‘safe’ districts, and there would be no need for primaries.

    It does not work at this way. Most Representatives would be elected with a minority of the votes, Rural and poorer areas would be underrepresented, anyone with name recognition(A celebrity) would have advantage and there would be people trying to elect a local representative(Regardless of their merits, so, even if the guy is a crook people would vote for him, just to have a local representation).

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  109. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    No Northeast corridor candidate in the bunch. Really, there really isn’t much of pattern (and the N is small). CA and TX have done well. None of this has much of anything to do with the electoral college, however.

    I think that under Popular Vote that would be a little different. But, frankly, it´s hard to predict. The GOP, for instance, would have an incentive both to seek support of large Evangelical Churches and to choose a good candidate from a large metropolitan area. So, it´s hard to predict.

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  110. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Of course, the fact that things no longer work exactly as intended means that perhaps we should abandon simplistic original intent arguments and attempt to make the government function for 21st century needs.

    While I concur with this, I am not in favor of abandoning the original principles that drove the process in the first place. The fear of Democratic Despotism was quite real — and based on a very real government. My experiences in Modern America drive home that this fear is quite real; we have the framework of a Democratic Despotism in the good ole’ US of A right now, just waiting to be filled out. But, to your three key points:

    1. The individual liberty issue.
    2. The fact that the institution does not function as intended.
    3. The fact that system ends up favoring only a handful of swing states and does not even elevate small states in some sort of protection for minority rights.

    “1.” Is a values issue — it presumes that a “pure” democracy is the right thing, which I do not agree with. As has been pointed out elsewhere — by yourself as well, if I recall — people tend to congregate in blocks. Red blocks; Blue blocks; Pink-with-Purple-Polka-Dots blocks. As a Political Science professor, you probably know more about the lessons of the French Revolution than I do. How would you overcome the “vote the opposition to death” problem?

    You know both parties would be willing to do that if they thought they could get away with it. But I digress.

    In other words, how does one define an “equal” vote? Should it be equal in influence? If so, why? Doesn’t that just disenfranchise the political minorities? Doesn’t Pure Popular Vote place us one step closer to a Democratic Despotism? What protections do I, as a permanent minority in our current system, get from the abuses of Government?

    Etc.

    “2.” — I don’t care. The question is not if it functions as intended, but rather “what is the net effect of the institution?” The net effect is to, in theory at least, promote Federalism. I realize that there are plenty of people (primarily Liberals) that want to eliminate Federalism, but I’m not one of them. The Popular Vote effectively eliminates Federalism in a way that only the (current) Unlimited Taxation power of the Federal Government can out do.

    “3.” Let’s face it, Presidential candidates don’t focus on the Swing States — they focus on the Swing Voters within close states. I know it sounds like I’m picking nits, but it’s an important distinction IMHO.

    I’m from PA, but President Obama is not campaigning to me — he’s campaigning to others. A select few others. His campaign could care less about me, so my needs (political or otherwise) are not going to factor into his campaign. As a PA native, I have exactly Zero influence on the Obama Campaign.

    “Blue-Dog Democrats”, on the other hand, will have a tremendous influence. “It’s the Economy Stupid!” and “Stay out of my Business*!” will be the the two things from PA’s middle that influence his campaign (for better or worse).

    All that would change with a Popular vote is that the Candidates’ focus on the undecided would become even more blatant.

    Fact is, like minded people congregate in the modern Era** — that’s what’s causing the lack of political interest in a given state. Previous eras in American history were less mobile, so they had to deal with each other. Now if we don’t like the neighbors, we just move.

    The Wyoming “problem” is an example of something that I, frankly, like: Wyoming can’t be bullied about just because it’s small. In PA, thanks to the US Supreme Court, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton-Wilkes Barre run the state. The rest of us have almost zero influence in state government. And, of course, their interest are nothing like the interests of Rural Pa.

    Hardly feels fair from this end of the equation.

    * While it’s true that PA has more than its “fair share” of welfare recipients, it’s also true in my experience that us PA Rednecks are a very independent breed. Given the choice between a welfare check and keeping Uncle Sam out of “my business”, they’d choose the latter every time.
    ** I’ll have to see if I can find this one. I think the reference comes from something Justin Wolfers sent out, but I could be misremembering that.

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  111. Wayne says:

    I seem to recall when it was a Democrat that look like they may win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote, that many of you were willing to scrap the Electoral College model and go with strictly a popular vote. Some were very passionate about it.

