The Electoral College: Necessary?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by ktwsolo, Dec 19, 2001.

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  1. Darkside_Spirit Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Sep 9, 2001
    star 3
    I think that a straight federal-plurality (or even better, Alternative Vote) mechanism would be vastly superior to the Electoral College. It still makes me furious when I think about Gore winning the popular vote by hundreds of thousands. "Sore Loserman" indeed!!

    However, "mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to change the forms of Government to which they are accustomed" and the current system could be sufficiently updated by having a system of proportional representation in the allocation of each state's votes. Am I correct in thinking that one state does this already? I certainly think the winner-take all situation is ludicrous and indefensible.
  2. womberty Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jan 21, 2002
    star 4
    I certainly think the winner-take all situation is ludicrous and indefensible.

    Food for thought: the Presidency is a winner-take-all situation.

    But on a more serious note ... Yes, at least one state now uses a form of proportional representation where electoral votes are determined by congressional districts. All of the states have the option to allot their electoral votes this way, but I am sure that there are many who never will. Large states, such as California and Texas, will not easily relinquish the power they have under the current system. In addition, the southern states that fought for states' rights in the Civil War (for the wrong reason, in that case, but it was very much about their rights to govern themselves) will continue to case their electoral votes as a state. And if those states are not going to change, neither will the majority of the other states, because they will not want those states to hold more sway in the election.

    Establishing a nation-wide election process weakens the individual states' contributions. And if, as someone suggested earlier in this thread, a particular state was rampant with fraud, the electoral college keeps it in check. (Imagine if one state reported that nearly 100% of their registered voters had voted, with a large majority of those cast for one candidate. The electoral college still only allows them a number of votes proportional to the population, rather than allowing an inflated vote tally to affect the way the national election is decided.)

    Abolishing the electoral college would be a step toward a stronger centralized federal government. Would we then move to hold congressional elections on a national level? After all, you have the same degree of representation in Congress as you're getting in the presidential election.
  3. Charles_Windflyer Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Feb 23, 2002
    star 1
    Maveric
    Fist of all, your posts are a pleasure to read, I have a feeling I would have a gret time in your classes.

    That being said, however, I still have a tough time with the popular belief going around that a major reason for the EC was because the framers saw us as an ignorant mass that shouldn't be trusted with such important matters. I can see John Adams believing that, but Madison? ... hmm not sure on that. And I'm sure Jefferson's opinion would be along the lines of "If they make an ignorant choice, so be it... that's their right and that right is what is important.

    It seems to me personally, that the intent of the EC was to preserve the autonomy and independence of the individuals states.
    people do not elect presidents, STATES elect presidents!
    See my point? without an EC, we become nothing more than one big state, discarding any sense of Federalism and develop into the United State of America.

    As one who values States' rights and Individuals' supreme position, perhaps I am looking at the situation from a decidedly biased veiwpoint, I'll give ya'that.
    As far as solutions, I couldn't agree more...
    Make every candidate win every EC vote he gets, otherwise the US will be dictated by NYC, LA, Chicago and the other metro areas.
    Charles
  4. Maveric Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 17, 1999
    star 4
    Charles_Windflyer
    Thank you for the compliment. I do enjoy teaching political science. I wish my students responded as well to my statements as the individuals here do.

    As for the framers' opinion of the masses, neither Jefferson nor Adams were involved in the crafting of the Constitution. I cannot recall where Adams was at this time (probably farming on the family farm in Braintree Mass.) but Jefferson was a diplomat for the US in France. But needless to say, when suffrage was given, it was only given to the educated white male land owner. Therefore, the voters were less predisposed to make "ignorant choices".



  5. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 1999
    star 5
    Still doesn't change the fact that in this day and age, the electoral college is a joke and a stupid outdated process. THE ELECTORS DON'T EVEN GET TO PICK HOW THEY VOTE!!!

    We have direct election of Senators, we should have a direct election of the President. We have a state AND federal government, and they both have their own functions and powers. Maveric, you teach Political Science? Where? It's hard to believe any political science teacher would defend the outdated system.
  6. Palpazzar Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 11, 2000
    star 4
    Without the electoral college, the most important thing would be the votes of white males and females. Politicians wanting to be elected would have no choice but to pander to this. Even more than this, states like California, Texas, and New York would receive too much attention at the expense of smaller states. If it was simply the most votes that counted, what is the point of trying to get some votes in West Virigna when you can spend some extra time in New York?

