Jan 18 2019
11:10 am

Steve Ross (aka Vibinc, one of the Memphis Steves) has an interesting article on the history of the Electoral College and how it gives some states disproportionate power in electing the president...

Time to Get Rid of the Electoral College

(Also, previously at Knoxviews...)

Somebody's picture

One way or the other

One reason for having the Electoral College is also for it to serve as a bulwark against populist fervor. It clearly failed that test in 2016. I would wonder, rather than abolishing it, if there aren’t some minor modifications that could strengthen its ability to serve that purpose. It shouldn’t be emboldened to regularly override the vote, but in a circumstance like 2016, there should have been a greater opportunity for the electors to consider a situation where a clearly unqualified candidate has pushed his way through the nominations process, and is on the verge of winning the presidency with a minority of the overall popular vote.

There was a moment back then when it seemed possible that might actually happen. Instead, the system of checks and balances stood down and deferred to ‘tradition’ in spite of the obvious abnormality of the situation.

Alex_Falk's picture

minor tweaks won't repurpose a system anti-democratic by design

with regard to 'populist fervor' and 'consideration of abnormality by the electors':

others (self included) feel that the anti-democratic nature of our system (particularly the court, the senate and the E.C.) **is the problem**, not the solution to the near-complete capture of government by a minority-representative far-right.

"The Scandal of Democracy: Seven Theses"

Mike Daugherty's picture

The Electoral College

The Electoral College election of our President is very undemocratic. The Constitutional Convention was held in 1787. At that time few people in our country were literate. We did not have internet, radio or TV or any real way to communicate information to the masses. Transportation was not easy without planes or cars or trains. There was no audio or video of politicians to hold them accountable. The thinking of most of the 55 delegates at the convention was that most Americans were too ignorant and uninformed to make the decision of selecting our President so therefore the Electoral College could at least put a check on that ignorance. Today most Americans are literate. We have internet, TV, radio, and all kinds of ways to inform the masses. With all that information and facts available we still had almost 63 million misguided citizens that ignored the facts and voted for a totally unqualified and immoral man for President that knows nothing about the world and how to run our country. No system is perfect, but it really contradicts the democratic ideals of our democracy to have a President that was not elected by popular vote! The Electoral College should be abolished in favor of popular vote only. Our country would be much better today if the popular vote had decided the 2000 and 2016 elections. We will never be able to recover from the mistake of the Electoral College in 2016.

Somebody's picture

I would argue that the

I would argue that the Electoral College’s failure in 2016 isn’t what you’re thinking. The 2016 result was a popular vote, filtered through a weighted system that balances rural interests against urban. That is, it was a popular vote by state, rather than nationwide. Arguments can be made that this serves to keep the big cities from disproportionately deciding the outcome every time, with rural voters effectively having no say in the matter.

The truth is that our system was never meant to simply be a majority rule form of government. That’s a recipe for minority oppression with impunity.

The fact is, the truly ‘undemocratic’ potential of the E.C. that you reference actually hasn’t come into effect any time recently at all. That is, educated elitists in the Electoral College have never rejected the impulses of the rabble and overridden the outcome of an election by casting votes differently than directed by the voters in each state. They have universally rubber stamped the results of the state-by-state popular vote every time. Had they set aside the rubber stamp in 2016, I would venture that a lot of the current criticism would be reversed. The MAGA crowd would be furious that the standard rules had been overridden, and the opposite crowd would be praising the Electoral College as the founders’ genius helping us dodge the bullet all these years later.

Alex_Falk's picture

don't disagree with all of that

"Had they set aside the rubber stamp in 2016, I would venture that a lot of the current criticism would be reversed. "

absolutely agree, you would see liberals praising the founders' wisdom had this system saved them from 'the unthinkable'. russiagate sees liberals doubling down on worship of the flag / troops and posting sorkinesque tributes to the noble character of the nation. simultaneously, many are warming to left critiques of that same nation's fundamental design (and taking a far-from-holistic path to get there).

where i disagree is the characterization of educated (wealthy) elites in positions of power as being mostly opposed to a reactionary circus performer as POTUS + the dual characterization of 'rural rabble' (the presumed working poor denizens of flyover states) instead being the best characterization of a trump-supporting plurarity.

rather, i think the one true archetype of the trump plurality / constituency is a mcmansion-dwelling boat dealer or SUV-driving hedge fund manager from anysuburb, USA rather than the classist stereotype of an uneducated southern/midwestern hick.

j.f.m.'s picture

I have long believed that

I have long believed that there is no rational basis for either the EC or the undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate. There is a historical basis, for sure, having to do with the initial difficulty of knitting together a country from a bunch of pre-existing colonies, which each already had their own governing structures. But that's all it was, a founding compromise to get the whole enterprise started. And to keep building it, since each new territory that came in was guaranteed two senators, no matter how few people they had.

