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Home > Blog > Electoral College: Yes or No?
Out of Our Minds
Friday, August 06, 2004 12:08 PM
Electoral College: Yes or No?
Anita Sharpe on Culture

I suspect your answer to this question depends on whether your candidate won or lost the last presidential election. I will say, it's hard to get terribly worked up about an election if you live in a 'secure' state where your vote doesn't much matter one way or another.

As The New York Times notes today, 'a majority of Americans living in states that are already firmly blue or red can only marvel at the attention bestowed upon places in Electionland like the Quad Cities, where Iowa and Illinois and Wisconsin come together and more than 400,000 people live.'

So, is it time to switch from a Republic to a Democracy in which every vote would really count? I couldn't remember how, or why, the electoral college came about and had to do a little Net trolling to find a good history. Interesting that


the framers of the Constitution set up the electoral college to operate without political parties and without national campaigns. The original idea was to have the most informed citizens from each state select the president without regard to the candidate's state or region of origin or political party affiliation. Hmmm. Time to re-examine or not?


15 comments

Scott Griswold - 11/2/2004 12:22:21 PM
One thing we can't forget when we talk about a candidate focusing on a populous area over an unpopulous state is that most people are uninformed about the candidate they are voting for. They vote a party and not the candidate. If an area is given no campaign attention by a candidate, the people in those areas will be far less informed.
However, in this day and age, this may no longer be an issue with the internet and national television. In the past it encouraged the candidate to spread the word to all areas and inform the voter. This can be done regardless of where a candidate focuses their attention.
The thing is, we have established political regions in this country. States are going to be biased to some degree toward one party or another. This has just happened over the years. When this system was put in place, the electoral college helped to stifle this type of political regionalism. If we started this country on a completely democratic process where every vote counted, polotical regions would be far more established. We would see the entire northeast of the country say as all republican or all of New England as entirely Democratic because people would have a tendency to be drawn to a region for their political cause. It would blur the lines of statehood. At least with the electoral college system the borders of the states stay in tact.
Bob - 10/22/2004 8:17:01 PM
'There is absolutely NO reason why California should have 54 votes while Montana gets 3. Every state should have 12 votes.'

This is a ludicrous idea. STATES don't vote. PEOPLE vote. There are more PEOPLE in California, so Cali gets more Electoral Votes. That's the only thing the electoral college system does correctly.

But there is just no need for the electoral college anymore. What we need is a direct voting by the people, of the people, for the people. We don't need layers of bureaucracy to answer the question, 'What do the people want?' You just ask the people and let them tell you. Simple.

And to all the 'do you want mob rule?' people, remember that the electoral votes are DETERMINED BY THE POPULATION OF THE STATE, so your precious electoral system is already 'mob rule', except that the current incarnation is flawed enough that an election can be twisted out of the hands of 'the mob' - or, as I like to call them, 'the people' - in favor of whichever party is willing to pull the lowest blows.

Bottom line : The electoral college makes no sense and needs to go. Democracy is a wonderful idea. It'd be nice to try it some day.

One more thing: We SHOULD have more opportunities to vote directly on issues. Why should we give up our decisions to the lesser(s)-of-two evils that presented to us by the corporate elite? Why aren't the masses allowed a direct say in issues that directly affect them?

Just a thought...
Anon - 9/8/2004 11:17:26 AM
The reason the Electoral college does NOT work is because there are always biased people casting votes for the 'masses', trying to narrow down the results to only a few in most cases, as well as each state has a different # of votes based on it's population. Where to have a truely FAIR election process, each state should only have 12 votes.

There is absolutely NO reason why California should have 54 votes while Montana gets 3.

Each state should have 12 representatives from their state, with at least one of each of the following types of people on the panel:

African, Caucasion, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, Asian, Female, Male, Wealthy, Poor, Blue Collar, White Collar, Youth, Elderly and so on... Covering as many broad backgrounds as possible within the 12 slots. Every 4 years new Electors should be voted in by popular vote.

Each of the states gets: 12 Votes (TOTAL: 612)
Each of the 6 US Territories should get: 9 Votes (TOTAL: 54)

The playing field needs to be leveled.

