# Outside the Beltway

## What if the Electoral Vote was Proportional?

### What if instead of the unit rule, states doled out electoral voter based on the proportion of votes each slate of electors received?

Under our current system to elect the president, voters vote for a list of electors in each state (even though on the ballot it often looks like the voter is voting directly for the candidate). Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of House and Senate seats each state has, ranging from the 3 for Wyoming to the 55 for California (these allocations are re-evaluated every ten years).

Electors are allocated via the “unit rule” (save in Maine and Nebraska) which means that the list of electors which receives the plurality (i.e., a simple majority) of the vote wins and all the electors on that list cast votes in the December elections for president in the various state capitals. Maine and Nebraska allocate two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide plurality and then allocate one electoral vote per congressional district (also via plurality).

In electoral studies terms, there are 51 multi-seat districts being contested each November (the fifty states plus DC) and five single-seat districts (two in Maine and three in Nebraska). Each multi-seat district has a minimum of two seats (electors) up for grabs. We use plurality elections in which the list of electors (the “seats” in this case) that receives the plurality of the vote wins all the seats (as contrasted with multi-seat list-proportional systems wherein lists win seats corresponding to the proportion of the vote each party list receives).

So, if a candidate wins a state, say 47.2% versus 44.4% (as Clinton did over Trump in Colorado in 2016), the winner gets 100% of the electoral votes, and the loser gets nothing (in the CO example, 9 electoral votes). Again, 47.2% of the vote leads to 100% of the seats. Think about what it would be like if we elected Congress in such a fashion.

What if we elected the president via a proportional allocation of electoral votes per state rather than via the unit rule?

Well, in the Colorado example, Clinton would have won 4, Trump 4, and Gary Johnson (who won ~5% of the vote) would have won 1. This is assuming a simple calculation that allocates the EVs in a directly proportional fashion.

Hence:

.472*9=4.25

.444*9=3.97

.05*9=.45

Clinton obviously gets 4 and Trump 3 in terms of whole electors. For the remaining two electors, we would look at the largest remainders: .25 for Clinton, .97 for Trump, and .45 for Johnson. Trump has the largest remainder and gets an additional elector and the next largest remainder goes to Johnson. So, the final allocation under such a system would be 4 to Clinton, 4 to Trump, 1 to Johnson.

Note that this is not the only way to engage in proportional allocations, but it is the most straight-forward. One possible change would be to have a legal threshold. Let’s say to limit too much fragmentation, a candidate would have to win a minimum x% (say 3% or 1%) of the vote to win an elector. Of course, Johnson would still have won an elector under such a scenario. There are also a number of other kinds of allocation rules (different quotas, divisor systems, etc.) that could be used that would create slightly different outcomes. That would require a far longer post to address. (This paragraph is to simply point out that there isn’t just a singular choice to “go proportional”).

Using the simple system above, 2016 would have looked like this :

 Clinton 263 48.88% Trump 259 48.14% Johnson 14 2.60% McMullin 1 0.19% Stein 1 0.19% 538 100%

This is in contrast to the actual results:

So, if we had used a simple proportional allocation process in 2016, the election would have been thrown to the House (I did not attempt to determine the effects on the outcomes using thresholds nor with other allocation rules). But, since the Electoral College requires an absolute majority winner, it stands to reason that a more proportional allocation of votes, in the context of no one with 50%+1 of support, would result in no one with an EV majority (i.e., 270 or more).

(A side note I do not have time to develop: throwing a race like this to the House illustrates the Framers’ utter lack of understanding of parties. The EC would have produced a plurality winner for one party’s candidate, while the House election produced a majority for the other party. Also, more disproportionate elements would come into play, as each House delegation gets a vote, not each member of Congress. As such, Texas’ one vote would be equal to Maine’s 1 vote. Remember, too, part of the reason for the EC, from the Framers’ POV was that it would be hard for national candidates to emerge–they thought all candidates would be regional. Clearly Trump and Clinton both had national appeal–because of, you know, political parties).

The alternative scenario reveals, of course, that Clinton was not an absolute majority favorite in the election. It also shows how much the unit rule distorts overall popular preference. And, of course, the new results still show how the weighted nature of the EV still distorts popular preference, even went the electoral votes are allocated proportionally

Of course, just multiplying 538*.4818 (Clinton’s popular vote total) gives us 259.21, so also to the House, if the EV was allocated proportionally by the popular vote. This is not mathematically surprising, but it is it striking to remind us that while the Constitutions requires an absolute majority of electoral votes, we do not apply that parameter to the popular vote (and, by extension, allow the EV outcome to make us think that presidents have more support than they normally actually do in many cases–Bill Clinton never won 50% of the popular vote, for example).

From a representational point of view, proportional allocation is more honest as it more clearly reveals the national preferences. But, of course, going to the House has major downsides, both in terms of reflecting popular preference but also in terms of the political circus that would be unleashed.