But there's no philosophical basis for it, and I wish people would stop pretending there was. It has literally nothing to do with rural vs. urban -- there are more farmers in large states than there are in small states. The current structure dramatically underrepresents farmers in California, Texas and New York while dramatically overrepresenting farmers in Wyoming and South Dakota. The biggest effects don't have to do with rural interests at all, but with specific extractive industries, which effectively get to control their own senators in states like Wyoming, West Virginia and Alaska.

It isn't going to change, because more states benefit from it than suffer from it, so there's no way you'd get the supermajorities you need to amend the Constitution. So we're stuck with it. But let's drop the idea that there is any benefit we get from the trade-off for occasionally letting someone who lost an election become president. The five times that's happened gave us John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. You don't have to be a historian to know that that's not our most distinguished list of leaders. (All but Bush -- and, so far, Trump -- were one-termers.)

We elect literally every other office in the U.S. by popular vote, so if there's a problem with popular votes we should also be re-examining how we elect governors, senators, mayors, dog catchers, etc. But we don't, because popular voting makes sense -- even a 5-year-old can understand that the person with more votes wins. It takes decades of being indoctrinated into thinking that our system somehow "makes sense" in order to accept the byzantine and undemocratic structure of presidential elections as somehow reasonable. It's not. It's just what we're stuck with.

Mike Daugherty's picture

Most of the 55 delegates to

Most of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention knew how important it was to come up with a strong governing document for our country after the failure of the weak Articles of Confederation. After several years of economic and political chaos under the Articles they knew our country was fragile and would not be successful with states acting as separate countries under a weak central government. They did not want the second attempt at government to fail. They knew that creating a lasting document that would be accepted and ratified would require compromise. James Madison knew small states would never agree to a system where all representation was determined by population. Small states would never be able to make a big influence on laws if the large states dominated the makeup of the legislative body. He knew that large states would never agree to a system where all states, no matter their population, had the same representation. Madison came up with the Great Compromise where there would be two houses of Congress. To please the large states, The House of Representatives was created. The number of members per state would be determined by population. To make small states happy, the Senate was created. Each state would get 2 senators no matter the population. Several other compromises such as the three-fifths were included to get the support of slave states.The compromising worked. We got a document that created a new government in 1789, and has held up for 230 years. Many of the 55 delegates at the convention like Madison, were brilliant. They created a document that could be amended as society changed, but made it difficult to change so it could not be easily shredded. Over 11,000 amendments have been proposed, but only 27 ratified. They also made a document that was vague, giving lots of room for interpretation as society changed. There is a good chance that without these compromises and foresight that what is now the United States could have ended up like Europe, being split into dozens of smaller countries. All that being said, given all the smart folks at the constitutional convention there were no women included. No delegate was black or native American. They were 55 white men. Many of these men were racists and sexists. After 230 years why should everything we do as a country be determined by 55 white men that lived in a world totally different from what we have today? We need to abolish the Electoral College. We need to amend or abolish the second amendment that was created a few years after many places in the country were occupied by British soldiers. A time when most citizens hunted and at least supplemented their diet by eating the animals they killed. A time when guns were needed to survive. Our country has had dramatic changes. We do not need to outlaw guns, but we do need to regulate who owns guns and how they are used and create sensible controls. Today is very different than 1787 when the constitution was written. We need to make changes in our government accordingly.

cafkia's picture

I have to agree with Jesse

I have to agree with Jesse here. The EC was simply one more try at putting lipstick on the pig of unequally sized or populated states combining to form an incredibly unperfect union.

We elect literally every other office in the U.S. by popular vote, so if there's a problem with popular votes we should also be re-examining how we elect governors, senators, mayors, dog catchers, etc.

This is a huge truth. The safeguard in the system is supposed to be the judiciary. Ideally, we would transition to a system where the judges are never elected but are subject to periodic review with the potential for criminal consequences.

The EC is a piece of shit and makes a mockery of the judiciary being a co-equal branch of government as they currently depend on and are indebted to the executive. I honestly do not understand how or why any allegedly thinking person would even try to defend it.

JaHu's picture

Example of a failing

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