-666
Mitra - 8/16/2004 7:07:36 AM
I find it interesting that the question of Democracy is framed in whether your vote for Democrat OR Republicans gets counted. What about the majority (count both unregistered, and non-voting) of Americans who don't vote because of the lack of difference between tweedledum and tweedledummer. I live in Australia, where at least it someone who doesn't vote for either of the two major parties gets their vote counted, and passed on to their 2nd or 3rd choice if their 1st doesnt' get in. Check out Paul Ray's work on the Political Compass for how the largest chunk of the population is really those who want 'people before profits', a group that gets no representation in a system which only values politics in terms of two parties both funded by the 'profits before people' contingent.
jose - 8/13/2004 12:25:27 PM
nice stuff, interesting thoughts. one problem: the quad cities ISN'T where iowa, illinois and wisonsin meet. they span iowa and illinois along the mississippi. dubuque, iowa, is where the three meet. you can go over the river over two bridges to cross between iowa and illinois or iowa and wisconsin. just correcting.
Bob Watkins - 8/12/2004 1:17:12 PM
Hell, yes it's time to dismantle the electoral college! Its premise was that due to the time required to communicate election results, and the relative uneducated state of the masses, we should trust representatives who knew better than we do to make our votes for us. Neither is true today in an age of global communication. All the electoral college is today is a tool to be manipulated by the political parties.

Oh, and a bit off topic, but related to the political parties -

Can anyone tell me why on earth taxpayers foot the bill for primary elections? General elections, sure; but if a private organization (political party) wants to poll its members as to which candidate to field in the general election, and only its own members can vote in such a poll, why don't they pay for such elections themselves?
Anthiypatus - 8/12/2004 1:23:13 AM
Hmm a well-written article.

The only problem with it is that he is wrong. His arguments would have had more validity 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. Now however, they are outdated.
Walker's dad - 8/9/2004 2:55:46 PM
Maybe I am off a little when it comes to this topic, but much of what I have based my beliefs on comes from this article from the Cato Institute-

http://www.cato.org/dailys/11-10-00.html

I guess I have the idea of our republic so closely connected to our constitution that I have a difficult time separating the two concepts.

Thank you for the banter. I enjoy intelligent responses from intelligent people. You all seem to know your stuff.
Nathan Skreslet - 8/9/2004 9:46:07 AM
Clarification:

We currently operate as a republic. The electoral college is the 'body of citizens' that your dictionary definition described. The issue is whether to move to a fully democratic system in which direct election takes place i.e. every vote counts.

The biggest problem with the current system is that is disenfranchises political minorities in each states. For example, I live in Virginia. Virginia almost always goes to the Republicans, and I nearly always vote Democratic, meaning that my vote never counts because the Electoral college representatives from Virginia always end up being Republican. If we had direct elections I don't see an unfair bias being given to more populous states because the previously ignored percentage of the votes in each state should balance each other out. Seems much more fair to me.
Anthiypatus - 8/8/2004 2:20:49 AM
How would eliminating the electoral college change our country from a democracy to a republic? If you could explain this to me I would appreciate it. I simply do not understand how this relates to the discussion at all.

I turn to my good friend the dictionary. Its always good to have the dictionary on your side, in my opinion.

A republic, according to google's dictionary, is 'a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them.'

We would still be electing people to represent us, instead of voting on every issue directly. Therefore we are still a republic. Perhaps you meant something else by a republic?

And what would the candidates promise to New York and California that would convince all their citizens to vote for them? Would they promise a special tax break for New York or something? Or would they promise special benefits like health care, only to New York?

Take a small step back and think about this. Would this actually work? Would even the residents of New York go for this? I can't imagine that most New Yorkers would want special treatment at the expense of the rest of the nation.

We are a nation. We are not a loose collection of states anymore. One nation. Look at how strong patriotism runs in this country. The candidates that wanted to make America a stronger nation as a whole would recieve the majority of the votes.

And also, haven't we seen it demonstrated time and time again that elections come down to the wire? Yes, Wyoming might not have very many people, but in much of the political history of the US, the votes of the people of Wyoming would be enough to sway an election.

