A Return to “a Republic, not a Democracy”

And a little Electoral College for good measure.

Walter Williams wades into the ever-popular Why We Are a Republic, Not a Democracy discussion as a defense of the Electoral College:

Hillary Clinton blamed the Electoral College for her stunning defeat in the 2016 presidential election in her latest memoirs, “What Happened.”

Some have claimed that the Electoral College is one of the most dangerous institutions in American politics.

Why? They say the Electoral College system, as opposed to a simple majority vote, distorts the one-person, one-vote principle of democracy because electoral votes are not distributed according to population.

To back up their claim, they point out that the Electoral College gives, for example, Wyoming citizens disproportionate weight in a presidential election.

Put another way, Wyoming, a state with a population of about 600,000, has one member in the House of Representatives and two members in the U.S. Senate, which gives the citizens of Wyoming three electoral votes, or one electoral vote per 200,000 people.

California, our most populous state, has more than 39 million people and 55 electoral votes, or approximately one vote per 715,000 people.

Comparatively, individuals in Wyoming have nearly four times the power in the Electoral College as Californians.

I quote the long passage because I find it remarkable that he correctly identifies a core problem with the EC, which is the fact that it does not treat American equally, but provides no actual defense of the practice.  The closet he comes is this:

Many people whine that using the Electoral College instead of the popular vote and majority rule is undemocratic. I’d say that they are absolutely right. Not deciding who will be the president by majority rule is not democracy.

But the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that we were a republic and not a democracy. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or any other of our founding documents.

Setting aside the denigration of legitimate debate as whining, he simply agrees this is isn’t a democratic process and provides not argument whatsoever as to why this is acceptable, or what benefit it brings.  Instead, he just quotes Founders who used the word “democracy” in a negative way.

All if this ignores that the early writings of the Founders (especially Adams) often used the word “democracy” in a way commensurate with the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used to mean either rule by the poor or what one might describe as “mobacracy” when using the term “democracy.”  When they used the word “republic” they usually meant either Aristotle’s notion of a regime that adequately balanced the rich and poor and allowed the middle class to rule, or they were extolling a romantic version of the Roman Republic.  At a minimum they meant government without a monarch or aristocracy.  Further, Madison was quite clear, if one takes the time to really look, what he meant in the democracy v. republic debate in Federalist 10, 14, and 39 (as I discussed a while ago here). Madison used the term “republic” to refer to a representative system (i.e., what we call “democracy” in modern language).

Williams’ column is almost entirely an appeal to the cult of Founders which more of less assumes that if the Founders did it, it must be good and wise for all time.  There are, of course, multiple problems with that approach.

First, as I have repeatedly noted, if you are going to argue about institutions from the POV of what the Founders wanted, you have to deal with the fact that Electoral College never worked as intended, as I noted in these two posts:

Those two posts focus on Federalist 66 and 68.  The short version is that Hamilton foresaw a deliberative element to the role of the electors (instead, they are partisan messengers) and he assumed that the House of Representatives would often selected President (this has happened twice*).

Second, he does not deal with the fact that the CA v. WY disparity is by several orders of magnitude higher than the VA v. DE disparity when the Founders wrote the Constitution.  There has to be some justification for treating citizens differently, as well as an upper limit that is acceptable.  Virginia’s population in 1790 was 12.7 time larger than Delaware’s.  California is 68.2 times larger than Wyoming.

Beyond the numbers, the reality is that the EC was part of a set of political compromises intended to get buy-in from the original thirteen states into the Constitution.  It was not grand theory or design.

Third, just because the Framers said or believed something, doesn’t mean it should be endorsed ad infinitum.  Two obvious examples:  the Framers did not believe women should have the right to vote (and many did not believe that the unpropertied should either) and the US Constitution enshrined several concessions to slavery.  As such, mindless acceptance of the views and preferences of the Founders is not a very good argument.  Indeed, if one is going to make an argument that minority preferences should trump majority preferences, then one has to go beyond what amounts to “because the Founders.”

One argument that has no power, I would note, is that lack of the usage of certain words in the founding documents.  There are a lot of words not used, but so what?  The Constitution mentions, off the top of my head, neither political parties nor filibusters, but their absence does not mean our system of government isn’t profoundly affected by both.

I find that most people who state that they favor a decision-rule (not a fundamental right, but a process for making a decision) that privileges the minority usually do so because they are in that minority and therefore pick a rule that favors their own position.  Or, more insidiously, because they really don’t want a system of government that takes seriously the proposition that all are created equal, but rather believe that some class of persons (whether it be race, class, or something else) deserves more power than others.

The closest Williams comes to an argument is this:

The Founders expressed contempt for the tyranny of majority rule, and throughout our Constitution, they placed impediments to that tyranny.

All well and good, and I would not argue otherwise as a general proposition (although this position tends to romanticize the political calculations of the conventioneers).   However, simply saying that majority tyranny can be a problem is not an argument for minority privileging decision rules.  Indeed, in simple terms, the only thing worse than tyranny of the majority is tyranny of the minority, if we are going to speak about species of tyranny.

Tyranny of the majority is actually a straw man at the heart of this “republic, not a democracy” meme because it creates a false, and deeply untrue, dichotomy between the terms, as well as assuming that any “democracy” is just crude majoritarianism wherein the mass can simply vote away the rights of the minority.  The reality is that majority tyranny can be thwarted through a variety of means, a key one being the recognition of a hierarchy of values.

