Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

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thoreau
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Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by thoreau »

Is it worth keeping?

Note that I'm not asking if it's worth working on getting rid of it: The answer is clearly "no", because there's no way repeal would get 2/3 in each chamber of Congress, let alone 38 state legislatures. I'm just asking whether you like having it.

Honestly, if somebody were to ask me whether I'd support selecting the Executive via a group of wise people who are independent of the masses, I might actually consider it. Yes, there's the usual argument about preferring the first 2,000 names in the phone book over the 2,000 faculty at Harvard, but it's at least an argument worth having. But getting independent electors would be even harder than getting rid of the electoral college. They might be Constitutionally allowed to vote as they wish, but they are selected on the basis of loyalty, not independent judgment, and it's been that way for a very long time. “Do I chuse Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson shall be president? No, I chuse him to act, not to think.” And I don't see it changing, because the electors could only secure the post by telling the people choosing them what they'll do if they get the job.

So then, given that the electors will serve as a way of aggregating votes rather than independent experts, the only question is whether you like this sort of vote aggregation scheme. There are essentially two arguments for it: To reduce the complexity of recounts or to serve a federalist purpose.

The recount argument is tempting, but it really comes down to a certain notion of risk. Statistically, the margin of error gets smaller (percentage-wise) as the size of the pool you're counting goes up. The statistical margin of error is proportional to the square root of the sample size (roughly speaking), so percentage-wise it's proportional to sqrt(N)/N = 1/sqrt(N). The electoral college actually increases the odds of a recount, so you have to make a value judgment on whether you'll accept the risk of very rare but very messy national recounts or more frequent but slightly less shitty state recounts.

The federalist argument is a dead horse that's been flogged to a bloody pulp. The only thing I'll say about it, in keeping with the previous point about margins and odds, is that the electoral college empowers swing states more than small states. Presidential campaigns don't give a fuck about Vermont or Wyoming; they care about Pennsylvania and Florida, and to a lesser extent Iowa and New Hampshire.

A tempting argument is to say "Well, split the state's electoral votes, either in proportion to the candidates' votes in the state or by Congressional district like Maine and Nebraska." All I'll say is that it's very unlikely, because the incentives run against it. Maine and Nebraska did it, but they have very unusual political cultures: Nebraska has the only unicameral and officially non-partisan legislature in the US, and Maine has elected an independent governor and some of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate. For the other states, well, if you're a swing state why give up prize status? Why would Florida go from being a prize that can swing 29 votes either way to only swinging 1 vote (if done proportionally) or a handful (depending on how the gerrymander is done)? Why would California give about 20 of its votes to a Republican, and why would Texas give a dozen-ish to a Democrat? Hell, why would the Democrats in Vermont and the Republicans in Wyoming give even 1 vote to the other side?

All that said, while I think change is unlikely, I also think the EC is a dumb way to pick a President. If I were forced to grant the recount argument I would still say that the only sensible way to do an EC is proportional allocation of votes, but I realize it will never happen.
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Jennifer
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Jennifer »

I've been of two minds about the EC even before Bush v. Gore. On the one hand, I understand the arguments against flat-out majority rule, and also that (for example) sparsely populated rural areas have some genuinely different needs and concerns from densely populated industrial centers.

On the other hand, the "majority rule is dangerous" argument can be countered with "We have a constitution guaranteeing individual rights regardless of what the majority thinks" and "majority rule is bad, but replacing it with minority rule is no improvement." Also, even without an EC the less-populous states would still get two senators just the same as giants like California -- over ten percent of the country's population, yet only 2% of the senators.

Plus, removing the EC and going to straight vote would remove the problem of de facto "disenfranchisement" of red voters in blue states and vice-versa -- those who have a completely legitimate complaint when they say "My vote doesn't count."
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Kolohe »

Ditch it. It Had One Job. Keep a demagogue out of the Presidency. And it failed.
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Fin Fang Foom
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Fin Fang Foom »

Get rid of. I don't think it will last too long, even if it takes a Constitutional crisis to get rid of.
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thoreau
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by thoreau »

Fin Fang Foom wrote:Get rid of. I don't think it will last too long, even if it takes a Constitutional crisis to get rid of.
How do you see that happening? Even if Trump faces Nixon-level opprobrium from his own party and resigns in disgrace or gets impeached and removed, I see the aftermath involving more oversight of the executive, not electoral reform.

Alternately, if the crisis ends with foreign tanks in the streets, we'll get a parliamentary system.

Sent from a phone so their may be speling errors and autocorrect snafu's.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Andrew »

I tried finding the original Progressive position on the electoral college, but instead found this from Mises.org: origins of the electoral college. I did not know that the State legislatures initially chose electors. Between States choosing electors and Senators, it's almost like the founders thought that States were independent political entities instead of subordinate districts.

