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 two 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 the 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. 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.


Why do we have the Electoral College?

We have had but one new constitutional amendment since 1971.


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

Julie, who I known for a number of years, asked:
Do you think the US will ever get rid of the electoral college and go to something different? Why is it still done this way?

The second question is easier than the first, so let’s start with that. The original reason for the EC, like so much of the Constitution, was a compromise. As this article shows, “One idea was to have the Congress choose the president.” But that was rejected, for good reason. Even then, they didn’t trust Congress to do the right thing. Also, many felt that “arrangement would upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.”

Another thought was “to have the State legislatures select the president.” This idea, too, was wisely rejected out of fear that “a president so beholden to the State legislatures might permit them to erode federal authority and thus undermine the whole idea of a federation.” As you may know, the state legislatures used to pick US Senators in their states until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, and there are some folks that want to return to the old system; it won’t happen.

Naturally, electing President elected by a direct popular vote was considered but ultimately rejected. It was “not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted public intelligence,” though many have suggested that. Rather, the Founders “feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their State, people would naturally vote for a ‘favorite son’ from their own State or region.” You may laugh, given the overwhelming information now available, but 18th century Internet was the local newspapers and pamphlets.

“At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones.” Four of the first five Presidents were from Virginia, one of the largest states of the day.

Finally, they came up with the College of Electors to choose the President. “The original idea was for the most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each State to select the president based solely on merit and without regard to State of the origin or political party.” The intent has been largely altered by the law requiring electors to vote for the candidate with the most votes in their states. Read this article from the Federalist (not to be confused with Federalist Papers), titled, “The Electoral College Still Makes Sense Because We’re Not A Democracy.”

As for the problem of “Will it change?” the answer is maybe. On one hand, we have had but one new constitutional amendment since 1971, when the 26th Amendment allowed 18-year olds to vote. The 27th Amendment, which was initiated in 1789 but not ratified until 1992: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” So it’s difficult to change the Constitution.

The recent technological attacks against the United States have pointed out the vulnerabilities of our electoral process, with a number of states with no paper backup. I think this issue needs to be addressed very soon because, in the case of a close election, it’ll make EC reform easier to accept.

There are groups that support the popular vote initiative. National Popular Vote is keeping track of the progress of bills in the various state legislatures. Check out their YouTube videos. If you want this amendment to be in effect in 2020, you and your friends need to be bugging your members of Congress AND your state legislators. NOW.
The election will NOT be ‘rigged’

EDIT: While it IS true we don’t need a Constitutional amendment to “fix” the Electoral College, we also didn’t NEED one to allow states to allow women to vote. States were doing this on their own. I find amendment, rather than laws that can be more easily changed more reassuring.


Election Day (tomorrow)

Tomorrow, Albany will almost certainly elect its first woman mayor in its long history.

I was at my allergist’s office last month for my every-28-day injection, and she asked if I wanted a reminder card. “Nah, just tell me the date.” “November 5.” “Oh, that’s Election Day, easy to remember.”

This led me to mention that Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, so it will fall on November 2 through 8, but NOT on the 1st. When asked WHY, I admitted that I didn’t know, but that it was probably tied to the fact that it was All Saints Day, and/or it’s easy to forget that a new month has started.

So what IS the real story why Congress (in 1845) select the first Tuesday in November as Election Day?

From Information Please:
“. . . For much of our history, America was a predominantly agrarian society. Law makers therefore took into account that November was perhaps the most convenient month for farmers and rural workers to be able to travel to the polls. The fall harvest was over… but in the majority of the nation the weather was still mild enough to permit travel over unimproved roads.

“Why Tuesday? Since most residents of rural America had to travel a significant distance to the county seat in order to vote, Monday was not considered reasonable since many people would need to begin travel on Sunday. This would, of course, have conflicted with Church services and Sunday worship.

“Why the first Tuesday after the first Monday?… First, November 1st is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation for Roman Catholics. Second, most merchants were in the habit of doing their books from the preceding month on the 1st. Apparently, Congress was worried that the economic success or failure of the previous month might prove an undue influence on the vote!”