For example, the entire movement to desegregate the schools was a movement based in the notion that minority rights ought to trump majority policy preferences.  But this was not because of some arbitrary assertion.  It was based in the notion that some rights are to be valued more than others, i.e., that the inherent value of human beings to be treated equally under the law supersedes the ability of one group to take away the rights of a less numerous group.

Really, the entire basis of the five freedoms in the First Amendment (freedom of speech, press, worship, and assembly and the right to petition government for redress of grievances) are all strictures enshrined in our highest law to protect minorities from majorities.

That is how a democracy protects against tyranny of the majority (and some version of this is true across the democratic world).  And, ironically, by giving a certain amount of power to the unelected branch of government, the limited ability to judge whether the fundamental rights of all citizens are being damaged by decisions made by elected officials.

There is no sound basis in stating that the EC creates some specific protection against majority tyranny by granting disproportionate power to different citizens.**  There is no reason to assume that a minority-elected president would do a better job of protecting liberty than a majority-elected president.  Indeed, the main reason to prefer the EC over a popular vote system is, quite frankly, either simply worship of the Cult of the Founders or pure power-politics (it favors one party over the other).***


*The two cases are 1800 and 1824.  And, really, the 1800 Jefferson/Burr selection was the result of mistake by the Framers that made it possible for the candidates who were technically on the same ticket (i.e., president/vice president) to be tied for the presidency.  That fact alone underscores the imperfection of the EC’s design (one that had to be fixed via amendment).  The only real instance of the House having to select the president as a result of no EC majority was 1824.  I would underscore the rarity of this process, and how long ago it last happened.

I will say that the Jefferson/Burr election was the basis of an inaccurate (in terms of historic and institutional details), but awesome, song in Hamilton, so it has that going for it.  After, it would nice to have Hamilton on your side.

**I find all of the pro-EC arguments wanting, but especially in terms of protection of tyranny.  To note some of the prominent pro arguments:  it does not lead to candidates paying more attention to small states (rather, it makes them pay attention to swing states) and there are myriad ways to deal with recount challenges in close elections that does not requite the EC (heck, if Mexico can manage the razor-thin 2006 contest, the US can figure out a way to deal with recounts–our problems are mostly the result of ancient voting technology and extreme decentralization).

***The pure political reality of the situation is that as long as the institution favors one party over the other, there will be no political will to reform the system.  Regardless of whether one likes it or not, the Republicans have benefited from an popular/electoral vote inversion for two out of five cycles (2000 and 2016). I cannot see a political movement to make a change if one party sees an advantage in maintaining the institutional status quo.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Eugene Volokh has written several posts on this topic as well, and comes to pretty much the same conclusion. See here, here, here, and here.




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  2. Andy says:

    Personally, I would have no problem getting rid of the EC in favor of the popular vote for Presidential elections but to me, it isn’t (yet) a big enough problem that I’m inclined to be an activist for change. If this becomes a regular problem (and I think it might), then I’d be much more inclined to actively support a change movement. For now, I’m willing to support a movement as long as someone else does the footwork.

    As far as “whining” goes, I think there is a lot of it. To me, whining in this context means to complain loudly about something without being invested or motivated enough to take action to actually change it. So I do hear a lot of people (mostly partisan Democrats) complaining about the EC but I’ve yet to see them do anything of substance to bring about reform. If this is really as big a threat as they say it is, then I would think they’d be pouring money and political capital into a movement to reform the system.*

    As usual, you can usually determine what people actually care about through their actions rather words or social media.

    * Steven, you’re really the only one I see who discusses this issue with substance and advocates reform, to your credit. I wonder, from your perspective, if you feel like you’re alone in the desert when it comes to this issue.




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  3. @Andy:

    Steven, you’re really the only one I see who discusses this issue with substance and advocates reform, to your credit. I wonder, from your perspective, if you feel like you’re alone in the desert when it comes to this issue.

    All alone? No. Relatively alone? Sure. As a general proposition I know that I am in a distinct minority on the issue even talking about electoral rules and their implications for American governance, let alone as a advocate for change. In regards to the specifics of the EC, there are a handful of academic types who see the problem and advocate for change, but I am no Pollyanna in terms of assuming change will come soon (if ever). I decided a while back that all I want, really, is to stimulate conversation on this topic (both of electoral rules in general, and the EC in specific). You gotta start somewhere.

    And I personally do think that a 40% rate (over the short term, I will allow) of minority winners is enough to say that there is a real problem.

    And BTW, I certainly acknowledge that there is more than a little whining in politics–I just find the usage of that term by Williams here to be inappropriate.




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  4. gVOR08 says:

    My local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, regularly prints Williams, from which I infer he’s the cheapest of the national pundits. They hate paying for content. This is unfortunate, no one ever got smarter by reading Walter Williams.