    The point of the EC is so that no person can be wildly popular in one group and carry the Presidency.
  7. ShadowDragon Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2002
    star 1
    I think the electoral college is completely and utterly pointless. I see people coming up with points I see as completely false. Let me address them now:

    Complaint 1: Without the electoral college, politicians would all spend more time in California, New York, and Texas.

    Umm, no... Currently, politicians spend NO time in California, New York, and Texas. None are swing states. In almost any close election, California and New York are guaranteed Democratic states and Texas is guaranteed Republican. Is that fair? And why should all of California's 50-some electoral votes go to Democrats? An individual vote in California means nothing!

    If there were no electoral college, it would be about people rather than states. Candidates would decide to campaign to all people, rather than people in large swing states. An individual Californian vote would mean something... just as much as an individual vote in Wyoming or Alaska. Why would a candidate stay within California state lines? I see the complaint as completely invalid.

    Complaint 2: Without the electoral college, the most important thing would be the votes of white males and females.

    I don't see how whites would suddenly become more powerful in a popular election. Candidates don't spend all their time pandering to whites only right now, so why would they do so w/o the electoral college? The only groups the electoral college empowers are swing states. The only group a popular election would empower are the people.

    Complaint 3: the US will be dictated by NYC, LA, Chicago and the other metro areas.

    This complaint is pretty close to complaint 1. Under a popular vote, the people would be equal no matter where they are from. Should an LA vote be worth less than a rural vote? It seems to me that you're complaining, "80% of the population would be more important than 20% of the population."

    Complaint 4: The Electoral College keeps fraud in check.

    Really? What if fraud plagued a swing state like Pennsylvania under the current system? Say there were as much as 5,000 fraudulent votes for Party 1. Party 2 really won, but fraud gave the state to Party 1. That would be a pretty major catastrophe. Under a popular vote, the 5,000 fraudulent votes would do damage, but certainly not nearly as much damage as they would under the EC.

    Here's the system I'd prefer:

    We have a nation-wide popular vote, with uniform poll-closing time, ballot, and all that good stuff. If no candidate gets 50%, we go to a two-way runoff election; If no candidate gets 33%, we go to a three-way run-off election; an so on ad infinitum. That way we get rid of the problems that plague the electoral college and the problem of spoilers. Bush would have won in 1992 (unbearable, but just) and Gore would have won in 2000 (and if Bush had won the vote, nobody could accuse Nader of being a spoiler). Plus, third parties would get quite a boost. Unfortunately, the two parties we have now would never change the system that keeps them in power.
  8. Kimball_Kinnison Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2001
    star 6
    The Electoral College was, in part, an offspring of the Great Compromise.

    As many of you may recall from yourhistory books, when they were drafting the Constitution, one of the biggest arguments was over how to provide a fair voice for each state, by population (a la the popular vote) or by state. The smaller states feared that their interests and needs would be overshadowed by the wants of the larger states if things were done by population. The larger states, on the other hand, were afraid of several smaller states ganging up on them, neglecting the needs of the majority of the population of the nation. The answer to this was the bicameral (two-house) system that we have for Congress.

    They shared this same concern with the election of the President as well. Different parts of the nation have different needs. If things were to go strictly by population, many of those needs would be neglected during a presidential race. THe Electoral College makes it so that, in order to win, a candidate needs to appeal, not just to a majority (plurality) of the population, but to several regions of the nation as well.

    You can also see this in the requirement that the President and Vice-President be from different states. It was designed to keep one state/region from gaining too much power/dominance over the other regions of the nation.

    Kimball Kinnison
  9. ShadowDragon Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2002
    star 1
    Yes, I do realize about the Great Compromise (never heard it called that, though) . I never thought it was legitimate, though.

    Complaint 5: If things were to go strictly by population, many of those needs would be neglected during a presidential race.

    I don't see this. In gaining individual votes, a candidate would have to address the individual needs of the people. Would you vote for a candidate that didn't address your individual needs? If no, then I don't see how your needs would be neglected.
  10. JediSmuggler Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jun 5, 1999
    star 5
    The problem is, Obi-Wan McCartney, that we then get close to a pure democracy.

    And one problem a pure deocracy is that it can sometimes be like five wolves and three sheep voting on what's for dinner.

    What they designed was a system of government that would reflect the will of the majority of the people and still protect the rights of individuals.