It's not great, but at least the EC somewhat blunts the ability of a candidate to carry the big cities and win the presidency.
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Fin Fang Foom
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Fin Fang Foom »

thoreau wrote:
Fin Fang Foom wrote:Get rid of. I don't think it will last too long, even if it takes a Constitutional crisis to get rid of.
How do you see that happening? Even if Trump faces Nixon-level opprobrium from his own party and resigns in disgrace or gets impeached and removed, I see the aftermath involving more oversight of the executive, not electoral reform.

Alternately, if the crisis ends with foreign tanks in the streets, we'll get a parliamentary system.

Sent from a phone so their may be speling errors and autocorrect snafu's.
NOT too long can be gay rights. 45 years wasn't too long for that.
Last edited by Fin Fang Foom on 17 Nov 2016, 21:55, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Fin Fang Foom »

The national popular vote is an intermediate option. The future relative growth of the economy and population is one factor that will change things. States that are larger now will probably be even larger in the future (relative to small states, not necessarily each other), and that growth will probably be blue.

At the extreme, the bottom twenty-five states maybe totally red, but they may also have only 75 EVs. At that point, the GOP, if not the states, might want to do away with the EC to get at the third of CA that would vote for them.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Jennifer »

Andrew wrote:It's not great, but at least the EC somewhat blunts the ability of a candidate to carry the big cities and win the presidency.
On the other hand, it does so by arguably giving candidates the ability to ignore big cities, focus on small-town and rural people, and win the presidency.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Mo »

The EC is one of those things that made sense in the 18th century that is largely irrelevant today. And the majority rule doesn't sway me either because the pure majoritarian check is the Senate and to a lesser extent, the House. If you were to design a system from scratch today, like we did in Germany, you would never come up with the EC, like we did in Germany. I hate how people fetishize the founders and other predecessors (like the ones who picked Election Day) as some sort of wise, omniscient gods rather that people who took practical consideration that is relevant to a time, place and technology.

The EC is the Jewish/Muslim ban on eating pork of democracy. Made sense at the time, but that time passed long ago
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Aresen »

I think national popular vote, with a runoff between the top two if no candidate gets a majority, is the least worst option.

Other options, such as a preferential ballot, are more confusing and have little traps that mathematicians love to have fun with.

Election by combat would have the advantage that it would ensure a healthy individual in the Oval Office, but I'm not sure we're ready for President Jesse Ventura.

Another snarky possibility is that each candidate gets to be President for a portion of the term equal to the proportion of the national popular vote that he or she received. For example, Clinton would be President for 48% of 1431 days, Trump for 47%, Johnson 3.6% and Stein for 1%.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by thoreau »

Mo wrote:The EC is one of those things that made sense in the 18th century that is largely irrelevant today. And the majority rule doesn't sway me either because the pure majoritarian check is the Senate and to a lesser extent, the House. If you were to design a system from scratch today, like we did in Germany, you would never come up with the EC, like we did in Germany. I hate how people fetishize the founders and other predecessors (like the ones who picked Election Day) as some sort of wise, omniscient gods rather that people who took practical consideration that is relevant to a time, place and technology.

The EC is the Jewish/Muslim ban on eating pork of democracy. Made sense at the time, but that time passed long ago
While I don't think the EC will go anywhere anytime soon, after Trump it will be a lot harder for EC defenders to say "The Founders gave us the EC to ensure that the masses didn't elect a demagogue who appealed to popular prejudices." OK, some of them will say it, but I have seen relatively apolitical people come across arguments like that and be all "Oh, OK, I guess that makes sense" and you can't talk them out of it because The Founders were invoked. Apolitical types will be a bit less receptive to "The EC protects us from demagogues!" after Trump.
" Columbus wasn’t a profile in courage or brilliance despite the odds, he was a dumb motherfucker that got lucky. Oddly, that makes him the perfect talisman for the Trump era."
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Mo »

The NPV end around would be a way to end the EC without ending the EC.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by thoreau »

I have to think that NPV would face a lawsuit on federalist grounds. I make no assertions about what the correct legal reasoning is or ought to be, but I wouldn't want to forecast how a SCOTUS with a few Trump appointees would rule on a federalism-flavored challenge to an end-run around the EC.

