Saturday, December 31, 2016

How the Electoral College Failed

For starters, the wrong candidate won.

Our system of the Electoral College - where the Popular Vote doesn't win it, it's where you win enough states with enough Electors - for what I can tell is the only one where the runner-up can secure a victory. Nearly every other elective government out there - from the parliamentary forms to other federal-based setups - seems to go with "whoever gets the most votes wins." Even the parliaments - where multiparty systems mean a plurality-winner can form a coalition government with other minor runner-ups - has it as a given that the largest vote-getting party gets the Prime Minister spot and sets all the rules.

All because our electoral system doesn't go by Popular vote for the Presidency. It goes by a complex system where each state determines their Electors, who then decide who they want for President. Granted, the Electors still go by who won their state, but that could create a situation - like we just had this year 2016 - where states with minimal populations all team up for one candidate who barely wins their states (Trump) while the states with larger populations all went for the other candidate who garners more voters (Hillary) but not enough Electors.

But no. For the office of the Presidency, the guy who gets second place among the actual voters can still end up in the White House. This is like having a seven-game World Series where the Cubs win 4 games but the baseball commissioner gives the trophy to the Indians because they had a better ERA during the series. It defies logic.

The biggest problem is that the Elector count is skewed, distorted in favor of small-population states - where few people live - and against the large-population states where, you know, everybody really lives.

Wyoming is the smallest population state at 585,000 or so. California is the largest at 39,250,000 or so. Simple math has California roughly 67 times the population of Wyoming.

Because the Electoral College is required by the Constitution to equal the number of representatives and senators in Congress, Wyoming gets 3 Electors because of the sole minimum representative plus two senators. Due to a cap of representatives (435 members, set in 1929), the disbursement of representatives makes it 55 Electors for California (53 reps, two senators). Let's divide 55 by 3... it shows California getting 18 times the number of Electors. Even though Wyoming has fewer Electors, those Electors carry more value. If California gets the number of Electors that their population actually warrants - 67 times - we should be giving California nearly 202 Electors.

But we don't.

If the Elector count is still tied to Congressional representation, we'll never see this fixed. There's a reason why the number of representatives in the House is capped: any expansion of more seats would increase the costs of the bureaucracy. The number of representatives - not just for California but all the other states that would see an increase in seats - would likely triple the existing number into the thousands. Organization chaos would kick in: there's not enough committees to seat them all, and the lack of office space for all those new staffs would make things worse.

Granted, there are solid arguments for increasing the number of representatives - our nation's population has tripled since 1929, we do need more effective representation if there were more Congresspeople to serve their districts, and more seats would make it harder for large/midsized states to gerrymander - but the arguments are for moderate increases, not outright doubling/tripling of seats.

If we did something to make the Electoral College equal in value between the states, we'd need to separate the College from the Congress. Make it so that the number of Electors is based on the Voters-to-Elector ratio in the smallest state (Wyoming) and then divide Voters-to-Elector across all the other states.

The argument FOR the Electoral College is "oh, the smaller states need representation." But that flies against the needs - and the rights - of the voters who live in larger population states. Why should voters in California or New York or even Texas suffer all because of where they live? Why does Wyoming or Vermont or Rhode Island get more of a say of who wins the Presidency?

In one of those tone-deaf things, a number of Far Right pundits are crowing that "oh if you don't count California, then Trump won the popular vote." Here's the thing: YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO IGNORE CALIFORNIA. CALIFORNIA COUNTS JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER STATES. Maybe even more than that, because CALIFORNIA IS WHERE MOST OF THE PEOPLE LIVE.

The President of the United States is the office that represents the entire nation, that should mean every voter in the nation should have a say on who the President should be. Does that include the voters in Wyoming and Vermont and Montana? Sure. But it should also include the voters in Texas and New York and Illinois and Florida and all the other large-population states. And California.

If you're worried about the small states, they still get equal representation in the U.S. Senate - where the rules of Holds and Cloture make it easy for small states to block anything they don't like - and those states still have their own Governors to fight for them at the federal level. Not to mention the fact that the Constitution still has safeguards like the 10th Amendment and the 14th Amendment - silly little thing called DUE PROCESS that makes it so that things have to be equal to all before the law - to keep states reasonably protected and represented.

This is for the President of the United States. This is for everybody. And everybody should get an equal say regardless of which state they're in.

The other big problem with the Electoral College is how it handles the state results as Winner Take All.

California's Electoral count of 55 all went in for Hillary who got 8 million votes, while Trump got zilch even though 4 million voters showed up for him there. Do you think those 4 million enjoy the idea that they live in a "Solid Blue" state when the truth is it's all jumbled? Texas Electoral count of 38 all went to Trump who won 4 million voters over Hillary's 3 million. Do those 3 million Hillary voters enjoy being stuck in a "Solid Red" state that's close to 45 percent Blue?