The candidate that goes after every vote is probably going to win.

Also, don't forget that you still have senators who give the small states a large amount of power. Wyoming's two senators can exert a large amount of control on American politics. The small states retain as much political power if we eliminate the electoral college.

Also, eliminating the electoral college is not a new idea. It just recieved added attention because of the last election.

Forget the last election. Eliminating the electoral college is about giving an incentive to voters to actually vote and get involved in local politics. It is about justice and equality for all Americans. Should we change our country for the better or simply stagnate? To me, this isn't a very hard question.
Walker's dad - 8/7/2004 7:48:23 PM
I forgot to say why I mentioned California and New York.
I only meant it in a scenario like this: If we simply went by majority, what would keep me as a candidate from promising the world to the more populous states with all the incentives they could imagine? Would there be a reason to appeal to Wyoming, the Dakotas, etc.?
I know it is far fetched but I don't see a reason to alter how our country was founded simply because some people did not like the way the last election played out. Did we change it after the Kennedy- Nixon campaign?
Walker's dad - 8/7/2004 7:37:11 PM
You may disagree with me about the most populous states and their importance, but the key point of my statement is dealing with democracy vs. republic.

Do you want majority rule? Because if we get rid of our standing as a republic, than that is what we are embracing.

Their is no way around it, a democracy deals simply with majority rule.

And yes, I called myself undecided or independent when I didn't have a clue about the issues. They do not just pop up 3 months before an election. I think we know what the major parties stand for regardless of the rhetoric that comes out before the election.

If someone out there has a stat for how many of those undecideds show up to vote in the presidential elections I would love to read it.
Anthiypatus - 8/7/2004 6:32:24 PM
Thats the most amazing thing I've ever heard.

How will getting rid of the electoral college make New York and California make all the decisions?

Ok so lets say we do get rid of the electoral college. And then some politicians will do what? Will they spend all their time in the most populous state? Will they spend all their advertising dollars in one state? Will they use their time in office in order to only appease one portion of the country?

And the answer to all those questions is NO. I don't care if Kerry moves to New York and spends every dime of his advertising money on trying to get everyone in New York to vote for him, he is still not going to get all the voters there, or even a vast majority to vote for him.

Any political cantidate who spent all their time focusing on the most populous states would simply lose the election. Elections are won and lost by covincing the undecideds. A democratic candidate will not get many hardcore republicans to vote for him, even if he completely saturates the airwaves. So focusing on New York would be a strategic blunder. Focusing on convincing all the undecideds no matter where they live will be the deciding factor.

Eliminating the electoral college would mean that all the undecided voters matter, not just the undecided voters in the battleground states. To me, this seems like a good idea. Not only would it increase voter turnout, it would also get more people fired up about politics.

And also, just a suggestion. I recommend attempting to be careful when using the words Republic and Democracy. They mean many different things to many different people. It was a mistake to use them in this article.
Walker's dad - 8/7/2004 12:12:59 PM
Great- so if we became a democracy and not a republic that means we adopt majority rule/mob rule. Okay, so forget about gay marriage (majority opposes), affirmative action (majority opposes),and abortion (majority opposes). Whether I agree or disagree with the above statements does not matter. My point is that if we go to majority rule for elections, we must do that for all issues and not let courts or overzealous politicians circumvent the people.
As a white, christian male majority rule would work great for me.
I am sorry, but I do not want California and New York making all of my decisions.
Rick Gregory - 8/7/2004 2:45:18 AM
Here's one reason for the electoral college...

Without it, candidates would just have to get a majority of votes. What's the easiest way to do this? That's right - concentrate on populous states. Ignore places like Montana, Iowa, New Mexico... and their interests. The interests of large states would become even more dominant than they are currently.

Th Electoral College is not a perfect foil against this, but it's not possible to win just a few populous states and win the election - you have to pay attention to a significant fraction of the states.

The problem we currently face is the one you note above - many of the states are, if we believe the polls, spoken for. On the other hand, the pollsters were sure Kerry was a has-been and Howard Dean was the Democrat's nominee...

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