Also, as it stands the states in the NPV compact are pretty Blue. They won't get 270 without either persuading some Red states to jettison an arrangement that has favored Red candidates multiple times in the political lifetimes of state legislators, or else persuading some large swing states to abandon their special prize status. Good luck with that.
" Columbus wasn’t a profile in courage or brilliance despite the odds, he was a dumb motherfucker that got lucky. Oddly, that makes him the perfect talisman for the Trump era."
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Mo »

The NPV compact would likely survive constitutional muster.
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
I could see a state like Texas going for it. Big, safe and ignored all the things the EC punishes.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by thoreau »

I think the better question is what happens if a state defects from the compact. I don't see it being enforceable against them.
" Columbus wasn’t a profile in courage or brilliance despite the odds, he was a dumb motherfucker that got lucky. Oddly, that makes him the perfect talisman for the Trump era."
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

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Mo wrote:The NPV compact would likely survive constitutional muster.
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
I could see a state like Texas going for it. Big, safe and ignored all the things the EC punishes.
?

Why would the GOP dominated Texas state legislature go for it? (I can see a scenario where some scandal gives Team Blue control of the Texas legislature for a term and that session of the legislature adopts it to squeeze some EC votes out for Team Blue.)
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Warren »

Keep it. The last thing you want is a nation wide recount.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Aresen »

The only scenario that I can imagine resulting in abolition of the EC is one in which an election is thrown to the House and a candidate who came in third in the popular vote wins the Presidency. The ensuing outcry might force a change.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

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Warren wrote:Keep it. The last thing you want is a nation wide recount.
What I would love for a national recount would be if some state with Diebold voting machines came up with a significantly different total on the recount.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Mo »

Aresen wrote:
Mo wrote:The NPV compact would likely survive constitutional muster.
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
I could see a state like Texas going for it. Big, safe and ignored all the things the EC punishes.
?

Why would the GOP dominated Texas state legislature go for it? (I can see a scenario where some scandal gives Team Blue control of the Texas legislature for a term and that session of the legislature adopts it to squeeze some EC votes out for Team Blue.)
The GOP NY legislature passed it. I would also note that it was considered more likely in 2000 that GWB would win the popular vote and Gore would win the EC, despite the opposite happening. All it takes is one election going the other way to flip it.
thoreau wrote:I think the better question is what happens if a state defects from the compact. I don't see it being enforceable against them.
Most compacts say that they are only valid if there are enough states to go over the top. So the state would need to defect at the 11th hour. Like literally the day the elector meet in the states. And since these laws would require to be passed by legislatures, it would be nearly impossible to pull off because the party of the winner in each state would be able to create a stalling tactic, like leaving the state to prevent quorum until after the electors meet.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Fin Fang Foom »

Aresen wrote:
Mo wrote:The NPV compact would likely survive constitutional muster.
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
I could see a state like Texas going for it. Big, safe and ignored all the things the EC punishes.
?

Why would the GOP dominated Texas state legislature go for it? (I can see a scenario where some scandal gives Team Blue control of the Texas legislature for a term and that session of the legislature adopts it to squeeze some EC votes out for Team Blue.)
If TX goes red or blue based on the PV, then that 5% you can swing the vote their will be as important as Ohio or Michigan or whatever.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Eric the .5b »

thoreau wrote:Is it worth keeping?

Note that I'm not asking if it's worth working on getting rid of it: The answer is clearly "no", because there's no way repeal would get 2/3 in each chamber of Congress, let alone 38 state legislatures. I'm just asking whether you like having it.

...

A tempting argument is to say "Well, split the state's electoral votes, either in proportion to the candidates' votes in the state or by Congressional district like Maine and Nebraska." All I'll say is that it's very unlikely, because the incentives run against it.
If we're not worrying about the trouble to abolish the EC, why worry about the trouble to do this?


Really, it's a tricky question. The only thing Trump proves is the narrow point that the "don't vote in demagogues" thing is pointless. Beyond that, eh. Neither EC or PV would keep out assholes.

Popular vote has the clear angle that everyone gets it and is most comfortable with the idea. Also, voting for president would actually be useful for me, given that I didn't want a president Trump and was willing to vote for Clinton to prevent it. As it is, Trump got my vote simply because I have a pulse in the state of Texas.

...But fuck FPTP. Fuck it hard. I want some sort of preferential system for president so that someone could vote 1) Johnson, 2) Clinton, for instance, or 1) Johnson, 2) McMullin, 3) Risen Fred Thompson, 4) Clinton, 5) Harambe , 6) Stein, 7) I Choose To Put My Faith in NOTA, 8) Sweet Meteor of Death.

Still, I keep coming back to wanting some kind of mechanism for making sure the most people possible in the most places possible support the presidential choice. We put so much damn power in the office. Maybe, we look at who wins the (again, preferential) votes in each congressional district, and we say the popular vote winner can only be president if they win more than X number of districts. If they don't, then treat it as NOTA and require a new election 1-3 months later.
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Fin Fang Foom
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Fin Fang Foom »

First thing I would like to see is a switch to open, all party primaries, like California, and redistricting done by nonpartisan commissions.
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Re: Electoral College: Yea or Nay?

Post by Eric the .5b »

I'd like non-partisan redistricting.
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