One thing that continues to be a problem with this system: as long as electoral votes are allocated in a way to enhance the representation of small population states, there is no way to guarantee that the president is actually chosen by the plurality, let alone majority, preference of the citizenry.

As such, I continue to prefer a popular vote, either with two rounds or with an instant run-off. (This was an intellectual exercise, not an attempt to argue in favor).

Note: I started this post, writing most of it, in fact, in the Before Times, but the EC SCOTUS case finally got me to finish it.

##### About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. 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. CSK says:

I’ve heard people from states with very few electoral votes claim that if the electoral college were abandoned, they would be disenfranchised. No, they wouldn’t. They’d be outvoted.

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2. gVOR08 says:

So under a proportional allocation scheme, third parties become even bigger spoilers than they are now. And touching on your faithless elector post yesterday, in your hypothetical it’s hard to see how there wouldn’t be a bidding war for faithless third party Electors.

Yes, the EC was a bloody disaster in 2000 and 2016, and could get worse. An Amendment eliminating the EC in favor of the popular vote is the clean way out, but no one seems to see any hope of ratifying such a thing. The National Popular Vote initiative appears stalled. As things stand, Republicans cannot support more democratic elections. So what do we do?

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3. gVOR08 says:

@CSK: Quite correct, whereas in 2016 NY and CA were effectively disenfranchised.

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4. Kathy says:

@gVOR08:

As things stand, Republicans cannot support more democratic elections. So what do we do?

Revolution.

I can’t quite make a point-by-point case, but the US is meeting many of the symptoms that have led to revolutions in the past. Namely a growing number of people barely getting by economically, and namely in that group a huge and constant sense of insecurity. Second, growing control of politics by a small clique of the wealthy, resistant even to beneficial reforms, which causes a feeling of disenfranchisement in large parts of the population.

There’s more, but I caution as Orwell did, through O’Brien, that those in the middle want to be at the top, while those at the bottom want more equitable distribution of resources. Time and gain we’ve seen the middle rise to the top. We have yet to see equitable distribution, as a result of revolution.

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5. Kylopod says:

I’ve made the analogy before. If the population were divided up by the first letter of everyone’s first name, and each group was given two Senators, then any attempt to eliminate this system would immediately provoke the loudest protests from people named Quentin and Xavier.

That’s the crux of the problem with electoral reform: no matter how ridiculous and arbitrary the current system is, it’s going to be defended the most by people who enjoy the disproportionate power it gives them—who effectively have veto power over any proposed reforms.

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6. CSK says:

@Kathy:
But I have to ask: Is a revolution possible when those who should be revolting are the ones who worship Trump?

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7. Kylopod says:

@CSK:

Is a revolution possible when those who should be revolting are the ones who worship Trump?

Those who worship Trump are already revolting.

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8. CSK says:

@Kylopod:
Well, certainly that’s true in one sense of the word.

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9. Michael Cain says:

@gVOR08:

An Amendment eliminating the EC in favor of the popular vote is the clean way out, but no one seems to see any hope of ratifying such a thing.

As our hosts here have discussed before, the Constitution makes it almost impossible to approve any serious structural change. Using my standard for “serious structural”, it’s happened twice: post Civil War we eliminated slavery and significantly changed the relative power between the federal and state governments; popular election of Senators didn’t occur until we were on the verge of states calling a constitutional convention. I hold out no hope of there ever being another amendment making serious structural change (eg, direct popular election of the president) unless we reach the level of crisis that gets 34 states to vote for a convention. And I’m willing to bet a craft beer that if that occurs, the Union gets dissolved.

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10. Kathy says:

@CSK:

Now? Only if trump suddenly turned into a decent person. That’s as likely as winning every lottery in the world every day it plays, using the same numbers, and buying no tickets.

Later, it surely is possible. Not during a, gods forbid, second PITO term, but eventually.

Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States, makes the case that both Republicans and Democrats favor the wealthy and disdain and neglect the poor and minorities. I don’t agree with him, but I can see how it would look that way. And it’s true both parties owe the wealthy, they comprise the big donors.

In time, if the middle class keeps getting squeezed (and that’s the real problem), and relief doesn’t come from government, either Republican or Democrat, it just may happen.

One aspect of revolutions is they tend to splinter into conflicting groups, and then tend to descend into civil war at various levels of intensity. Seen this way, the Conservative-Liberal split is by no means an impediment to revolution.

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11. An Interested Party says:

I’ve heard people from states with very few electoral votes claim that if the electoral college were abandoned, they would be disenfranchised. No, they wouldn’t. They’d be outvoted.

Not even that would be accurate, as those who voted for the winning candidate wouldn’t be outvoted, of course, that should be the point, rather than counting electoral votes from each state, the presidency should be decided by one man, one vote…

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12. drj says:

@Kathy:

Revolution.

