Re: NYTimes.com Article: Abolish the Electoral College

From: Charlie Strauss <cems_at_earthlink_dot_net>
Date: Sun Aug 29 2004 - 20:17:32 CDT

> Joseph Lorenzo Hall <joehall@gmail.com> wrote:
> |I've never understood the basis for the electoral college...

I'll once again recommend:
http://www.eac.gov/docs/eleccoll.pdf
But in case you dont read it I'll mention some of the salient points.
First David Mertz is right that this is about electing a president by
the states not by the people as a whole.

The number of electors in the college is the number of house seats
(your population) plus the number of senate seats (+2). So there is a
small state bias on purpose for the same reason there is in the senate.

Now the key effect here is that there is a bonus for winning more
states than winning the most votes total. This is good for two
reasons. first it means whom ever wins is likely to have support from
many states and thus be able to pass bills in the senate. If you won
because you won NY, Ohio and CA then you are going to have a hard time
finding enough votes in the senate. Thus this bias towards more states
over more population tries to ensure the president can govern. Second
it also spreads out his support to more regions (think civil war or
west versus east coasts--everyone needs a "southern strategy" but they
cant win on the south alone).

The other interesting effect is that in contested states minority and
marginal groups are empowered because they can tip the WHOLE set of
electors either way. Some people might say this is bad too, but the
federal gov was set up to balance the tyranny of the majority with the
common good.

Unfortunately, it turns out in hindsight there is a problem here. its
not that you can win the election without winning the popular vote.
The problem is that if you are minority in a state that is not a swing
state you basically dont have a vote for president. That is the true
problem with the electoral college. The other pernicious thing that
has happened is the gerrymandering of the state districts to create
safe seats. By some counts there are about 403 safe seats in the
House. Again this means if you leave in 92% of the US and are in the
minority party for your district you have NO vote for congress. ( by
the way gerrymandering always creates safe seats for both parties so
the effect is cumulative.)

There are a couple other interesting things in the Electoral college
design. One is that every elector actually votes twice and that there
is no reason that a party cant run multiple people for president. Why
do they vote twice? Well the rules say you have to vote for different
person and someone outside of your own state with at least one of your
votes. This odd design was created to combat the following scenario.
Each state runs a local favorite for president, and the electors from
that state vote for him. Thus the large states always win. With the
two-vote rule that cant happen since it will be the second vote that
determines the true favorite. So the way it works now is everyone
votes for pres and vp with their votes. (which is one reason why the
pres and VP traditionally come from different states (think Cheney
"claiming" to come from Wyoming even though he really was from texas)).

In one election one party tried to use this rule to their advantage.
they ran three presidential candidates, each a favorite son for some
region of the country. The idea was that it was not neccessary for any
of them to win a popular vote, all they needed to happen was for the
party as a whole to win the majority of electors, then in the voting
process one of the three would get chosen by the electors on their
second vote and the other would become VP. Neat trick, but matrin van
buren got the majority of electors so they never got to find out how it
would have played out.

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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:19 2004

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