    “Republic” seems to be a magical word for American conservatives. They’ll go on and on about “republic not democracy” endlessly, and without making any more sense than Williams. It was a big deal with the Birchers back in the day, probably still is. In a sense it’s practical politics. In practice, conservatism devolves into defense of the wealthy and powerful, which is OK as a “republic” is supposed to push the “best” people to the top. . But I think it’s really psychology. Conservatives seem to need to believe that they are among the elect, the best people, the Republican elite. Government should be of, by, and for the best people, and we are the best people. (That line works better rendered in Bill Buckley’s fake mid-Atlantic accent. “Weaah the besst …)




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  5. Kylopod says:

    As I have said before, the statement “The US is a republic, not a democracy” is the political-junkie equivalent of correcting split infinitives. It’s a bit of schoolroom lore that people parrot unthinkingly, but which would be considered laughable by almost any serious political scholar. Noted lexicographer H.W. Fowler described people who follow the split-infinitive rule as “bogey-haunted creatures..whose aversion springs not from instinctive good taste, but from tame acceptance of the opinion of others.” The same could be said of those who mindlessly defend American institutions of government on the assumption that the wisdom of the Founders was somehow infallible and as applicable to the present day as it was during ratification.

    Hendrik Hertzberg is a pundit who has spent years calling for widespread electoral reform in the United States. (Alas, he seems to be retired now and hasn’t written anything since 2015.) One point he has made is that the the biggest problem with the EC isn’t the occasional election in which the popular-vote winner doesn’t become president. The biggest problem is how it affects the way candidates structure their campaigns in every election–the way they write off the majority of the states.

    It is striking that Walter Williams’ first example of a critic of the EC is Hillary Clinton, and he attributes it to “whining.” But Clinton has been a critic of the EC for years before she became victim to it. She was calling for its abolition back in 2000:

    “We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,” Clinton said. “I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

    Now obviously she had partisan incentives for taking this position–but it wasn’t personal. Indeed, one person who agreed with her at the time was Republican Bob Dole.

    In any case, Williams is essentially engaging in ad hominem; he’s implying we shouldn’t take arguments against the EC seriously because it’s a position taken by sore losers. In 2012 there was a period of time when it looked like Romney was leading the national vote but trailing in the states he needed to win. In a tweet that looks incredibly ironic now, Donald Trump described the Electoral College as a “disaster for democracy.” Like a stopped clock twice a day, he was right. But the more important point is that there are always going to be losers when it comes to the EC, and that doesn’t invalidate their point of view.




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  6. Gustopher says:

    I don’t see how the electoral college can be fixed within the framework of the amendment process. It would require the consent and approval of those who currently enjoy the tyranny of the minority.

    A constitutional convention would hit the same hurdles as the amendment process, if I am remembering my civics classes correctly.

    We can’t even get congressional districts laid out in a way that doesn’t confer a huge electoral advantage to one party.

    That leaves only a few options: revolution, hacking elections in red states with millions of illegal voters, and transforming the red states into something more tractable. Of those, the last is probably the one with the fewest problems.

    We have to make the miserable little flyover states somewhere that those who can escape don’t want to escape, leaving behind only a bitter residue. We need to create good paying jobs, and somehow convince the hipsters that Wyoming is the next Williamsburg. We need to convince Amazon to put their second headquarters somewhere where an influx of young, open-minded professionals will tip the state.




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  7. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t see how the electoral college can be fixed within the framework of the amendment process.

    But there is an attempt underway to fix it without an amendment–the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Click on the link to get a description of it.

    Note that I’m pessimistic about this project succeeding–but at least it looks farther along than an amendment, and would not require 2/3rd of the states–or Congress, for that matter.

    The basic problem is that the only states that have signed on to the compact so far consist of 10 solid-blue states, plus DC. Swing states are unlikely to sign on because they’re the states that benefit the most from the EC. But it’s conceivable that enough solid-red states could join that the compact would go into effect. At least, it was conceivable before 2016.

    At this point the only way I could imagine this proposal going forward is if Republicans one day suffer the same fate as Al Gore or Hillary Clinton, of winning the popular vote and losing the EC. That actually came close to happening in 2012. Obama went on to score a decisive victory in both the EC and the popular vote. However, his hold on the EC was stronger than his hold on the popular vote. Nate Silver estimated that even if Romney had been leading the popular vote by as much as 1.5 points, he’d have been strongly in danger of losing the EC.

    The big picture–and this applies also to the House and the Senate–is that Republicans have an EC advantage due to their disproportionate concentration in lower-population states. But 2012 should serve as a reminder that EC advantages are ephemeral and can swing both ways. Despite what happened in 2000 and 2016, I don’t think it’s out of the question that Republicans could find themselves on the receiving end of this system in the future. It’s unlikely, but not impossible. And if that happens, it just might be the final nail in the coffin to the EC. At least, Republicans and Democrats would be “even.”




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  8. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: Hendrick Hertzberg is 75. While I miss his writing too, I commend him in his decision to step aside and let someone else’s family be proud of the fact that their family member is a respected opinion maker in political circles. I wish more Boomers and Silents would follow in his footsteps.

    Congress would be a good place for them to start.




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  9. Scott says:

    To me the real danger is this: We take for granted that the States award electoral votes on a winning take all basis. That is custom but not enshrined in the Constitution. Two states: Nebraska and Maine split their Electoral votes. There is a movement to rig the system even more by opportunistically split the electoral vote proportionally in large blue states while keeping winner take all in red states. The result would be a permanent conservative lock on the presidency. Since the Republicans have demonstrated the willingness to rig the system, I see this as a real possiblity.




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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod:

    Donald Trump described the Electoral College as a “disaster for democracy.” Like a stopped clock twice a day, he was right.

    Now that’s unfair. Trump’s been right about almost everything. Like Romney, at one time or another, he’s taken pretty much every possible position on everything.