Revolution requires collective action, for starters.

It also requires the realization that you and your mates are in the same boat and that if you don’t work together shit is not going to change. It also requires anger.

* Collective action seems pretty much a non-starter.

* Too many Americans are busy tugging their forelocks when they encounter their betters to actually do something. The near-automatic deference to (some specific kinds of) authority, e.g. bosses, the police, the military, “wealth creators,” “real Americans,” etc., regularly borders on the pathological.

* Their anger is either misdirected (George Soros, Hillary Clinton’s pizza parlor sex ring, etc.) or not directed at all (“socialism,” “the government” – in the Ronald Reagan sense of the word).

* Continued believe in the American dream (wich is pretty much a lie if you compare the US to other western countries right now) is a very successful example of “divide and rule.”

* The US is simply too big and too geographically diverse.

I’m not saying it is a bad thing, but revolution is not going to happen.

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13. Sleeping Dog says:

A proportional allocation of EC votes would be an improvement over the existing method, only used in conjunction with ranked choice voting, in order to eliminate the minor party candidates and allowing one candidate to reach 270. Throwing every race to the House, which would be a disaster.

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14. CSK says:

@Kathy:
When I was in my first year of grad school, a professor remarked that if you responded “the rise of the middle class” to the question “what was one of the factors in (name almost any social, cultural, or political movement),” you’d be right. He was semi-joking, but he made a valid point.

Back in the late sixties-early seventies, Students for a Democratic Society and related groups were constantly proclaiming their solidarity with “the workers” and calling for those workers to arise. This was extraordinarily silly, given that the workers thought the students were entitled, privileged snots and that the workers, many of whom were wearing Qiana shirts, gold chains, and driving Gran Torinos, didn’t regard themselves as oppressed.

P.S. Some of the student activists carried their supposed identification with the oppressed to ludicrous lengths. There’s nothing quite like listening to a Harvard senior named Winthrop Winslow Cabot Lodge Harriman XVI talk about getting back to his working class roots.

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15. EddieInCA says:

What if the Electoral Vote was Proportional?

What if I could have a unicorn?
What if I could fly like Superman?
What if I could have Brad Pitt’s looks, and Stephen Hawking’s brain?

I mean no disrespect Dr. Taylor, but this is the sort of work that grates on me like nails on a chalkboard, because it starts from a theoretical position of people being swayed by facts, logic, fairness, and precedent. That’s not the world we live in. That’s not the world for the foreseeable future.

No. We live in a world where the GOP can say< with a straight face, that Red States are bailing out Blue States.
We live in a world where a man who has 15 credible, documented accusations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and paid off a porn star is compared equally to a man who has one non-credible, inconsistent, and easilty defended accusation of sexual assault.
We live in a world where the current GOP is actively choosing to let people die in order that…. FREEDOM!

So forgive me for being cynical about theoretical, intellectual exercises showing what "might be".

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16. @EddieInCA: I will counter that I have a nails on the chalkboard response to being told what I ought to write or that attempts are producing understanding are pointless.

Setting that annoyance aside, I wholly recognize that that number of people who even understand what I am talking about here, let alone who are persuadable, is limited. But I will note that you have to start somewhere.

There was a time, many years ago, that I was ambivalent at best about the EC and would have defended the way the Senate is allocated. Why? Because we are taught that the Constitution is awesome from the time we are small. Study disabused me of that fact.

People can change their minds. (And it takes time).

You gotta start somewhere.

So forgive me for being cynical about theoretical, intellectual exercises showing what “might be”.

Be cynical all you like. I can be pretty cynical myself. I have been pretty clear about the prospects for change. But I, for one, learned a little bit via the exercise, and learning is a worthwhile enterprise.

If all this blogging on the EC changes a handful of minds or provides some level of enhanced understanding, that’s progress.

As I have noted before, the very notion that things could be done differently in terms of elections has been a foreign concept in the US–we used to never even talk about it. Again, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Also, if you think the post fits into the same category as “What if I could have a unicorn?” then you are missing the point. I am not wishing for this outcome.

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17. but this is the sort of work that grates on me like nails on a chalkboard, because it starts from a theoretical position of people being swayed by facts, logic, fairness, and precedent. That’s not the world we live in. That’s not the world for the foreseeable future.

We have never lived in a world wherein mass publics were persuadable by facts, logic, and fairness.

Yet, we achieved female suffrage, expanded voting rights (which is still a struggle), and gays can marry (to pick three big examples off the top of my head).

Change is possible. It takes time and those whose power is threatened by that change will always fight to maintain the status quo.

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18. Michael Reynolds says:

The Founders, for all their many faults and errors, succeeded in creating a government because they understood humans. The Communists, to pick one example, failed because they did not.

