Monday, October 27, 2008

2008 Vote: Why and How the Electoral College is in there

Everyone's always telling us: "Vote!" "Exercise your right to choose." "Rock the vote!" "Get out the vote." Etc.

But when we vote, where exactly does that little slip of paper, butterfly punched ballot, or click of the computer go, and what does it count for?

Most of us know we have an electoral college somehow involved in the presidential election. It comes between our vote, and the person who ends up being president. Lots of people call for the end of the electoral college, but it's still around.

It goes like this: You vote, indicating your choice of candidate, but really you're voting for an electoral college person, who then votes for a presidential candidate. Each state gets as many electoral votes as it has representatives in the House, plus its number of senators (which is the same for every state).

Typically the electoral college vote will match that of the popular vote. However, in a few notable cases, it has not - 2000 being the most recent example.

Why not just stick with the popular vote? Here's the trick (there's no short way about it): The number of electoral votes is decided based on the number of Representatives each state has. The number of Representatives is based on population. So the more populous your state, the more electoral college votes it gets, which is why states like California and Pennsylvania are targeted by the candidates.

So what's tricky about that? Well... Most people don't vote - just 54% of people voted in the 2004 presidential election. The demographic least likely to vote is those aged 18 to 24. However, this crowd still counts towards the number of electoral votes the state receives. So even if fewer actual people vote in a large state, they will receive more electoral votes than a smaller state that had a larger turnout. The people who do show up to vote have an unfair advantage - their votes essentially "count more." This works to each parties' advantage in different states.

The other factor at play is the history of the electoral college. Back when it was created, African Americans counted as 3/5s of a person (so ridiculous), and this counted towards the total number of electoral college votes a state received... even though black people did not vote. This method clearly favored those states that had a larger African American population, which was generally the South. The South did not want to give this up.

But why do we still have the electoral college? Most states are "winner take all." This means even if the electoral college votes are close, the candidate who wins (even if by a small margin) gets all the votes. Because each party has certain states it knows it has a majority but obviously not 100% of the electoral votes, they don't want to give up the system and potentially give up winning an entire state versus just part of it. They get to keep all the votes even though they didn't actually win all of them.

Get all that? No? Read it again, and then check out the government's FAQ on the electoral college. If you have a little more time, listen to this Back Story radio program on the electoral college that explained it all to me.

And then tell us - what do you think? Should we put the vote directly in the common woman or man's hands?

Related Posts:
Are you making your decision based on looks?; Presidential Election and Free Speech; Passive Electioneering; Presidential Election, Registering to Vote, and the Ballot Questions; Absentee Voting; A biased opinion?
Photo courtesy of bradley_newman.


John R said...

I’m all for a popular vote! I’m also interested in changing the day of the week the polls are open.

Since 1845, we’ve voted on a Tuesday. It made sense back in the day. Sunday were for God, Monday was for travel to the polls, Tuesday was voting day, Wednesday you traveled (often far) back home, and then back to work on Thursday.

Obviously this is outdated.

The number one reason people cite for not voting is conflicting work or school schedules.

I’m voting for the weekend.

Ian said...

I say get rid of the electoral college, it's clearly out dated, and it takes the power out of the peoples hands. The college was originally created because our founding fathers (god bless) didn't think that the common man (and only man at that time) had enough common sense to vote for the best leader. They thought it best to have a mediator.

I say we are smart enough, and even if we aren't, our votes should all count the same.

Casey said...

But the electoral college lets each party keep its power where it knows it has it... and they're loathe to give it up. So how do we change it?

jackie said...

Casey said...

So Jackie you're saying the electoral college is the USA's way of giving under-populated states a slightly larger voice than they would have otherwise?

jackie said...

Yes, Casey! Sorry, I was a bit tired and had difficulty forming words yesterday. But... they aren't under populated, they are just states and that's what makes up the union. I am pretty sure we couldn't survive if we were all as densely populated as Manhattan... where would our veggies grow! The votes are fairly distributed by congressional seats and having issue with the electoral college you should also take issue with that. Every person deserves representation in this country, but sadly the voices of so many would be drowned out by the microcosm of these huge cities if we went by population alone!

Anonymous said...

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.



Anonymous said...

The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

Small states are almost invariably non-competitive in presidential election. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has "only" 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York's use of the winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming--both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

As of 2008, the National Popular Vote bill has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers in small states, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

Evidence as to how a nationwide presidential campaign would be run can be found by examining the way presidential candidates currently campaign inside battleground states. Inside Ohio or Florida, the big cities do not receive all the attention. And, the cities of Ohio and Florida certainly do not control the outcome in those states. Because every vote is equal inside Ohio or Florida, presidential candidates avidly seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns. The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate in Ohio and Florida already knows--namely that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the state.

Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from national advertisers who seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. A national advertiser does not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because a competitor makes more sales in those particular states. Moreover, a national advertiser enjoying an edge over its competitors in Indiana or Illinois does not stop trying to make additional sales in those states. National advertisers go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located.

Casey said...

Hmm - so perhaps a solution would be to keep the electoral college, but get rid of the "winner take all" aspect?

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Potty Training said...

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