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  11. Kylopod says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Hendrick Hertzberg is 75. While I miss his writing too, I commend him in his decision to step aside and let someone else’s family be proud of the fact that their family member is a respected opinion maker in political circles. I wish more Boomers and Silents would follow in his footsteps.

    Congress would be a good place for them to start.

    I respect Hertzberg’s decision to retire, but I have no problem if he or anyone else his age decides to continue writing, which requires considerably less physical energy than working in Congress. A lot of writers continue writing well into old age. (Herman Wouk–who incredibly is still alive at 102–published a new novel a few years ago. Of course, he showed an amusing level of ignorance about modern technology. He had his characters writing emails like they were formal letters.)




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  12. Kylopod says:

    @Scott:

    To me the real danger is this: We take for granted that the States award electoral votes on a winning take all basis. That is custom but not enshrined in the Constitution. Two states: Nebraska and Maine split their Electoral votes. There is a movement to rig the system even more by opportunistically split the electoral vote proportionally in large blue states while keeping winner take all in red states. The result would be a permanent conservative lock on the presidency. Since the Republicans have demonstrated the willingness to rig the system, I see this as a real possiblity.

    Note that Nebraska and Maine still use a winner-take-all system–it’s just at the level of district rather than the entire state. Truly proportional representation (like a lot of Democratic primaries work) would have the electoral votes apportioned relative to the percentage of the vote each candidate received. So, for example, in Florida, where Trump received 49% of the vote, Clinton about 48%, and Gary Johnson 2%, each of those candidates would receive roughly those percentages of the electors.

    This would actually go a long way in alleviating the problem I mentioned before, where candidates write off the majority of the states. You’d have Democrats visiting Texas and Louisiana, and Republicans visiting California and New York, because even if they wouldn’t be likely to win the majority in the state, they’d still stand to win electoral votes. And it would give third-party candidates an opening, too.

    The problem is that it would increase the chances of an electoral deadlock where no candidate receives an absolute majority of EVs, whereby the election would get thrown into Congress. That hasn’t happened since 1824. I think that would be a disaster.




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  13. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    Now that’s unfair. Trump’s been right about almost everything. Like Romney, at one time or another, he’s taken pretty much every possible position on everything.

    Ha! Good point.




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  14. Blaze Miskulin says:

    If I’m reading your post correctly, you’re advocating a “direct democracy” for the election of the President. And you’re saying that nobody is presenting a “good” argument for retaining the Electoral College.

    I’m neither a professor, a politician, or a political lawyer. I’m just a guy with an opinion. But I’ll take a stab at replying.

    1) Republics and Presidents

    I’m somewhat confused by the content of your post, as you seem to be conflating the Electoral College with the American implementation of a (democratic) republic. America is a republic in the sense that we elect a body of legislators to represent us and our interests, debate and negotiate for our benefit, and enact legislation which (we hope) represents the best interests of the country as a whole.

    The Electoral College is only used to choose a President.

    The two have absolutely nothing to do with one another. We could pick our President based on a polular vote, a pie-eating contest, a random number generator, or who Gertie down at the diner wants. It would have zero relevance to whether or not we use a republican method of generating legislation.

    2) Presidents and Kings

    For better or worse, the role of the President has changed significantly since the founding of our country–but the Constitutionally-authorized powers have not. We have come to view the President as an “elected king”–someone who single-handedly determines the course of our laws, our government, and our country. This can only be true if the vast majority of the legislature and judiciary follow along in lock-step. But it’s quite frequent that the President and the legislature are from opposing parties. And, of course, the judiciary are the result of a long legacy of appointments, and are (in theory) free to interpret things free of any party affiliations.

    The Founders didn’t want a new King of America. I think we can all agree on that. They specifically limited the powers of the President, placing the greatest powers in the legislative branch. The idea (arguably) was that the President would be a sort of “super-ambassador”–the face of the nation who would engage in negotiations and political interactions. The legislature–the republic–would decide the laws. If we stopped thinking of the President as a king, most of this would be moot.

    3) Cities and Towns

    But we do think of the President as a “king” who can decide the laws. And the way our political system works, the President does have (undue) influence over the legislative process.

    That simply highlights the importance of the Electoral College in Presidential elections.

    Population Distribution

    If elections were based only on the popular vote, a tiny number of cities would get to decide who is President. And it’s a fair bet that 90% of the campaign attention–and money–would be spent in a few cities with high populations. So New York, California, Florida, and (maybe) Illinois get to decide who controls the Presidency.

    But… what do urban residents in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Philadelphia know about farming and food production? Under a purely popular vote, legislative attention would shift overwhelmingly to urban centers (about 80% of the population). What impact, do you think, that would have on agriculture? If you’d like a real-world example, I suggest you look at China’s policies under Chairman Mao.

    4) Philosophies and Realities

    Are you familiar with the “Pareto Principle”? Also known as the “80/20 rule”. It states that 80% of productivity comes from 20% of the workforce”. Interestingly enough, 20% of the US population live in the areas that produce the majority of our food and industrial products.

    So… my argument in favor of the Electoral College is: The people who build the things you depend on, and grown the food you need to live–and do so for a fraction of your academic salary–deserve a voice proportionate to their importance in the economic and political ecosystem. It’s my understanding that, without food imported from those “low population states”, New York City will run out of food in less than a week.

    Go back and look at those maps I linked to. 20% of the US population–living on 97% of the land–control the food supply for the country.