A certain percentage of humans are assholes and will always be assholes. They need to be on top, they need to rule. Any proposed form of government that fails to grasp the essential, irreducible assholery of human beings will fail. If anyone approaches you and suggests a revolution that involves a new type of human, a change in human nature, Soviet Man or equivalent, you’d do the world a favor by shooting them.

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19. EddieInCA says:

Fair enough. Thanks for the response.

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20. CSK says:

@Michael Reynolds:
Communism is just feudalism without God.

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21. R.Dave says:

@gVOR08: As things stand, Republicans cannot support more democratic elections. So what do we do?

Accept that the current system as imperfect but good enough and just focus on winning within the existing structure? I mean, honestly, it’s not exactly an existential failure of representative democracy when a quirk of the system results in the candidate with 46% of the vote beating the candidate with 48% of the vote. It seems to me that the representative character of the system is, in a practical sense, more or less the same either way.

Now, personally, I do favor a national popular vote approach for the President with some kind of instant runoff built in, but I’m not particularly worked up about the minor distortions caused by the EC to-date. And to whatever extent it is or may become a problem, I think we have a better shot at mitigating the effects by (i) pushing Congress (and/or the SC through a reinvigorated non-delegation doctrine) to claw back more of Congress’s existing power and prerogatives from the Executive and (ii) seeking a Constitutional Amendment to limit SC Justices and Federal Circuit Judges to fixed terms instead of lifetime appointments so every two-term President basically gets to make a few appointments, thus reducing the partisan importance of winning every Presidential election.

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22. drj says:

@R.Dave:

In a closely divided electorate, it’s not exactly an existential failure of representative democracy when a quirk of the system results in the candidate with 46% of the vote beating the candidate with 48% of the vote.

a) It’s three million votes.

b) These “quirks” always go in the same direction. Worse: it’s not just the presidency. Rural populations are also overrepresented in the House. The Senate is – obviously – even worse than the House. These are, in fact, not “quirks.” Instead, it’s systematic bias.

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23. @R.Dave:

I mean, honestly, it’s not exactly an existential failure of representative democracy when a quirk of the system results in the candidate with 46% of the vote beating the candidate with 48% of the vote.

Actually, I think it underscores, at a minimum, a highly flawed process, especially when we know of lots of better ways for the system to work.

But let’s stipulate that in and of itself, 2016 alone is not an existential crisis. But then you have 2000 as well as the general fact that the last GOP president to win a first term with majority support was George H. W. Bush in 1988.

Pile on from there structural problems with the Senate.

Pile on further gerrymandering, geographic sorting, and the too-small House.

Pile on further active voter suppression.

And it does start to look like an existential crisis for representative democracy in the US.

So yes: fight to win within the existing structure (it is all that can be done in the short-term), but don’t dismiss the pile of problems that democracy in America is facing.

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24. grumpy realist says:

@drj: It’s the same “rotten borough” problem that caused such a problem in England at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and has screwed up Japanese politics. (Japanese voting areas were draw up right after WWII ended, when everyone had fled out into the rural areas to find food. Then, as the economy healed, people moved back into the cities, resulting in the lopsided representation we find today. The government has tried to fix matters by adding more voting districts in the urban areas, but representation is still lopsided. A seat in a rural district will require 80,000 votes to win, while an urban seat will require 100,000 or more.)

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25. grumpy realist says:

P.S. This is why the LDP has had such a lock on Japanese politics over the years–rural voting areas. The Socialists and the Communists end up with urban seats.

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26. HarvardLaw92 says:

You may recall some of us alluding a few years ago to effecting a challenge to the continuing viability of the electoral college. Bet you thought at the time that we weren’t serious about it, no? It was clear to us then, and it’s no less clear now, that the only way to rid ourselves of this anachronistic throwback to powdered wigs and tricorne hats – which even at the time it was devised was a combination of compromise with a gun to the head and a backdoor implementation of benevolent plutocracy – was to undermine public faith in the EC system itself.

You’d never convince those who benefit from the disproportional reallocation of political power to give up that advantage, ergo it was necessary to demonstrate to them that their romantic notions about the EC – and their surety in the sanctity of their own votes being counted – were in error. Nothing else would work besides giving the common man a clear sign that the EC allows not only the votes of those he disagrees with to be effectively discarded, but also allows his vote to be discarded as well. So … enter faithless electors, stage left. It’s taken a few years and more than a few dollars to get here, but here we are …

Despite the Constitution and the historical record being crystal clear about these matters, we got to bear witness to supposed strict constructionists extemporizing from the bench about the practical implications of issuing a ruling that acknowledges those truths. How they manage to dodge this bullet – which they all but signaled their desperate desire to do, what sort of twisted reasoning they apply to accomplishing that end, will be something to behold; a piece of legal legerdemain for the history books.