    I maintain my position. I don’t agree with going strictly by a popular vote. However, I’m open to change. One electoral vote per congressional district and the winner of the state getting the two additional electoral votes seems fair to me. Not perfect especially due to the gerrymandering but better than what we have now or going to a popular vote.

    IMO the gerrymandering gig needs to be address also.

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  112. Console says:

    @John D’Geek:

    I think you understate the implications of point number 2.

    The electoral college not working as intended gives rise to electoral college disputes. But there is no constitutional way to settle electoral college disputes. In 1876 we get shady backroom political dealing to settle the election (it’s the one election where the electoral college did not elect the president). And in 2000 you get the supreme court deciding which electors Florida would send.

    I don’t see the point in risking a crisis to protect a system that exists by accident.

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  113. rudderpedals says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    [T]he 14th Amendment is now part of the constitution.

    Point bears repeating in every thread accompanying an article touting the originalists’ states rights fetish.

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  114. David M says:

    @Wayne:

    One electoral vote per congressional district and the winner of the state getting the two additional electoral votes seems fair to me. Not perfect especially due to the gerrymandering but better than what we have now or going to a popular vote.

    IMO the gerrymandering gig needs to be address also.

    Not much of an improvement over what we have now, especially as the gerrymandering issue will prove very tough to solve.

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  115. DRE says:

    My biggest problem with the Electoral College is how it deals with ties, either in terms of electoral votes or a statistical tie in an individual state.

    Doug said (regarding popular vote election):

    Potentially, it would have a significant impact on the relationship between the Federal Government and the states regarding the question of who exactly is the final authority when it comes to deciding the outcome of an election.

    The problem is that this question was resolved in favor of the 9 members of the Supreme Court in 2000, when they prevented Florida from deciding who won the election in Florida. This was a situation in which the actual vote choices in Florida could not really be determined with enough precision to say who the true winner was. If Florida’s electoral votes had been split, Gore would have won. If Florida had been allowed to decide who won, there is no telling what the outcome would have been.

    An electoral vote tie would be even worse, since the tie-breaker is votes cast by each state’s congressional delegation with 1 vote for each state. This means that the small states with a tiny minority of the population would be able to pick the winner, even if there is a clear popular vote winner to go with the electoral vote tie.

    The two tie scenarios provide the compelling reason for a significant reform of the Electoral College system.

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  116. John D'Geek says:

    Alright, it’s obvious no one actually read Bush v. Gore. There were two questions decided by the US Supreme court in that case, both of them Federal issues:
    1) Does the State of Florida have the right to do “partial recounts”? Vote: 9-0 “No”. It disenfranchises voters, based on the whims of the candidates.
    2) Based on what is on the record, does the State of Florida believe it has the time to do a proper recount? Vote: 5-4. 5: “No”. 4: “Probably not, but we should send it back down anyway”.

    Hardly as problematic as you were lead to believe.

    On to the others: First, I am aware that the 14th amendment is part of the constitution. My point was on “originality”, not the value of the 14th amendment. For the record, I’m very much in favor of it — and very much against the current republican plan to redefine it.

    @Console: While that may be an issue with the Electoral College, it’s not because of it not working the way the framers intended. If that was the case, reductio ad absurdum, we’d have to get rid of the entire government. Because none of it works the way the framers originally intended.

    It is an issue prevalent in “Emergent Design”. And I’m not that worried about that particular issue. The issues in Bush v. Gore won’t come up again — every state is now aware that partial recounts, “so that one candidate can rig the vote” is unconstitutional and will not be tolerated. And they can decide for themselves if they have enough time for a proper recount.

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  117. DRE says:

    @John D’Geek: Alright, it’s obvious no one actually read Bush v. Gore. There were two questions decided by the US Supreme court in that case, both of them Federal issues:
    1) Does the State of Florida have the right to do “partial recounts”? Vote: 9-0 “No”. It disenfranchises voters, based on the whims of the candidates.
    2) Based on what is on the record, does the State of Florida believe it has the time to do a proper recount? Vote: 5-4. 5: “No”. 4: “Probably not, but we should send it back down anyway”.

    Believe me I read it. There is a reason it was unsigned, and with disclaimers about its applicability to any other case. They said that Equal Protection Clause meant that Florida Courts did not have discretion to apply different standards to recounts, even though it did not prevent Florida from holding elections with different methods and standards for counting votes in the first place. And it decided to stop Florida from making any attempt to apply Florida law in a consistent manner. But the point I was making was that it was a clear statement that the state does not have the final say in determining who won the state election, so Federalism is truncated at best. That part of the decision I agree with, by the way.