    So… Do you honestly suggest that laws governing our food supply be placed in the hands of people who insist on steaks and hamburgers, but have never even seen a cow? Or, might it be better for the country if there was a balance between those who produce things and those who consume them?

    A purely popular vote would be devastating to our country–and utterly contrary to the ideals of the Founding Fathers.




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  15. @Blaze Miskulin:

    If I’m reading your post correctly, you’re advocating a “direct democracy” for the election of the President.

    I am advocating the direct election of the president, yes. That would actually be an example of representative democracy in the sense that the voters would be selecting someone to serve in government for a given term of office. “Direct democracy” means citizens directly making laws/policy.

    The two have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

    You are correct that the president could be chosen any number of ways. But if the president is not chosen in some way that is reflective of popular sovereignty, then that does damage the very notion of republicanism enshrined in the constitution. The very nature of a regime is linked to how those who govern are chosen. So, contrary to your claim, the issue of how the president is chosen is directly relevant to the nature of the government created by the constitution.

    But we do think of the President as a “king” who can decide the laws. And the way our political system works, the President does have (undue) influence over the legislative process.

    That simply highlights the importance of the Electoral College in Presidential elections.

    I do not follow your logic here.

    If elections were based only on the popular vote, a tiny number of cities would get to decide who is President

    No, if we had a popular vote system, the majority of citizens would get to chose the president. Cities don’t vote. People vote.

    In regards to your theory of representation, I would say that it is rather novel.

    I would note that the state that produces the most food in the country is California. California is arguably the state that is most ill-treated by the Electoral College. Even within in your framework, I would suggest that EC is a poorly functioning institution.




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  16. TM 01 says:

    Blue states like CA are giving licences to illegals. Washington has stopped asking for a person’s birthplace when handing out drivers licenses.

    Then factor in laws where people are automatically registered to vote when getting a license.

    Let states like CA and Washington continue to do crap like that. Thanks to the electoral college, they still can’t sway the results of a presidential election any more than they already do, since they send all their EC votes to the Democrat anyway.

    The electoral college sounds pretty good to me.




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  17. @TM 01: So, the justice and efficacy of rules are to be judged on the basis of your policy preferences? That is certainly a standard that is often applied (evangelicals are currently using that standard to support Trump).

    BTW: I have no knowledge of the driver’s license issue you speak of, but I would note that the primary purpose of a driver’s license is to make sure that a person has sufficient knowledge of how to drive.

    If we want a national ID card, we need to create one.




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  18. Kylopod says:

    @TM 01:

    Blue states like CA are giving licences to illegals. … Then factor in laws where people are automatically registered to vote when getting a license.

    This claim was debunked more than a year ago, and furthermore, the claim that millions of illegals voted in CA was debunked even earlier.

    But what’s especially amusing is that you don’t seem to realize that bringing up the EC only draws attention to how absurd this conspiracy theory really is. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that there would be voter fraud on this large a scale, within states where it would make no difference whatsoever electorally?

    Of course you don’t consider that. Because you, like millions of American citizens who do vote, have got the IQ of a turnip. That to me is a much bigger problem than non-existent illegals voting.




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  19. Kylopod says:

    Please rescue my post from moderation. It contained only two links; I’ve never had posts go to the filter for a mere two links before.




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  20. @Kylopod: Probably a result of the site upgrades–not everything is working the way it is supposed to.




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  21. @Kylopod: I didn’t even pay attention to the voter fraud conspiracy theory element to his comment. Ugh.




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  22. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t see how the electoral college can be fixed within the framework of the amendment process. It would require the consent and approval of those who currently enjoy the tyranny of the minority.

    That would be difficult but if the “tyranny” of the minority is really a tyranny, then someone should get a movement started. The temperance movement managed to ban alcohol production, a staple of human society for thousands of years! An amendment is certainly achievable but would obviously take some effort and resources.

    Alternatively, one could get a 90% solution by changing elector allocation at the state level. Elector selection is a responsibility wholly reserved to the states. While the EC is built into the constitution, the actual selection of electors is not. States could change their method of distributing electors individually or in concert with other states. Someone already linked one effort to do this but that isn’t the only alternative.

    So the problem isn’t completely the EC itself, it’s also the winner-take-all EC vote allocation. If states awarded EC’s proportionally the problem would pretty much go away.

    Unfortunately, neither party seems interested in this option either.




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  23. Blaze Miskulin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Let’s start with the basics:

    I would note that the state that produces the most food in the country is California.

    How so?

    * Wheat production: California is not in the top 10
    * Beef production: California is #4
    * Corn production: California is #32
    * Potato production: California is #10 (10% of #1 Idaho)

    Hell… let’s look at what California does produce:

    Milk and Cream— $6.07 billion (Wisconsin: $43.4 Billion)
    Grapes — $5.58 billion
    Almonds — $5.16 billion
    Cattle and Calves — $2.53 billion (NCBA lists CA as #4)
    Lettuce — $1.96 billion
    Strawberries — $1.83 billion
    Pistachios — $1.5 billion
    Tomatoes — $1.33 billion
    Walnuts — $1.24 billion
    Broilers — $801 milli (You mean “chickens”? ” CA, IN, IA, LA, MI, MO, NE, NY, OR, & WA **combined**” would rank as #3 according to the National Chicken Council)

    As for the rest… Grapes, almonds, strawberries, pistachios? You’re going to argue that those are more important–or even equal to–foods that people actually eat.

    So… no. California does NOT “produce the most food in the country”.