Regarding Dr. Taylor’s OP – what would be the point? If you proportionally allocate the electoral votes, you’re effectively just implementing direct election by proxy, so why not just go the last mile and actually HAVE direct election?

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27. Scott F. says:

Yet, we achieved female suffrage, expanded voting rights (which is still a struggle), and gays can marry (to pick three big examples off the top of my head).

As I reflect on all three of these examples, it occurs to me that the shift happened in the culture first then the politics followed. So changing minds is the primary act, as it can lead to protest which can lead to changes in the law.

Applying that thought to the public perceptions and behaviors EddieInCA references, it strikes me that Rupert Murdoch and his ilk are more dangerous to the country’s future than Trump. Freedom of the press shouldn’t mean unaccountable to facts, logic, fairness and propriety.

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28. Kurtz says:

@R.Dave:

… minor distortions caused by the EC to-date.

The statistical measure may indeed be minor, but the impact of a minor change can have disproportionately large effects downstream.

29. grumpy realist says:

@Guarneri:
1. Maybe some people want to work in locations where they can do actual research they’re interested in, rather than whatever is demanded by a corporation.
2. Companies have done less and less basic research over the years. There’s no Bell Labs around any more. If you want to do basic research, it’s either government labs or academia.
3. Better work-life balance, plus better employee protection. (Boy do I know this.) Companies are far more likely to demand ridiculous hours of you, then kick you out when you get burnt out. Or kick you out because there’s been a sudden coup d’etat among the BOD and whoever won needs some more \$\$\$ to pay his pet employees. (Been there, seen that, got the tee-shirt.) When you get older and have to worry more about things like health insurance and retirement plans, you’re less inclined to take the gamble of working in certain areas of corporate America. We’ve seen how much trust we can place in you–none at all.

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30. Teve says:

But let’s stipulate that in and of itself, 2016 alone is not an existential crisis. But then you have 2000 as well as the general fact that the last GOP president to win a first term with majority support was George H. W. Bush in 1988.

Pile on from there structural problems with the Senate.

Pile on further gerrymandering, geographic sorting, and the too-small House.

Pile on further active voter suppression.

And it does start to look like an existential crisis for representative democracy in the US.

And a nihilist political party.

I expect there to be a serious political crisis in this country in the next decade or two.

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31. Scott F. says:

@Guarneri:

the only solution is to limit the size and powers of government, given that the world is full of assholes, and so many desire to be in government, or impotently kibitzing from academia.

Duh, no. The predicate for the conservative vision of limited government is a presumption that individuals could be expected to responsibly self-govern within a social contract that says we are all in this together – that people and non-government groups acting with rational self-interest could be depended upon to more effectively lead to better outcomes for everybody.

A world full of assholes puts a lie to that ideal.

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32. Kurtz says:

@Guarneri:

Yes, the “can’t do class” who managed to, oh I don’t know, develop the basis of the internet, send people to space, discover the structure of DNA, etc. None of those things would be done by the private sector, because none of them have a clear timeframe to turn a profit.

Here’s the thing, if you just admitted that your politics reflect your financial self-interest rather than some commitment to an ethical or moral code, you would probably find other people would accept your arguments. They may not agree, but they would at least see you as someone arguing in good faith.

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33. @HarvardLaw92: I would be interested in elaboration on this point, as even if the Court rules that Electors can continue to do what they have been able to do for about two centuries, the step of translating faithless electors into anything serious is a huge one.

Parties control who the electors are.

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34. James Joyner says:

@Michael Cain: I’m not sure even those examples are all that exciting. The post-Civil War amendments only passed because they were forced on the former Confederate states; they wouldn’t have passed under normal order. And direct election of the Senate diluted the power of state legislatures but not the states themselves.

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35. HarvardLaw92 says:

And a significant part of that control is, IMO, the belief that electors can effectively and meaningfully be prohibited from engaging in faithless tactics / punished for the same. Remove those strictures and – however much parties may want to believe that they can choose reliable electors from among the rabidly faithful – all bets will then be off.

No matter who you send to cast an electoral vote, when he/she does so in the full knowledge that they can choose whomever they like, free from restraint or punishment, solely guided by their own whims and priorities, the only predictable outcome becomes that the outcome is no longer predictable. Hypothetically, what happens if, say, a whole bunch of Berners slip in as electors and, regardless of whatever they promised you when they signed up, they get to the moment of truth and say “just kidding, we’re voting for Bernie …” Same scenario with some future variant of Trump versus the establishment wing of the party. You’d hear the public outcry from space …

When you establish that a small group of people is empowered to completely ignore the will of the people and vote however it likes, for whomever it likes – which is what the Constitution, all manner of hypocritical maneuvering from the “literalist” wing of the court notwithstanding, actually created – then the EC will die. Because the public faith in it will be dead and buried. No voter, in any party, will stand for it.