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  118. Wayne says:

    @David
    Not much of an improvement is still an improvement. What is your suggestion?

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  119. Console says:

    @John D’Geek:

    You don’t see the problem with having elections decided on who we “think” won because there is no time for recount (because the designers of the electoral college never envisioned people voting for president in the first place)?

    Bush v. Gore is the perfect example because the only answer that preserves this beloved “federalism” idea is to send it back to Florida. The problem with that is that no one knows what the hell would happen if it went back to Florida (they could always have split electors or they could have missed their deadline etc.). So instead you get a Supreme court ruling that forces a winner on Florida.

    So we resolve the issue by hoping that states which probably have split governments (welcome to swing states…) will be able to amicably settle what electors to send… Ha. Even though the prevailing belief in Bush V. Gore seemed to be that the process would have been screwed if Florida had to decide it’s own winner. I brought up 1876 for a reason.

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  120. David M says:

    @Wayne:

    Either no electoral votes (popular vote) or significantly increase the number of electoral votes. And adjust the number of electoral votes to an odd number so ties are less likely and make it so that small states are under-represented rather than large states.

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  121. Rafer Janders says:

    @John D’Geek:

    The Wyoming “problem” is an example of something that I, frankly, like: Wyoming can’t be bullied about just because it’s small.

    Wyoming should be “bullied” just because it’s small –there’s only about 500,000 people who live in Wyoming. Why should those 500,000 people get two US Senators, while my state, with 20 million people, also only gets two? Hell, my neighborhood has more people in it than live in Wyoming — if anyone is getting bullied, it’s us, since we get disproportionately less political power per person than Wyomingians get.

    In PA, thanks to the US Supreme Court, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton-Wilkes Barre run the state. The rest of us have almost zero influence in state government. And, of course, their interest are nothing like the interests of Rural Pa.

    Of course they should run the state. About 75% of Pennsylvania’s population lives in urban areas, versus only 25% in rural areas. Why, in a democracy, shouldn’t 75% of Pennsylvanians have more political power than 25% of Pennsylvanians?

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  122. Wayne says:

    People in any state shouldn’t bully people in any other states. The same goes with any local government. That is why our constitution was a piece of genius. It had a separation of power. It tried to limit intrusion on individual rights by keeping power in the hands of the lowest denominator. The Federal powers were design to protect basic individual rights with just enough power to vacillate interaction between states plus and common defense structure. It was not design to make the whole country homogeneous. A person in one state should not have any right to tell someone from another state how to live unless it has a direct impact on him or her. Thinking, “I think people should live this way” does not constitute a direct impact either.

    Sound like some think bullying and peer pressures are the right thing to do as long as it is them who are doing it.

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  123. John D'Geek says:

    @DRE: +1 for a reasoned response. Federalism has to be truncated somewhat or we go back to the whole Confederation of States fiasco. Haven’t had time to look up 1876 (I’m still at work).

    @Rafer Janders: Democratic Despotism. They think that because they have 75% of the vote, they can tell the rest of PA to do anything they want — which is just another form of tyranny. And, unfortunately, that sort of thing is getting even more prevalent.

    What that does is continually disenfranchises a particular portion of the country. At least with split houses (one population based; one geographic based) there is a tension that forces some sort of compromise.

    Oh, and if you really want to have fun, look up how many of these areas are either being run by the State or are in danger of being run by the state. (Because of PA’s municipal bankruptcy laws).

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  124. David M says:

    @John D’Geek:

    At least with split houses (one population based; one geographic based) there is a tension that forces some sort of compromise.

    I don’t think anyone here is proposing to change how Senate seats are allocated, so the rural areas will still have their representation. There’s just a lot of pushback to them also being over-represented in the EC as well.

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  125. Santiago says:

    C’mon Doug, do you have anything other than that I-don’t -see-any-compelling-reason BS?

    You don’t want to abolish the EC because elections is just about the only time the South is considered relevant. Full stop.

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  126. Trumwill says:

    As long as there is a senate, the small states have all of the representation they can really ask for. The senate really matters, in this regard. The EC? Not so much. Smallpop states disproportionately lean strongly in one direction (Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota) or the other (Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, Delaware) with only a couple of exceptions (Montana, New Hampshire). So they don’t get much attention in the EC anyway. I’m not even sure how much attention the swing smallpop states actually get other than some ads on TV.