    No, if we had a popular vote system, the majority of citizens would get to chose the president. Cities don’t vote. People vote.

    Wow. I wouldn’t have accepted that cop-out from my HS students. Everyone knows that “cities” is simply a shorthand for “urban populations”. Please don’t insult us by suggesting any differently.

    80% of people are urban. 20% are rural. “Cities” (i.e., “people who live in or have primary ties to urban environments and political leanings” — is that clear enough for you?) have different needs and wants than “towns”.

    the majority of citizens would get to chose the president

    And the majority (80%) live in cities. Is it your assertion that urban priorities (3% of the landmass, 0% of the food production) should control the government? 10 states have 50% of the population. Why should they get more say than the other 40?

    In regards to your theory of representation, I would say that it is rather novel.

    Really? You’d describe the Constitutionally-mandated method of representation as “rather novel”? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on that.

    And…

    California is arguably the state that is most ill-treated by the Electoral College.

    I’d be quite interested to hear how you think California-which has the largest share of the EC (153% larger than the closest state (Texas), and more than 9 of the 10 geographically closest states combined–is “ill-treated” by the EC.




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  24. Andy says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    There’s nothing in the Constitution to indicate that states which produce more food (or any other commodity) should have a greater say in national politics.

    The core political unit in our system is the state and they are considered equals in our system. To suggest that states which produce certain items somehow deserve more political power in the election system over states which don’t produce those items is really anathema to our system, both its conception and the reality today.




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  25. @Blaze Miskulin: I noted the disparity of population between largest and smallest in the post (heck, even Williams’ notes it).

    And I sense some serious goalpost moving here. So, now it matters as to type of food?




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  26. @Blaze Miskulin: Basically you are trying to rationalize why rural states should have disproportionate influence even if they have less people in them.




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  27. Blaze Miskulin says:

    @Andy:

    There’s nothing in the Constitution that states which produce more food (or any other commodity) should have a greater say in national politics.

    But there is an underlying, implicit assumption that all aspects of the union should be given appropriate representation.

    The argument (that Steven seems to espouse) is “Majority rules”. The Constitution actively argues against that–via equal representation in the Senate, and proportional representation in the House.

    “Majority rules” will always favor cities. Laws that favor cities are likely to harm rural communities (look at China). Harming rural communities harms the entire country.

    You can debate philosophy and politics until you’re blue in the face. It won’t put food on your plate–or on the plate of anyone else. The Founders may not have codified any protections for the food-producing states, but I’m betting they would have supported those states.

    And… if you think the food-producing states don’t have power: If every supermarket you know is empty by the end of the week, how long can you live?




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  28. Blaze Miskulin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    So, now it matters as to type of food?

    Of course it does. Or do you think that a nation can live on almonds, strawberries, and lettuce?

    If the entirely of California agriculture ended tomorrow, the nation wouldn’t go hungry. They’d have a few less desserts.

    California doesn’t produce “food”. It produces “treats”.

    And yes, the people that produce beef and wheat should have more say in the government than those that produce almonds. Because…. if we we stop producing beef and wheat, we’ll die. If we stop producing almonds… vegans in LA will have to make due with soy milk.




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  29. Kylopod says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    “Majority rules” will always favor cities.

    That’s a strange argument to make in the context of defending the original intent of the Constitution. Your statement may be true in modern times, but at the time of ratification something like 5% of the population lived in cities.




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  30. Erik says:

    @Blaze Miskulin: so your argument is basically “people who feed you staples should determine who governs you?” Yet they fed the non-farmers using tools and technology developed and produced by non-farmers, so now what? I suppose if we return to the largely agrarian/self sufficient lifestyles present in large portions of the future US the argument might be easier to make. The fact is that the society is interconnected, and most people produce something of value to society, even if they don’t put their hands in the dirt to produce it.




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  31. Blaze Miskulin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Basically you are trying to rationalize why rural states should have disproportionate influence even if they have less people in them.

    No. I’m trying to explain (to people like you, whom I’m going to assume has never lived in a rural community) why it’s very bad to let urban populations dictate what happens in rural environments.

    What you fail to understand is that, economically, rural state HAVE a “disproportionate influence”. They have it in “ag futures”–that’s a major part of the US economy. They have it in industry–Your urban centers aren’t actually making anything; factories are in rural areas. Rural areas have the union power–Steamfitters, Ironworkers, IBEW, IATSE, and (of course) Teamsters.

    You know what happens if the Teamsters go on strike?

    You’re a prof. Do a bit of homework.




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  32. @Blaze Miskulin:

    The Constitution actively argues against that–via equal representation in the Senate, and proportional representation in the House.

    The Senate does create equality a state, yes. The House allocation is all about population.

    to people like you, whom I’m going to assume has never lived in a rural community

    I live in Alabama and have lived in small towns here and in Texas.




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  33. @Blaze Miskulin: Regardless, you have a very specific, and rather unique view on political power. I suspect I will not dissuade you from those notions.




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  34. Blaze Miskulin says:

    @Erik:

    so your argument is basically “people who feed you staples should determine who governs you?

    No. My argument is that “the loudest voice” is not automatically the right voice.

    Our current system gives a balance. Our representative system is a good system and shouldn’t be changed.

    I think the Electoral College should drop the “winner gets all” system and follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine (I may have those states wrong) where electors are decided by district.

    What I’m opposed to is Steven’s “popular vote” proposal. It puts the presidency in the hands of 10 states–and a handful of cities.