It’ll just be a matter of how long it will take to schedule the funeral.

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36. James Joyner says:

If you proportionally allocate the electoral votes, you’re effectively just implementing direct election by proxy, so why not just go the last mile and actually HAVE direct election?

Well, no. You’d still have the fundamental problem (or feature, depending on one’s viewpoint) of the existing system: Americans in Wyoming would continue to have a disproportionate say in who becomes President vice those in California.

Second, the effects could either be am

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37. HarvardLaw92 says:

Right, the proxy is still skewed, but what is actually accomplished by such a half measure? If the goal is to rid ourselves of this disaster – and I’m quite certain that my position on that question needs no clarification – then pursuing half measures such as this would be counterproductive. I have no interest in giving it a veneer of additional veracity. I want it abolished from the face of the Earth 🙂

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38. And a significant part of that control is, IMO, the belief that electors can effectively and meaningfully be prohibited from engaging in faithless tactics / punished for the same.

The control comes from choosing hardcore partisans to act in those roles. Those kinds of people are unlikely to defect from their partisan alliances.

You’d hear the public outcry from space …

I used to think that if the loser of the pop vote was installed you’d hear the public outcry from space, but having done it twice of late, not so much. Indeed, public support for getting rid of the EC has diminished.

The only way you are going to get an outcry is if faithless electors overturned an election, but that scenario requires Party A to win enough electors and then having a substantial number of A electors being willing to scuttle their party’s nominee to, what, make a point?

I am having a hard time seeing how this is supposed to come to pass. What am I missing?

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39. Regarding Dr. Taylor’s OP – what would be the point? If you proportionally allocate the electoral votes, you’re effectively just implementing direct election by proxy, so why not just go the last mile and actually HAVE direct election?

That was, ultimately, my point.

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40. When you establish that a small group of people is empowered to completely ignore the will of the people and vote however it likes, for whomever it likes – which is what the Constitution, all manner of hypocritical maneuvering from the “literalist” wing of the court notwithstanding, actually created – then the EC will die.

BTW: is it not the case that a large number of states don’t try to bind electors,–20ish? So this group already exists but is not behaving the way you are predicting.

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41. Kathy says:

The EC favors wither one party or the other. So there may be one party agitating against the EC, if they can overcome the inertia of tradition, but there will always be one party defending it at all costs. This makes it harder to take it down.

For that, I see two possibilities: 1) that it continues to favor a party with under 40% popular support, or 2) that it produces some chaotic situation, as with “faithless” electors, that in turn causes a major economic downturn or armed conflict.

42. HarvardLaw92 says:

I envision something more akin to a schism within a party. Imagine the opportunities for groups engaged in internecine warfare for control of a party to install their preferred candidate by fiat, among other scenarios. In any case, all we can do is attempt to set the stage for it. Once / if that’s accomplished, then you can begin to attempt to work electors who’ll buck the system into the mix. Why doesn’t really matter as much – whether partisan bickering, belief in the principle of direct election, whatever else . Rome wasn’t built in a day. This abortion won’t be dismantled in a day.

Bit I’m willing to wager that all it takes to begin that process is the knowledge that the system as arranged can subvert the election entirely. Even if it doesn’t happen that often (at first), I’m willing to bet that the simple public knowledge that it CAN happen – that a court has sanctioned the validity of it happening – is poisonous enough in itself to start killing the dragon. I’ve spent a fairly good sized amount helping to pursue that goal.

Maybe we win, maybe we lose, but doing nothing was not an option. This is what we saw as our best path.

43. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

Regarding Dr. Taylor’s OP – what would be the point? If you proportionally allocate the electoral votes, you’re effectively just implementing direct election by proxy, so why not just go the last mile and actually HAVE direct election?

The issue with proportional vote is that it would require an independent federal commission/organization to run elections in the Presidential level. Proportional allocation of the votes would allow to have elections where the most voted candidate is the President without requiring Presidential elections to be run in the federal level.
(Yes, a Federal Commission to run Presidential Elections would be a feature, not a bug, but it would be more complicated to implement).

44. Michael Cain says:

@James Joyner: I’m peculiar in that I look at the Constitution as primarily an agreement between and set of rules for the relationship of Congress and the state legislatures. With “we the people” as an afterthought, considered from time to time. I don’t believe it’s an accident that the 10th Amendment reserves remaining power to the states first, and the people second. I applaud efforts to get direct election of the president, merely note that we may well need to get sufficient control of nearly 34 state legislatures — enough to make a convention a meaningful threat — in order to get it.

45. Kathy says:

@drj:

I should run through Duncan’s treatment of 1848, the Year of Revolutions. The situation in the US today, and in other countries as well, reminds me a lot of how Europe felt around that time.