    Now, rural areas most specifically do get the advantage of candidates spending time in less urban parts of swing states. How much do residents of Twin Falls gain by presidential candidates courting rural Ohio? Hard to say. It’s more than none, but it’s hard to rest a solid argument on that.

    The Gallup results posted here a little while ago do bring up something interesting. If Obama were to win every region in the country but one, should the presidency be decided by the fact that one particular region went really, really strongly the other way? I can see that argued either way.

    Ultimately, though, as we tend to view the president as the leader of the people, it makes more sense to me for the presidency to be decided by a national popular vote, come what may.

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  127. Trumwill says:

    @Santiago: You don’t want to abolish the EC because elections is just about the only time the South is considered relevant. Full stop.

    That makes no sense. Only three southern states are relevant in the EC, and they are definitionally the least conservative – and indeed among the least southern – states of the lot. If you want to make the south more relevant when it comes to presidential elections, then abolishing the EC is precisely what you want to do.

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  128. AJ says:

    I believe that none of these studies take into account the huge number of dissillusioned voters who happen to live in a geographic area that swings the vote differently than ones own political beliefs. I, for example, do not vote for National Elections because I live in Oregon, which is a guaranteed Obama win this year. My vote doesn’t matter no matter who I vote for – It’s a shoe-in for Obama and a loss for Romney, period. Therein lies the travesty of the electoral college – there are literally millions of people who feel the same way I do – that their vote doesn’t matter because they cannot swing the majority opinion of the area in which they live.

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  129. @AJ:

    there are literally millions of people who feel the same way I do – that their vote doesn’t matter because they cannot swing the majority opinion of the area in which they live.

    This is part of my argument, in fact, against the EC: there is a lessened incentive to vote if one lives in a non-swing state. How many voters in, say, California and Texas, will stay home on the 6th because they already know what the outcome will be for their state.

    Incentive structures matter.

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  130. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    How many voters in, say, California and Texas, will stay home on the 6th because they already know what the outcome will be for their state.

    It might be a good subject for a study, to figure out if registration and voting patterns are different in states that are “gimmes” for one party or another. Is voter turnout lower in those states? Do people who identify with the minority party stay home in greater numbers, as AJ does, because they know their vote is worthless? Conversely, to people who identify with the majority party stay home because they know enough other people on their side will vote and therefore they don’t really need to? How would all this affect down-ballot races?

    Or perhaps it’s already been done? I don’t know.

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  131. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Dr. Taylor, John D’Cynic has something to say. From Wikipedia:

    Democrats were still the largest political party with more than 42 million voters (compared with 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents).

    Just go ahead and declare The United States a one party system then.

    Having lived in NJ for way too long (‘course I’m from PA, so one day is too long) I know full well what happens with those proportions. It’s not pretty. Basically the only way for Republicans to win — and this is how Chris Christy won — if for the Democrats to be so incompetent and corrupt that the independents vote essentially unanimously against the Democrats.

    Those number won’t change very much in the future. That means that the presidency will be added to your list of “offices where the Primaries are the elections that really choose”.

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  132. @John D’Geek: There are a number of ways to respond to this:

    1. How about competition for votes? Parties should be forced to adapt to the preferences in the electorate.

    2. A snarky response, but one that I hope reveals some truth: so you are saying that the EC is affirmative action for the GOP and that is why we should keep it?

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  133. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    To #1 I can say “that doesn’t work in New Jersey. For #2 … *laughs* well, it does sound like that doesn’t it. My experience, limited as it may be, is with “parties as brands”, and the cynical side of me just doesn’t trust a 50% plus advantaged political party, especially in a presidential election.

    Not very scientific, but Cynicism rarely is.

    In the “for what it’s worth column”: I didn’t want to change my screen name (too troll like), but I also knew that … well, it’s just not very “geek-like”. That’s why I used “John D’Cynic” in the post. Hope it was clear.

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  134. Trumwill says:

    @John D’Geek: New Jersey’s GOP is constrained to some degree by the national party. It’s hard for the GOP in New Jersey, or the Democrats in Texas, to really set their own course. Nationally, though, that’s less of an issue. A conservative Democrat in Texas is actively undermined by the national party. Scott Brown is actively undermined by the national GOP. That’d be less the case if we were talking about national movement.