    You might not like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, but they still have the right to express their opinion. I will stipulate, however, that they have to live with the results of expressing the opinion.
  11. Maveric Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 17, 1999
    star 4
    Obi-Wan McCartney,

    I teach at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. Something you could have easily ascertained if you would have checked my profile. My webpage is even there. Try emailing me if you don't think that I am truthful. Or at BFranke@polisci.tamu.edu. That is my email at Texas A&M where I am working on my doctorate in Political Science.

    As to your statement about the electors not even getting to choose who they vote for, you are obviously not versed your constitutional history. There is no law in any state that forces an elector to vote for the party that placed them in that position. Granted, they are very likely to vote for their candidate, but aberrations do occur, and no presidential election has ever been swayed by a so called "faithless elector".

    And as for your statement that you found it hard to believe that any professor would defend such an outdated system, you are showing your bias. There is an entire field of us who believe that the Constitution means what it means. We are called Constructionalists.

  12. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 1999
    star 5
    Strict constructionalists: Well, that's pretty much like saying the constitution is the bible and the founders words are like the word of god. There are SO many mistakes in the constitution that even the founders had to patch up. Perhaps then it's just I've never met a professor that was a strict constructionalist. Arguing for that requires a whole other thread, so we'll leave it at that.

    The other thing is, it seems laughable to me to think the electors do anything. When was the last time the electors switched their vote and a different President was elected than would have been based on the vote? As far back as I can remember, NEVER. Because the elector is pretty much a ceremonial position without any power whatsoever. Perhaps it's not "written" that way, but for all intents and purposes it's TRUE.

    In addition, as many have pointed out, changing the way we elect the President WON'T negate the value of the smaller states. And what's more, is why should the Republican votes in the state of Illinois mean nothing? Chicago is a powerhouse of democratic voting, and Illinois is always a "safe" Democratic state. Why should the democratic votes of Texas just be discarded because the Republicans hold the majority vote WITHIN Texas?

    Sure, the constitution says what it does, but the constitution silently consented to slavery, and originally the electoral system wasn't even how it is now.

    Again, the electoral system is not the best system, it's not the system the founders intended, and it's not even a fair system. We only keep it because we've had it for so long. Perhaps it's time for things to change again.
  13. ShadowDragon Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2002
    star 1
    What they designed was a system of government that would reflect the will of the majority of the people and still protect the rights of individuals.

    Hmm? How does the electoral college do that?

    You might not like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, but they still have the right to express their opinion. I will stipulate, however, that they have to live with the results of expressing the opinion.

    I agree, but I don't see how they would lose their first amendment rights under a popular vote...? We would have people trying to eliminate free speech, but we already have people trying to do that; going to a popular vote wouldn't change that at all.

    There is no law in any state that forces an elector to vote for the party that placed them in that position.

    Well, that's not entirely accurate. About half of states have laws "binding" electors (I almost called them electoral collegiates :) ) to vote for the candidate winning that state's popular vote. In Wisconsin there's a $1000 fine. In New Mexico it's a felony. I don't know if the vote would be tossed out, though... anyone happen to know? If not, then I guess you're right FACPOV. Even if those laws were repealed, I still wouldn't want the electoral college.
  14. Waning Drill Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Dec 30, 1999
    star 5
    Get rid of it. Majority rules. To value a system that practices otherwise is to condone the train of thought that one voice is somehow 'louder' than the next.

    1,2,3,4. That is how the votes should be counted.
  15. Palpazzar Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 11, 2000
    star 4
    Allow me to give a slight hypothetical:

    Imagine a Presidential election similar to one in 1860. It is split 4 or 5 ways with each person representing a particular racial group because it is a racially charged time. If the vote was purely by popular vote, the person who controls the strongest percentage of the group they are representing would most likely win.

    Do you really want it where all you have to do is convince most white people to vote for you and win by default? Or where you convince African-Americans and win?

    In the situation I outlined above, you win by a majority, BUT the largest population may not even support you. So what if Gore held a slightly higher popular vote. WOuld you perfer it possible for many millions to not even support the President as opposed to a hundred thousand?
  16. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 1999
    star 5
    You know what? I don't think you can win an election here in the United States without winning a sizable majority of the white male vote anyway, so I don't think your argument holds any water.
  17. Tukafo Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jan 18, 2002
    star 4
    People often wonder about the low turnout of voters for Presidential elections in the States. Fact is that the EC system is partly to blame for this. If I lived in Texas and wanted Gore to be president then what's the point in even going to the polls since I know beforehand that my vote isn't worth anything? I think a lot of people are put off by that. Who knows if Gore would have won the popular vote if the voting system had been different?
    I still favour a proportionate representation since it's the only fair way to guarantee that people are properly represented in parliament
  18. Charles_Windflyer Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Feb 23, 2002
    star 1
    just another hypothetical.
    Let's say there is a repeat of the Rodney King riots, for whatever reason. This time it's more widespread... involving NYC, Chicago, LA and Atlanta (each of these had smaller riots in concurrence with the Rodney King verdict, but nothing close to LA)

    The white majorities in those cities decide to lash out against the riots by supporting a racist white man to the White House.