Of course, revolution doesn’t necessarily follow. In 1848, Britain barely even stirred.

46. rachel says:

@CSK: That’s how it works out in practice because the theory (as Michael Reynolds pointed out) is basically flawed.

47. de stijl says:

What if we just counted all votes to determine the winner?

We spend an inordinate amount of time determining whether Wisconsin wherever will go Biden or Trump.

One person, 51* pools, one vote is the current system.

Arguably, one person, one vote is much more valid and representational.

The state based system of winner take all* EVs clearly is not democratic and disenfranchises many.

Pipe dream. I am more likely to hit the Powerball.

1
48. An Interested Party says:

The statistical measure may indeed be minor, but the impact of a minor change can have disproportionately large effects downstream.

Indeed, those “minor distortions” caused by the EC have led to a Supreme Court that has 4 justices who were put forth by presidents who received fewer votes than their opponents…so very minor…

1
49. HarvardLaw92 says:

No, it wouldn’t. You’d simply have every state allocating their electoral votes akin to how Nebraska / Maine allocate them.

It would still be pointless. Anything other than direct election is just playing political games with rounding.

1
50. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

@HarvardLaw92: Nebraska and Maine allocated via Congressional District, not proportional. I think that the EC is incredibly bad and dangerous, on the other hand I don’t see how you can’t fix that without Constitutional Amendment, and with Federal Administration of Presidential Elections(Yes, that would be a feature, not a bug).

51. Gustopher says:

@gVOR08:

So under a proportional allocation scheme, third parties become even bigger spoilers than they are now. And touching on your faithless elector post yesterday, in your hypothetical it’s hard to see how there wouldn’t be a bidding war for faithless third party Electors.

You mean… there would be candidates trying to build a coalition? And offering things to the third parties?

I think this would be a huge change in the relevance of third parties, making them something more than spoilers.

52. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

You mean… there would be candidates trying to build a coalition?

No. Any third party candidate with a significant share of the vote would simply throw the election to Congress, as if there was a tie. There is no solution to the Electoral College without a Constitutional Amendment.

1
53. Gustopher says:

@Andre Kenji de Sousa: But a third party candidate could direct his electors to vote for another candidate…

It’s closer to the original expectations of the electoral college, where it was believed that there wouldn’t be national parties, and the electoral college would meet, discuss and choose the President. This, of course, never happened.

54. Kit says:

Lots of interesting thoughts here but people ignore, to coin a phrase, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. An election that peacefully turns on a single vote is a testament to the power of democracy in a given country at a given time. But only the naive believe that a 50/50 nation with radically opposed parties can heal its problems by counting the votes more fairly. The rot in the body politic runs deeper and calls for more sever measures than can be solved with the above proposals.*

*Count me among those who both appreciate and learn from Steven while also sharing in the frustration of @EddieInCA. Adding to what Michael hinted at, communism, no matter its economic failings, was doomed to founder because it had no understanding of power. The Founders, on the other hand, seriously grappled with the issue. But the nature of power has evolved over the past 250 years, and Team Red has changed with the times, while Team Blue contents itself with trying to tune up a horse and buggy.

55. You mean… there would be candidates trying to build a coalition? And offering things to the third parties?

I think this would be a huge change in the relevance of third parties, making them something more than spoilers.

It could increase the chance of more third party participants, yes. But there would be no coalition-building (like you might see in a two-round process) because the House would decide the president. The top three candidates would go to the House, but the third party would be DOA.

1
56. But a third party candidate could direct his electors to vote for another candidate…

I suppose they could try, but they would not directly control those individuals (i.e, it would be difficult to coordinate).

Put another way: you would think that Justin Amash voters would prefer Biden to Trump, but many will still vote for Amash because it makes them feel better. Remember some of the conversations we have had here at the site about this kind of logic. Think of the Bernie Bros who will note vote for Biden/didn’t vote for HRC. Someone who is a hard core elector for a third party candidate might be very difficult to persuade to vote for another party.

Also: that could only work if the coalition of electors could guarantee 270. Else, to the House the decision goes.

57. It’s closer to the original expectations of the electoral college, where it was believed that there wouldn’t be national parties, and the electoral college would meet, discuss and choose the President.

More accurately, the original conception was that the EC would meet apart (each delegation in their states) and ultimately function as a nominating body and the House would choose from the regionally derived nominees.

The EC was never intended to meet as a whole body Fed 68:

And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

58. gVOR08 says:

Yes, having third party electors could facilitate coalitions. Although they’d have no Congressional seats and could not support a coalition past the selection of the president.