From the Wikipedia:
“The actual reasons, as shown in records of Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844, were fairly prosaic. The bill initially set the day for choosing presidential electors on “the first Tuesday in November,” in years divisible by four (1848, 1852, etc.). But it was pointed out that in some years the period between the first Tuesday in November and the first Wednesday in December (when the electors are required to meet in their state capitals to vote) would be more than 34 days, in violation of the existing Electoral College law. So, the bill was reworded to move the date for choosing presidential electors to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a date scheme already used in New York.”

As I’ve noted, I ALWAYS vote. ALWAYS. Tomorrow, Albany will almost certainly elect its first woman mayor in its long history. I must say that I didn’t vote for Kathy Sheehan in the primary, and that one of her campaign workers inadvertently talked me into that position. I said to the volunteer that I was voting for this guy Darius Shahinfar for city treasurer in the primary, and he told me something I already knew, which was that Kathy, the current treasurer, was aligned politically with Darius, so they’d sure to get along. But given the long-time shenanigans of the Albany Democratic machine, maybe having someone NOT aligned would be better.

I was reminded that when I was growing up, in New York State, there was often a Republican governor and a Democratic comptroller, or vice versa. Since there IS no functional Republican party in the city of Albany, the primary IS the race. I voted for Corey Ellis for mayor in the primary. But Sheehan (and Shahinfar) won the primary, as expected. And the city has a bunch of economic woes, caused in no small part by 20 years of one mayor, and not long before that, 41 years of another mayor.

N is for National Elections: November 6

As a New Yorker, I don’t see many of the ads that run in states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.

If you’re not from the United States, you may not be aware of the fact that the US is having its national election on Tuesday, November 6.


Approximately 1/3 of the US Senate is up for election. Senators are elected on a statewide basis for six-year terms.

All 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for election. The number of districts in each state is dependent on its population. The breakdown changes every 10 years, after the decennial Census. The results of the 2010 Census will alter the makeup of the House for the 2012 election.

From the Census Bureau:
“Among the eight states gaining seats, Texas will gain four seats and Florida will gain two seats. The other six states (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington) will each gain one seat. Of the ten states losing seats, two states, New York and Ohio will each lose two seats. The other eight states (Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) will each lose one seat.”

Even the states that have the same number of seats will have to change its Congressional boundaries (except for the states with only one House member, of course), to reflect population shifts within the state, based on the doctrine of One person, one vote.


The Democratic Party is fielding the incumbent, President Barack Obama of Illinois, with his running mate, Vice-President Joe Biden of Delaware. The Republican Party candidate is putting up former Massachusetts governor Willard Mitt Romney, with his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Since about the year 1800, the President and VP have run as a ticket. There are a number of “third party” candidates who have approximately a zero percent chance of winning the election.

The nomination process is rather peculiar for both major parties. Some states have what are called caucuses, while other states have primaries. But even the rules of primaries vary from state to state, with some having “closed” primaries (only members of that party can vote) while others have more “open” primaries, (voters who are not enrolled in either party may vote, and in a few states, voters from the OPPOSING party may participate!)

The Presidential election is not decided by the popular vote nationally, but rather by the vote in each state, which gets representatives to something called the Electoral College. Each state gets electors equal to its number of members of Congress (House plus Senate); the District of Columbia also gets three electors.

In 49 of 51 geographies, except for Maine and Nebraska, there are winner-take-all contests. Thus, some states are not generally contested by the candidates. New York, it is surmised, will go to Obama; Texas is safe for Romney. Therefore, the race is generally run in the so-called battleground states.

As a New Yorker, I don’t see many of the Presidential campaign ads that run in states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. A good political map can be seen at Real Clear Politics.
Re: “the dozens of political tell-alls…that appear each election cycle.” The Center of Gravitas Best and Worst Seller List helps “you navigate which books would be likely to fly off the shelves and which would be reduced to the bargain bin.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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