    The states in the center of the country, not having been directly involved, would see things from a different perspective and wouldn't be voting to revenge the riots, but no matter how much those in the other states tried to vote against this personal backlash of the metropolitan areas, under a direct election, the bigot would be elected.
  19. ShadowDragon Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2002
    star 1
    Okay, let's look at your hypothetical, Charles. Those metropolitan areas have a total population of about 51 million. The total US population is about 281 million.

    In a direct election:
    Let's be generous and say 2/3 of those in the NYC, LA, Chicago, and Atlanta metropolitan areas vote for the bigot. That's 34 million to 17 million in those cities, or 17 million more for the bigot. If 54% of the rest of the nation voted for the non-bigot, (s)he would win (not tie, but win, but it would be very close). That's assuming just two candidates just for my time's sake. It's absurd to think that those areas would somehow control the rest of the nation. The system I advocate would deal with the threat of allowing some racist or other candidate winning because of a huge many-way race.

    In the current system:
    Now, let's assume 66.67%/33.33% (for bigot/against) uniformly in those metro areas, 46%/54% uniformly elsewhere. That's kind of foolish, but I'll account for it later. Here are the votes, by order of margin of vote:
    NJ - 15 to bigot (62%)
    IL - 22 to bigot (60%)
    NY - 33 to bigot (60%)
    CT - 8 to bigot (57%)
    GA - 13 to bigot (56%)
    CA - 54 to bigot (56%) (ouch)
    Each state not listet - X to non-bigot (54%)
    WI - 11 to non-bigot (53%)
    IN - 12 to non-bigot (52%)
    The states at the bottom are most likely to fluctuate and vote the other way, since they are the closest. The 44 states with lowest margins went to the non-bigot (wow, 44). IN, for example, will probably fluctuate and vote for the bigot (It is a very racist state). WI may or may not fluctuate. Surely, some of the 42 states not listed will actually vote for the bigot (and some will vote for the non-bigot in larger-than-expected margins). If you include IN, that's at least 157 electoral votes for the bigot. Fluctuations could surely give the bigot more. If a almost a third of the remaining electoral votes went to the bigot, the bigot would win. This wouldn't be unlikely at all, although I wouldn't call it probable. It's actually about as good as a direct election in this specific example.

    The electoral college wouldn't protect the voices of those in your example at all. Try a similar example where one candidate uses a hot-button issue to get the rural states, and you'll find the electoral votes would side with them, and the popular vote would actually be better.

    Palpazzar: That's where runoff elections come in handy. I don't see what this has to do with the electoral vote. The 1860 election makes a good case for runoff elections, but not the electoral college. Lincoln got what, 40% of the vote? Only the north, Oregon, and California voted for him (hardly widespread geographical support) yet he still won. How did the EC help at all? Looking at Dave Leip's atlas of presidential elections, he didn't get one vote in many southern states.

    Tukafo: I completely agree with you. Our record high turnout rate is something around 64%. Germany and Italy consistently get 80%-95% turnout. The UK and France get 70%-80%. None of those four countries have ever (in modern times) had lower turnout than our record high! I think it's all about people feeling detached from gov't. Also, the rate of elections is a big factor. We have nation-wide votes every two years, state votes every year (at least in all states with which I am familiar), and constant referendums and local issues. New Zealand went to proportional representation in 1996 and turnout jumped a bit.
  20. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 1999
    star 5
    We also make it harder to vote here by NOT making voting days federal holidays, and by not having the government register for us, effectively making any voter who wants to vote to go to the polls TWICE, once to register and once to actually vote, if they find time after work. Stupid voting system.
  21. JediSmuggler Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jun 5, 1999
    star 5
    ShadowDragon said:
    "I agree, but I don't see how they would lose their first amendment rights under a popular vote...? We would have people trying to eliminate free speech, but we already have people trying to do that; going to a popular vote wouldn't change that at all."