If we did increase the Electors to reflect actual voter numbers, say California goes up to 202 EV and Texas goes up to 139 EV and so on, we're setting up the viability to have the Electors sorted out by percentage of voters. That way, no one candidate wins all, they win the portion of the voters that sided with them.

The Electors that reflect the Senate seats go to the candidate who gets the majority (or plurality if there's multiple candidates) of the votes in that state. So that's two off the plate. Let's go with California set with 202 Electors. Set aside 2 for Hillary winning the state: out of the 200 left, Hillary got 61.5 percent to Trump's 31.5 percent and Gary Johnson's 3.4 percent as the third-place Libertarian. 200 times .615 = 123 EV and .315 = 63 and .034 = 6.8 okay round up to 7 for Gary Johnson. 123+63+8 = 194, okay so there's 6 Electors to partition out to the other runner-ups, but that's the beauty of this: Now the minor third parties have Electors for them. Granted, they're close to zero compared to the numbers the Big Two get, but it's better than the actual zeroes they were getting... and if they perform better in other states, those Electors add up.

In the percentages matchup, Hillary gets 125 (plus the 2 Senate EV, remember) out of Cali, Trump gets 63 EV he didn't have before, Johnson gets 8 EV, the others get one or two, and then you start spreading that out among the other states. Republicans now have a reason to fight for voters in what were once Solid Blue states: Democrats now have a reason to fight voters in Solid Red states. And the Electoral College will more accurately reflect the Popular Vote.

I've gotten arguments in the social media - Twitter, natch - that we "don't live in a democracy, we live in a republic." That is, we're not a direct vote system like the classic democracies of the Greeks: we're supposed to be modeled after the Roman Republic system. Thing is, even republics are more responsive than the current Electoral system. I don't recall from my studies - in both World History and Latin classes - a single Roman election for Consul where the runner-ups got the victory parade. Psst: what made the Romans a Republic was the system of Checks and Balances within the government itself.

The Electoral College was designed to be a Check, goes the argument: The Founders didn't trust the direct vote of the people and so set up the College to get the states to determine which candidates won. The Founders actually wanted the results to be a mess: They wanted the College to determine the "best qualified" candidate - to filter out the crazy or the ill-suited - regardless of the Popular vote. And if the Electors couldn't decide, the Founders wanted the House to determine who served as President, as another Check to make the President more "accountable" to Congress.

It's a sick joke that in the few times that the Electoral College has been in question - 1800, 1824, 1876, 1884, 2000, 2016 - it's never worked the way the Founders intended. The results of 1800, 1876 and 2000 in particular created constitutional crises. In 1824 the clear popular choice - Jackson - got screwed over by a House of Representatives that preferred Adams, and it created a toxic political environment of the following Jacksonian era - the Spoils system in particular - that tainted politics until the civil service reforms of the Progressive era of the late 19th Century.

And the Electoral College never voted their consciences: The Electors (mostly) voted the way their states went Winner-Take-All. The few Faithless Electors who voted their mind only did so as a protest vote where the result (just one guy for Reagan in 1976, for example) had no impact.

Only one of the Presidents who won the Electoral in spite of the Popular won re-election (Dubya the noted exception), and few of them left behind any notable legacy. So there's that to consider.

At some point, the Presidential elections are going to have to respect the right of the People to vote as a nation for the office that represents the nation. We can keep the Electoral College as a stop-gap or a braking mechanism to ensure the "Mob Rule" that the Founders feared would not rise up to claim a powerful seat in the federal government. But it's got to reflect what the people want a lot better than the mess we've got now.


dinthebeast said...

The 13th congressional district of California where I live has 712,144 people (according to Wikipedia) which if I'm counting it right is 126,137 more people than the state of Cheney, I mean Wyoming. I'm sort of used to getting what amounts to o.8 of a vote for president. It really sucks, but carries with it the side benefit of not having to endure Republican campaign propaganda every four years (which I do understand is convenient but bad). There was another idea floated about fixing the EC in which the states pass laws requiring their electors to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in the country instead of the state. That seems somewhat simpler, but still not very likely to happen as long as what we have helps the Republicans.
I sort of feel like our best hope is the Blue Map (or whatever it's called) project to flip state legislatures before the 2020 redistricting happens. If that were to succeed, perhaps we could get enough states on board with the follow-the-popular-vote rule to make that the de facto law.

-Doug in Oakland

toto said...

The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.
Candidates, as in other elections, would allocate their time, money, polling, organizing, and ad buys roughly in proportion to the population

Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes.
No more handful of 'battleground' states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

The bill was approved in 2016 by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country