Abolish the Electoral College?

Here’s Arthur with another Ask Roger Anything question:

Where are you at now with the whole “abolish the Electoral College” thing?

Let me back up and address the request by several entities, including my local paper, to deny Prima Donald an Electoral College victory.

I had real ambivalence about it – rather than outright rejection – because a number of people I knew and respected supported it. I didn’t think it would work, but then again, I didn’t think AO would win the electoral vote.

And I wasn’t sure that it SHOULD work because using a maneuver that hadn’t used in a couple centuries would not go down well with a large swatch of the public. The only thing I wrote, I believe, was that we could deny him an EC victory now or impeach him later, since, like many people, I believe he will be at least subject to impeachment on January 20.

As you know, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 states that no American officeholder shall, “without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” But that is exactly what Bratman is about to do, without divestment, or a blind trust, which having the kids run the show after being part of the transition does not qualify. He risks endangering American democracy.

It is true that for the second time in five elections, a presidential candidate who won the most popular votes lost the election. Hillary won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots. Still, I’m not so sure that abolition of the Electoral College is the solution.

How do you address Republicans’ belief that if the EC was abolished, big states (California, New York, etc.) would solely choose the winner?

Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

It COULD happen in either system. Avoiding that was the reason for the initial design. Instead of concentrating on “swing states”, one could concentrate on large states. Instead of ignoring New York and Texas, one could ignore New Hampshire and New Mexico. People would still fly over Wyoming and Delaware in favor of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

And state borders are so random. So are counties, BTW, which is why you have 62 of them in New York, some large and relatively empty others with great density, and nearly 200 fewer counties there than Texas.

Here’s an interesting article in the New Republic from 2012. I agree that the Electoral College is a terribly difficult system to explain. Yet I do think that the argument that (choke) Mitch McConnell articulated it in 2001 is not necessarily wrong that, absent the EC, we could have had recounts in almost EVERY state, not just Florida, in 2000.

The REAL problem for me with abolishing the Electoral College is that we have a first past the post system, where the person with the plurality, even a small plurality, say 34% in a three-person race, of the vote, rather than the majority, could become President. I’ve become a broken record on this, but we need ranked, Instant Runoff Voting; this would make me more enthused about getting rid of the EC. Otherwise, a candidate could manage to win PLURALITIES in a few large states and win.

Once upon a time, in this blog, I had suggested that all the states should switch to the way Maine and Nebraska do it, with the electoral votes apportioned by Congressional district, and the statewide winner getting the other two electoral votes. But when I realized that, in 2012, more people voted for Democrats for the US House of Representatives, but Republicans won the majority of the seats, I had an epiphany. THAT WON’T WORK unless there is a way to draw Congressional lines in an unbiased, non-partisan way, which, of course, means state legislatures ceding power to a fair third-party entity, since they cannot do it themselves.

So I have no strong feelings on the EC, but I am for IRV being instituted AND having fair Congressional lines being drawn, plus ending voter suppression, which may have made a difference in this election. BTW, Arthur answered the question himself, after he asked me but before I had a chance to post this.

As part of a larger question, which I will deal with later, Jaquandor notes that the election of Darth Hater was-
ultimately abetted by a weird quirk in our electoral system (a quirk that, for all the defense it gets, has not been replicated ANYWHERE on Earth in anybody else’s electoral system)

I can’t say that I know how every country works electorally and am not energized enough to investigate them fully. The Wikipedia suggests there ARE other countries with electoral colleges, though the ones for which they give specifics are in no large way anything like our system.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

8 thoughts on “Abolish the Electoral College?”

  1. I struggled to follow much of these arguments, but then I don’t have a vested interest in your electoral system. The popular vote argument pops up in the UK after every general election as the winning party almost never has a popular majority. (The present government won 37% of the popular vote) Yes, we have more political parties to share the vote, but it isn’t really an issue for us, certainly not one that can be fixed without radically changing the system. There was a referendum in 2011 asking whether we thought the single transferable vote system was a good idea. We didn’t.

    The big difference is that you are voting for a head of state while we are only choosing a party of government. The US debate is hot because DT won against all expectations. Should our fears come to pass, it might be a wake-up call for the people who thought having a braggart and a bigot as president was a good idea.

    Mind you, I have been reading the rumours that Mark Zuckerberg might be plotting a run at the presidency in 2020…

  2. This is complicated stuff, and I was an old poli sci major, as was Arthur, who asked the question.

  3. Here’s an excellent and short article that sums up why some of the common arguments in favor of the EC fail when checked against other, real-world democracies. The close is especially compelling:

    “There are four years before this will matter again, and there’s absolutely no hint that it will change. But it might be telling that when we’ve advised a country on how to write a constitution, we have never told them to copy the electoral college. Nor have we told them to let state legislators draw their own boundaries. In 2012 our system elected a House of Representatives that lost the popular vote and in 2016 it elected a president that lost it, too. That has massive distorting effects on how our country works. For all our gifts, it’s something no other presidential democracy has to worry about.”

  4. Thanks for the answers, and I asked the question of you at a time I was still forming my own position on. It was actually motivated not just by the Rightwing chatter about big states choosing the president, but more about the inherent romanticism (at best…) among Conservatives about rural America, though prejudice and even bigotry were also often at play. My post that you linked to (thank you!) was actually about that, and I wish I’d mentioned that big states choosing the winner, as you pointed out, “COULD happen in either system”. That’s an important point that I’ve someone left out of it whenever I’ve talked about this. Hopefully I’ll remember next time I do.

    About the possibility of many states having recounts—SO?!! Apart from the cost to taxpayers, it seems like a necessary price to pay for democracy. And the result would have to be pretty close to get many states re-counting.

  5. I suppose the national recount, with the varied ways of voting and counting (Hanfging chads, anyone) would, at the end of the day provide no confidence. “I live in NY, so I trust the results, but those yahoos in Tennessee probably cheated.” Which, BTW, I believe at some level; Gore losing his home state? It’s not just the expense, it’s that at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be satisfactory.

  6. You make a good point about gerrymandering, which seems to be endemic these days. The least-gerrymandered state is Iowa, which has four Congressional districts, one in each corner of the state, and all boundaries conform to county lines. Clearly it can be done, given the will.

  7. It occurs to me that with things like Geographic Information Systems, which can split an area into any number of equal-population (or very close) regions by using things like calculations of geographic centroids, there should be no more gerrymandering. But then again, I tend to see things through the lens of a scientist, which automatically makes me suspect in some circles.

  8. Fillyjonk has a point. It’s not that it can’t be improved; it’s that there is no rational motivation for improvement. The people in office won from the broken system. The game where both players win if they have a “stay the course” strategy has a trivial solution.

    Darth Hater is my favorite nickname so far. 😀

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