    It's a bit more complicated than that. The problem with the striaght popular vote is that it can be decided in a number of the major cities, some of which have rather colorful reputations in electoral politics (Chicago being the best-known example of where the graveyard vote is rather high, although Miami had an election overturned due to vote fraud recently, and St. Louis was quite interesting in the 2000 election).

    The nice thing about the electoral college is the fact that it limits the effects of electoral shenaigans that have been alleged. The dead may be voting in Chicago, and you may have some shenanigans with the closing time of polls in St. Louis (the plaintiffs in that one were a dead man and a person who lived in Illinois), but the effect could be contained to the electoral votes in Illinois and Missouri, respectively.

    The Founding Fathers had a good idea of human nature. They put the Electoral College in there for some good reasons, both to keep smaller states from losing their voice, and to limit the potential effects of cheating. I'd like to see that sort of safeguard kept in place.
  22. ShadowDragon Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2002
    star 1
    It's a bit more complicated than that. The problem with the striaght popular vote is that it can be decided in a number of the major cities, some of which have rather colorful reputations in electoral politics


    Look, the major cities already have a big influence on elections. Seattle decides my home state of WA's electoral votes; NYC decides NY's, NJ's, and CT's electoral votes; Chicago decides IL's electoral votes; etc. Big cities would have a big voice in a popular vote, too. That's completely fair -- Many people live in these cities.

    The nice thing about the electoral college is the fact that it limits the effects of electoral shenaigans that have been alleged. The dead may be voting in Chicago, and you may have some shenanigans with the closing time of polls in St. Louis (the plaintiffs in that one were a dead man and a person who lived in Illinois), but the effect could be contained to the electoral votes in Illinois and Missouri, respectively.


    No, that's completely untrue. The electoral college has the possibility of magnifying vote fraud to an insane level, changing a whole state's electoral votes. Let's look at election 1916. What if 5000 of the votes Wilson got in California (.5% of all Californian votes) were fraudulent? That would mean fraud won Wilson the election. On the national level, 5000 votes, or even .5% of the votes, wouldn't have made any difference. The electoral college doesn't alleviate fraud.

    As for your argument that the EC protects small states, one could just as easily split the US into one state for each race. Whites get 87 votes (77% of pop + 10 votes), blacks get 23 votes, Asians get 14 votes, Native Americans get 12 votes, Native Hawaiians get 11 votes, various other races get 11 votes each. Not really "protecting their voice" like you claim.
  23. Genghis12 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 18, 1999
    star 6
    While I do agree that the Electoral College is necessary, I must also note that in its intro of the "divine right" for the existence of the U.S. - the Preamble - the U.S. Constitution does indeed make a very important distinction about where the Constitution should be viewed as coming from:
      "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
    We the People of the United States. Not, "We the United States." The Constitution and therefore, the U.S. emanated from the people of the United States and not as an act from the collective of sovereign and independent states. What does that mean?

    It means that the entire Constitution is related back to the people of the U.S., not the states of the U.S.

    Something rather important to think about in determining who picks the leader of the U.S. - the people or the states.
  24. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 1999
    star 5
    Besides, Lincoln "proved" that the UNION pre-dates the states and the constitution. Thus we are the people of the United States before we are citizens of our respective states.
  25. StarFire Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Oct 31, 2001
    star 4
    Gary Condit was hoping for low voter turnout [face_plain]

    That doesn't mean much by itself, but it's actually a good argument for an Electoral College.
    In a time where many issues are often held by a majority of a particular demographic, politicians tend to court minorities, majorities, women, men, tall people, basketball players, etc., rather than trying to make people understand why their view of the issue is correct, or at the very least better.
    Democrats are pretty much guaranteed a large percentage of minority's and women's votes, so they try to get those people out in Election Day, and keep those damned white males away.
    The same is true for Republicans (except they try to stave off the women and minorities), and virtually every other political party.

    Not only is such a practice lacking in integrity, it bases entire campaigns on emotion. On marketing. If some bum's commercials are nice--maybe the color scheme is better than his opponent's--he'll probably win votes just because he seems like a nice person. Just because he's a people's person. Great leaders inspire their people AND institute sound policy, but campaigning on image smudges out the latter.
    Emotion is simply no way to choose a leader.

    The obvious solution is the electoral college. Even though the electors often vote the way the majority of people in their state voted, they are guaranteed to have a better understanding of each candidate's policies, which means they can are situated to make better, more informed, decisions than the ordinary person. Idiots won't get elected just because they had more money to spend on marketing.

    An electoral college helps keep elections about policy and issues.
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