    I don’t want people who’ve never been outside of LA, NYC, or Pittsburgh deciding agricultural laws and policies.




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  35. Andy says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    But there is an underlying, implicit assumption that all aspects of the union should be given appropriate representation.

    Of course, and the representation is based on population and the state, not food production.

    And… if you think the food-producing states don’t have power: If every supermarket you know is empty by the end of the week, how long can you live?

    I’ve already said the states – ALL the states – have power and they are equal. This power is based on their status as a state which has nothing to do with filling supermarket shelves.

    Food production, like anything else, is mostly based on markets. Suppliers, in this case food-producers, need those markets as much as food consumers do.




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  36. Erik says:

    @Blaze Miskulin: Thanks for the clarification, sorry to have misunderstood. Please bear with me while I try again. You think that the popular vote proposal would put the presidency in the hands of 10 states/a handful of cities because the total voting population of those geographic localities is greater than that of the voting population not of that set (and ignoring for purposes of this argument that those two sets don’t vote homogeneously)? So the urban geographic localities would result in the election of presidents not sufficiently well versed in the needs of agriculture to make intelligent policy (not laws since that is a congressional function and the agricultural areas would still have representation there, and likely be most interested in serving on agriculturally oriented committees and commissions, etc)? Are you making the argument then that presidents competent to make good agricultural policy are more desirable than presidents competent (using the same “experience of living/working in the area impacted by the policy” marker of competence) to make urban policy, foreign policy, etc?




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  37. Blaze Miskulin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And I sense some serious goalpost moving here. So, now it matters as to type of food?

    I missed this on the first pass.

    You claimed “I would note that the state that produces the most food in the country is California”

    I showed that California is not anywhere near the top in any category that is generally considered “food”. Are you seriously arguing that strawberries and almonds rank at the same level as beef and wheat?

    Of the 2 significant products listed in the top agricultural , California falls behind. It’s #4 in cattle and calves, and produces 1/7 of the dairy that Wisconsin does.

    How does California produce “the most food in the country”? It’s not wheat, corn, beef, or dairy,

    Sure, it has the highest dollar value for ag products, but that’s only important if we’re talking about GDP. California doesn’t feed people.




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  38. Andy says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    California doesn’t feed people.

    Well, you are wrong.




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  39. @Blaze Miskulin: But, of course, GDP matters rather significantly. Further, I do not find the notion acceptable that those who produce staples should have more power than those who produce less staples (or whatever variable you wish to apply). I acknowledge that you do.

    Recognizing the importance of food, I am not convinced that political power should be allocated due to the location of the production of certain foods.




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  40. Gustopher says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    What I’m opposed to is Steven’s “popular vote” proposal. It puts the presidency in the hands of 10 states–and a handful of cities.

    No, it takes the presidency out of the hands of the states entirely, and puts it with the people.

    For all your fears of the purity of our food supplies and bodily fluids, you haven’t come up with any reason why people in the rural areas should count more than people in cities.




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  41. Console says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    The cities and towns argument is ad hoc nonsense. Not only is it completely irrelevant to an institution created a HUNDRED YEARS before urbanization. All you’re doing is endorsing a system that means New York City gets all of New York’s votes. LA and the Bay Area gets all of California’s votes etc.
    You’re not even solving your pretend problem.

    Like most anti-democratic sentiments in the founding of this country, the EC exists because of slavery. States like New York had more voters, states like Virginia had more people. A national vote was off the table for that reason alone.




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  42. Yolo Contendere says:

    @Blaze Miskulin: So just to put my bona fides out there and save you making claims or assumptions about me and where I’m coming from, I live in the middle of flyover country. I grew up on a farm that’s been in the family for getting close to 150 years now. Most of my relations are either farmers or do work related to farming. I don’t farm myself, but I know where my food comes from. I have a freezer full of beef, that I know the name of the animal it came from, how it was treated, and personally know the butcher that processed it. Given what you’ve contributed to this thread, I would say you have no clue whatsoever about the needs of rural America, or really frankly anything about agricultural policy. I’d call it bullshit, but that’d be insulting to the bull, who is actually producing something useful. There are so many things wrong in what you’ve posted so far, I can’t tell if you’re trying to Gish-gallop through, or if you’re really that misinformed. This, however, takes the cake:

    Rural areas have the union power–Steamfitters, Ironworkers, IBEW, IATSE, and (of course) Teamsters.

    Did you think about doing any research other than clipping from a list of unions on Wikipedia? IATSE? Seriously? I mean, the others were laughable enough, but the idea of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees being in any way considered a rural area union power is laughable on its face. Surprised you didn’t include SAG in there.




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  43. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    You know what happens if the Teamsters go on strike?

    Hardly anything where I live, but then again, Teamsters are only about 5% of the workforce on the here.

    35 or so years ago, when I was a Teamster in Seattle, I was earning the highest prevailing wage on the West Coast for the type of work that I did (produce warehousing and distribution) and had a wage that would have provided a good living for a family as a single income household. I was earning as much as friends of mine who were associates at law firms.

    Today, union workers in that industry make about five dollars an hour more than I did in 1985–provided that they can stay employed for 5 years, which has become difficult because last time I checked, even the Teamster contract in my industry was “employment at will.”




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  44. @Yolo Contendere: Yes, the union bit is more than a bit, well, odd.