But I fear straight up corruption is the more likely outcome. In a scenario in which the D is two electors short of a majority, and the R five short, with five third party electors, can you imagine the Rs wouldn’t be waving bribes around? Mostly within the rules, norms, and very loose laws on political bribery, but nonetheless offered. The DeVoses and Mercers are likely paying for Amash to act as a spoiler. Think if they get that close they wouldn’t pay a bit more? For that matter if we end up with 270 Electors for Biden, and 268 for Trump, I wouldn’t bet against bribes being offered to D Electors. Even if the Supremes leave intact the ability of the states to bind electors.

But you say there are X states that don’t bind electors and this hasn’t happened, so party ties are sufficient. One, we don’t know it hasn’t been tried. Two, it requires a very close election. Three, money, say ten million per elector, can overcome a lot of scruples and ideology. And even pay any fines or penalties.

59. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

@gVOR08:

Yes, having third party electors could facilitate coalitions.

It wouldn’t. It would simply throw the election of the House, and it would enhance the main problem of the EC(The loser of the election becomes the President). Specially because if the United States were a multiparty democracy the Libertarian Party and the Green Party wouldn’t be the third largest parties.

60. gVOR08 says:

@Andre Kenji de Sousa: I’m responding to someone else’s suggestion that it could lead to coalition. It assumes the proportional vote scheme which is the subject of the original post. It also assumes the Supremes allow discretion to Electors. In which case it would be legit for, say, the D candidate to offer concessions to the Libertarians in return for their electoral vote. The the D then gets a majority and it doesn’t go to the House.

My contention is that outright corruption, buying of electors, would be more likely. The way things are going, I expect corruption whether the Supremes make it legal or not.

1
61. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

@gVOR08: It seems to me that coalitions form in systems where a majority in the legislative house is necessary to form a government/appoint or declare a leader, prime minister, president, hegemon, whatever. We already have a majority in the House by nature of 435 being indivisible by two. But the types of corruption you are referring to also seem already evident as we look at the types of deals that are made/not made in order to form coalition governments. In our system, you’re right, it would probably require cash. Most corruption here does.

62. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

Put another way: you would think that Justin Amash voters would prefer Biden to Trump, but many will still vote for Amash because it makes them feel better.

Just a point: the experience with runoff endorsements are something meeh. The voters not always follow what their candidate in the first round of voting says what they should do. Don’t expect them to behave any better if there is no runoff.

63. papaguns says:

this is just more wishes.

the founders were smarter than all of you put together. so many liberals tend to think that because they have modern educations they’re smarter than the founders and this idiot can’t think himself out of a wet paper bag so he goes back to the old trope about “what if we could remove the electoral college”.

let me help you all with that idea.
you’ve been trying to remove our right to keep and bear arms too. that’s not going to happen either.
It will protect itself and the rest of the constitution too. The electoral college will remain.
Why?
because the just ONE of the guys that thought it up, created an invention that’s lasted for 244 years without change. it’s still mod1 mark 0
when any of you idiots get smart enough to create something like the lightening rod, maybe we’ll listen to ya.

till then, I love watching you write articles like this and cry in your milk.

64. LB says:

I did a semi-proportional system where you took the top 2 national vote getters, look at their individual two-candidate margins, and award electoral votes based on how close the margin was. If the margin was 5% or less, then half of the electors were awarded to each candidate (for odd number states, the higher vote getter got the rounded up number). If the vote margin was between 10% and 5%+1 vote, then the higher vote getter got the closest percentage of electors to 66.7%, (e.g. 3/4, 3/5, 4/6, 5/7, 5/8, etc.). Any margin larger than 10% results in the larger vote getter getting all the electors.

And the winner of 2016 under this method was (drum roll…): Hillary Clinton, with 285 votes. The closest Hillary comes to losing a significant amount of votes due to the thresholds (and losing the presidency) is with TX and OH, where she had losing margins of 9.43% and 8.54%, respectively. If she loses by more than 10% in both of those states, Trump wins with 271 electors, but he needs both because Clinton wins with 273 if she loses just TX’s electors.

This method makes it so candidates aren’t penalized for being competitive in states but just falling short and creates an incentive for investing in more states in order to pick up some extra electors at the margins.

65. Mister Bluster says:

test

66. Mister Bluster says:

created an invention that’s lasted for 244 years without change.

If you are talking about the United States Constitution it was ratified in 1788 which would make it 232 years old. In that time it has been amended i.e. changed 27 times.

I’m sure that your support for Amendments I and XIV is just as fervent as your support for Article II, Sections 2 and 4, Amendment XII and Amendment II.

67. @Mister Bluster: I think he is arguing that because Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod (which is 244 years old, I guess) it proves that the constitution is perfect.

Once I sorted that out, I decided engagement likely to be unproductive.

68. Mister Bluster says:

@Steven L. Taylor:..Once I sorted that out, I decided engagement likely to be unproductive.

Silly me. To paraphrase @95South I thought I would try to find the truth, and to help people who have gotten off-track in their thinking.