Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Angst about the Electoral College

Dick Polman makes an interesting argument that the Electoral College is so archaic that it is just disenfranchizing voters. That argument while appealing is hardly valid. The voters do put their X on the ballot for the candidate of choice, from President to dog catcher. The man with the most electoral college votes is the man who wins the election. Nor does it hurt that right along with the electoral college vote, the man who gets the most popular vote generally wins the election. The voters are by no means disenfranchized. They had their say on 4 November 2008. They made their wishes known to the people whom they want to commit to putting into office who they decided was the clear winner in the last election. That is Senator and now President elect Barack H. Obama. So, electing a president is a two step process. But, I have absolutely no heartburn over the matter.

When it comes to GW Bush, of course, he did not win the popular vote in 2000, and it became a very appealing argument at that point, by way of the Democrats at least, how nice it would be to direct elect the President of the U.S. and abolish the Electoral College forever. However, given the subsequent voting problems in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008; by way of electronic voting machines, and the hanging chads in Florida, how can anyone be sure that a direct election of a U.S. President would be any less messy than the two step process that we have now? I can see some real problems with the idea. And Polman wasn't comfortable enough to recognize that there were plenty of methods being used in the above described election years to disenfranchize plenty of voters without the Electoral College coming into play at all. To put it bluntly, dirty politics. Just as I can have a question about laws on the book or proposed laws that would render the Electoral College essentially toothless. By, according to Polman, rendering it a "symbolic" institution.

If the whole idea of the Electoral College was to cater to slave states and slave owners, there were also plenty of laws that also catered to both slave states and slave owners. Going on from there, I am fully aware of how both presidential candidates, McCain and Obama, paid a lot of attention to what were defined as battleground states and certainly states with the mostest in electoral college votes. The fact that Obama spent the most money and stayed consitently on message, most assuredly won him the necessary votes. He was also televised nationally by way of news media coverage. Any voter in those less "important states" having the occasion of watching national news channels such as CNN, would know as much about Obama as those watching local news in those "swing states." In the age of instant communication, I see no reason to abolish that "archaic institution" the Electoral College.


mvymvy said...

presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill is currently endorsed by 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


mvymvy said...

The potential for political fraud and mischief is not uniquely associated with either the current system or a national popular vote. In fact, the current system magnifies the incentive for fraud and mischief in closely divided battleground states because all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state.
Under the current system, the national outcome can be affected by mischief in one of the closely divided battleground states (e.g., by overzealously or selectively purging voter rolls or by placing insufficient or defective voting equipment into the other party’s precincts). The accidental use of the butterfly ballot by a Democratic election official in one county in Florida cost Gore an estimated 6,000 votes ― far more than the 537 popular votes that Gore needed to carry Florida and win the White House. However, even an accident involving 6,000 votes would have been a mere footnote if a nationwide count were used (where Gore’s margin was 537,179). In the 7,645 statewide elections during the 26-year period from 1980 to 2006, the average change in the 23 recounts was a mere 274 votes.

The New Arch Druid's take on the news said...

While I can understand the idealism behind wanting the Electoral College changed or abolished altogether, on the basis of the favorite candidate not winning the election, I would like to remind you that there are a lot of ways in which the current system is not perfect and a lot of ways in which the favorite candidate doesn't become POTUS. Most of which have absolutely nothing to do with the operations of the Electoral College. And until those problems get corrected, I would see no reason to abolish the Electoral College.

Consider voter registration fraud--ACORN. Consider complaints by some that because any candidate eschewed federal matching funds that would also limit campaign spending, he could simply buy his way into office. Consider the valid fears of E voting machines getting hacked into and literally creating election results that favored one candidate over another. Consider how easily that would be magnified if we went to a different system of say direct election.

Just in case you forgot, the primary season had any and all candidates campaigning in all 50 states. It is only during the general election season that the presidential contenders put their most effort into winning in the states that have the most electoral college votes. To force them to campaign in all 50 states you would literally have to allow unlimited fundraising and unlimited spending by both candidates so that they have an equal opportunity to compete. And, you would do one thing more, you would force them to run the sort of grueling gauntlet of having to make campaign appearances in all 50 states where time and money would not be on their side. For campaign purposes, it is neither practical or realistic. Which is why, in the age of instant communication, ads appearing in all 50 states speak for the campaign itself. Those exposed to the ads will make their decisions and vote accordingly.