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  45. I do know that in a few minutes I am going to be driving past cotton fields, heads of cattle, and various farms. What I will not encounter are labor unions around here.




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  46. Tony W says:

    @Blaze Miskulin: #AllFoodMatters




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  47. Mister Bluster says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:..I don’t want people who’ve never been outside of LA, NYC, or Pittsburgh deciding agricultural laws and policies.

    I sure hope Rye NY (23 miles from the “Urban Center” of Harlem) is far enough out in the country for ya’.
    That’s where President Pud found a Cabana Boy to work at USDA!

    Trump hires campaign workers instead of farm experts at USDA
    Christopher O’Hagan, an appointee as a confidential assistant at the Agricultural Marketing Service, which helps producers of food, fiber and specialty crop growers market their goods. O’Hagan graduated in 2016 from the University of Scranton with a major in history and a minor in economics. But his résumé lists only one example of work experience prior to joining the Trump campaign in January 2016 — employment as a cabana attendant at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, while in school.




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  48. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Indeed. Most of his argument boils down to “expertise matters when discussing legislation”, a generic principle I doubt anyone here has much problem with (though the Republican party seems to these days-they hate experts!). And regardless, is irrelevant to the discussion about the EC and Presidential elections. The best he can come up with is that the President has “outsized” influence on the legislative process, which would be news to both Trump and Obama. It also takes for granted that there is some sort of clear and agreed upon division between “real” food and…”other?” food; a clear distinction between country, town and city; that there is no possible way someone in an urban area can have any idea how agriculture works (apparently everyone in a city has always lived there, has no relations outside the city, and are incapable of learning anything outside their current day to day experience); that no one in urban areas has ever contributed to agriculture (as if the truly amazing productivity of the modern farmer isn’t driven by things like GPS or chemistry developed by primarily urban based researchers and scientists) and that food staples are the most important part of the country–contrary to his last post where he tried to shift the ground from food staples uber alles to a straw man that he’s just trying to say the loudest voice isn’t always right (duh). And that’s before you get to completely false statements like factories don’t exist in cities (seriously? someone tell that to Boeing where I live, though maybe Boeing isn’t a “real” factory to him just like some agriculture doesn’t matter either) or the ludicrous union choices he pulled out.

    I wonder what he thinks of a bunch of old white men making decisions about abortion? You know, since you have to be a practicing expert on the subject to have a valid legislative opinion. He must not like civilian control of the military either, though that’s pretty fundamental to every modern Republic. And the President is also the commander in chief, who’s ability to set “military policy” is VERY close to king-like these days (given how cowardly Congress has been about authorizing force) compared to what he can do on agricultural policy, and much more impactful to urban areas (after all, a nuclear counterstrike isn’t going to hit farmland, that 80% or so of less valuable population living in cities should probably have a greater say in whose hand is on the nuclear button than anyone else).

    Pity, his first post wasn’t complete garbage, but it went downhill fairly quickly from there. He’s rather obviously arguing backwards from a strongly held belief (food staples and their producers are the best and most important people, as Trump might say, though if he thinks Trump knows more than Hillary or Obama on agricultural policy that would be even more laughable).

    And if doesn’t like my arrogant, dismissive response, he should re-read some of his own posts. At least I’m not comparing him to a high schooler or someone who hasn’t done his research (especially when links to Steven’s prior work were helpfully supplied). Glad he wasn’t my teacher.




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  49. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would note that the primary purpose of a driver’s license is to make sure that a person has sufficient knowledge of how to drive.

    I don’t know how strict Washington State is, but I wish Ohio would try that. As best I can tell everyone here got their license from a Cracker Jack box.

    More seriously, once again, I admire your pedagogy and your patience.




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  50. gVOR08 says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2016/11/29/another-clinton-trump-divide-high-output-america-vs-low-output-america/

    Our observation: The less-than-500 counties that Hillary Clinton carried nationwide encompassed a massive 64 percent of America’s economic activity as measured by total output in 2015. By contrast, the more-than-2,600 counties that Donald Trump won generated just 36 percent of the country’s output—just a little more than one-third of the nation’s economic activity.

    My relatives in ND produce a lot of wheat. Why that should give them disproportionate representation escapes me.




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  51. gVOR08 says:

    @Blaze Miskulin:

    Interestingly enough, 20% of the US population live in the areas that produce the majority of our food and industrial products.

    Got a cite for industrial production? Resource extraction, yes. Industrial production?




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  52. A side note on the agrocracy argument: even if CA doesn’t produce the right kind of food, the original argument was about policy know-how. As such, almond producers would know a lot more about food production than city slickers. As such, I am not sure why they cannot be included at a burgeoning agrocrats.




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  53. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Because they are Californians, of course. No right thinking person has anything but contempt for the entire state.

    Plus as soon as you pointed out that California wasn’t treated very well under his own logic he had to dismiss it. Certainly wasn’t going to let actual facts get in the way of his beliefs about who the most important people are!




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  54. @Just Another Ex-Republican: Well, we all know those fruits and nuts on the left coast aren’t real Americans!

    In all seriousness, I have noticed what appears to be an uptick in anti-CA sentiment in the RWM. I assume it is because there are lot of popular votes in CA that end up not mattering because of the EC and rather than grapple with the implications of that, it is better to just dis the place.




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  55. wr says:

    I’m with Blaze. Only the people who grow our food should be allowed to vote. That’s why I demand suffrage for the farmers of Mexico, Canada and China!




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