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  135. MattA says:

    This video lays out simply and convincingly why the electoral college needs to die.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wC42HgLA4k

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  136. Greg Fisher says:

    The best argument for the National Popular Vote is “One Person, One Vote”: unlike the days of the Founders, when equality of the franchise was such a frightening idea that only a small minority of the population could vote, we today believe no person should have more of a vote than another person. It is the most fundamental expression of equality, and survey after survey shows the American people think we should vote for president this way.

    As for the Madisonian ideal of overlapping constituencies, a national popular constituency for president “overlaps” the various constituencies fine – all of the constituencies arbitrarily left out of presidential politics because they are not present (or are underrepresented) in swing states would be included, and none of the constituencies currently attended to would be excluded beyond what they aren’t entitled to.

    The suggestion that candidates seeking a popular plurality would concentrate their efforts on “high population areas on the East and West Coasts” and not “in the interior of the nation” betrays an appalling ignorance of American geography.

    Defenders of the Electoral College invoke federalism at every turn, without explaining how awarding electors under the current formula for apportionment preserves the ability of the states to maintain their constitutionally protected rights. The Presidency is a federal office; voters elect him on the basis of how he will perform as the federal executive. Giving some voters more weight then others in determining how federal policy will be implemented does not solve any problems that have resulted from federal power encroaching on state power, especially when all the states have suffered the same in that regard. Put another way, are we to assume that George Bush’s reelection was made possible by a deep veneration of the “Unitary Executive” and “nation building” by the people of the thirty states he won? That is absurd. Should we be okay with it even if they did? No, and especially not on grounds of federalism.

    The other federalism argument – that the invocation of senate seats in calculating the number of electors prevents small states from being drowned out – fails for two reasons: (1) size does not matter under our current system, partisan parity does; and (2) the Constitution gives every state total discretion over how to allocate their electoral votes, regardless of what small states think. If states comprising 270 electors choose to award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, it is their privilege, just as the Senate may pass legislation even if some opposition comes from small states. Federalism does not mean small states never lose, or that they even always figure crucially in any given policy or political fight. That is the “formal and constitutional fact” conservatives refuse to acknowledge.

    I will add, somewhat off topic, that anyone concerned about the sovereignty of the states should oppose efforts to homogenize state codes via model legislation or restatements of the law. If we truly cherish our Laboratories of Democracy, then we would not give over our lab equipment to interest groups – as with merchants in the implementation of the UCC, or with ALEC-drafted legislation. If states freely let interest groups pave over their unique ability to solve their own problems, there is no point of any hand-wringing about federalism at all.

    Finally, repeal of the 17th Amendment would not make for a less absurd spectacle in selecting senators; nor would it make senators represent “state interests” any more than they do now; nor would it take money and influence out of the process. It would only take the decision from voters and put it in the hands of the government (yes, state government is government, too). It goes to show that when confronted with a decision between preserving individual liberty and self-governance and childish adulation of everything the Founders created, libertarians go for the adulation every time.

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  137. Trumwill says:

    Greg’s comment serves as a bit of a reminder of why my support for the NPV is half-hearted at best.

    Among other things, the UCC remains optional. Some portions of it have been adopted by every state, but unlike with federal law, nobody has to go to court if a state chooses not to adopt it. Saying “there’s no point to federalism if the states are just going to act stupid” is a weak argument.

    The whole “what they’re entitled to” begs a number of questions. My own concern is not so much that Montana will get 1/300th influence, but that it would – without certain safeguards – get none. El Paso would have more, only because it is a part of a larger congressional delegation. BUT, the senate keeps this in check so it’s not a very good reason to keep the EC in and of itself. And…

    He is right about the size of the state mattering less than the competitiveness. But it’s actually more than that: Presidential candidates don’t typically visit small swing states very much. They spend most of their time in large swing states (New Hampshire does have the benefit of being nearby good places to raise money). Smallpop swing states get some advertising, but that’s about it.

    Repeal of the 17th amendment by itself wouldn’t do much. If we wanted to tip influence back to the states, the legislature or governor would have to have the right to recall a senator who is acting against the state’s wishes. Being the federalist that I am, I’d be open to that. But that’s more trouble than it’s worth, at this point.

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  138. Roger says:

    @AJ:

    I live in Massachusetts and feel exactly the same way. My presidential vote literally means nothing other than support for my candidate. I would say go straight out popular vote, winner takes all. How is it that this is what we do for every single politician except the most important one.

    Also the fact that the popular vote and EC have been different once is enough for me to constitute a change.

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