Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

In this Discussion

Here's a statement of the obvious: The opinions expressed here are those of the participants, not those of the Mutual Fund Observer. We cannot vouch for the accuracy or appropriateness of any of it, though we do encourage civility and good humor.

    Support MFO

  • Donate through PayPal

Things I hadn't considered about the Electoral College

Written by Heather Cox Richardson:

"The problem of voter suppression is compounded by the misuse of the Electoral College. The Framers originally designed delegates to the Electoral College to vote according to districts within states, so that states would split their electoral votes, making them roughly proportional to a candidate’s support. That system changed in 1800, after Thomas Jefferson recognized that he would have a better chance of winning the presidency if the delegates of his own home state, Virginia, voted as a bloc rather than by district. He convinced them to do it. Quickly, other state officials recognized that the “winner-take-all” system meant they must do the same or their own preferred candidate would never win. Thus, our non-proportional system was born, and it so horrified James Madison and Alexander Hamilton that both wanted constitutional amendments to switch the system back.

Democracy took another hit from that system in 1929. The 1920 census showed that the weight of the nation’s demographics was moving to cities, which were controlled by Democrats, so the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives refused to reapportion representation after that census. Reapportioning the House would have cost many of them their seats. Rather than permitting the number of representatives to grow along with population, Congress then capped the size of the House at 435. Since then, the average size of a congressional district has tripled. This gives smaller states a huge advantage in the Electoral College, in which each state gets a number of votes equal to the number of its senators and representatives.

These injuries to our system have saddled us with an Electoral College that permits a minority to tyrannize over the majority. That systemic advantage is unsustainable in a democracy. One or the other will have to give."


  • Look at the population of California and the population of Wyoming and ask why they each deserve two senators in an ostensible democracy. Then ask why only the Senate has to approve a president's Supreme Court Justice nominations while the House is left out.
  • Now that's a very interesting bit of history. Thank you very much, @Mark.
  • msf
    edited November 2020
    People talk about one person one vote. But then they talk about going to a direct election of the president as though it would help poor, underrepresented California, without looking at what "person" means, and what the numbers show.

    If we're talking about "people", California has just over 12% of the population in the US. The 2010 census shows 37.254M/308.746M = 12.054%. Based on this population, California received 53 electoral votes = 10.223%.

    Using 2020 population and turnout figures, If the current election had been by popular vote, California's impact (based on votes) would have been 16.230M/158.507M = 10.239%. Virtually no change; still short by about 1¾%.

    The issue is not voter turnout. California's turnout was about average 73.61% vs. 74.14% nationwide (total votes/total registered). The issue is what one means by "person".

    Does it mean that each person in the state can be represented? That's the idea behind Congressional districts. Each person gets roughly equal representation. Or does it mean that only people eligible to vote, i.e. citizens of voting age (and in some states only citizens without felony convictions) are represented? That's what one gets if one weights based on voters rather than weighting based on population. And that's what one gets if one apportions the House based on citizenship, as some Republicans have proposed.

    This weighting by voters (citizens) doesn't disenfranchise anyone, but it does take away many people's representation. Especially in states like California, with low voter registration (as percentage of population) for many reasons.

    Sure, it addresses the overrepresentation in the electoral college by some small states, where they go from being the size of gnats to being the size of fleas. Otherwise, going to popular vote won't have nearly the impact people think, in terms of one person one vote. Though in the aggregate, a gnat here a flea there and it does add up.
  • I think the problem with the U.S. Senate prioritizing land and geographic rights--really property rights when you think about why "states' rights" exist--over individual rights is far more significant. There's no good reason if democracy is the aim for Wyoming and California to both have two senators. I also don't see how it benefits democracy for the Supreme Court nominees to be approved by only the Senate and not the House.
  • And only if the ruling party in the senate wishes to hold a vote. !@#$%^&*!!!
  • Mark said:
    For sure!!!
  • I think the problem with the U.S. Senate prioritizing land and geographic rights--really property rights when you think about why "states' rights" exist--over individual rights is far more significant. There's no good reason if democracy is the aim for Wyoming and California to both have two senators. I also don't see how it benefits democracy for the Supreme Court nominees to be approved by only the Senate and not the House.

    Democracy was not the aim of the Constitutional Convention.

    Each state has two senators because one goal of the Convention was to get all thirteen states on board. No one then had heard of California or Wyoming, but Virginia and Massachusetts wanted Rhode Island and Delaware to sign onto the new Constitution.

    Property rights have been intimately associated with individual rights for a long time in Anlgo-American legal history. I am not aware that the Senate prioritizes land and geography over other legislative issues on its agenda.

    Senate approval of Presidential appointments to the Judicial, or Executive branch, was never intended to advance democracy.

  • edited November 2020
    I am not aware that the Senate prioritizes land and geography over other legislative issues on its agenda.
    Never said that it did. I’m saying the structure of the Senate itself prioritizes land and geography over human beings and individual rights, that if you walk one foot over the border between Illinois, which has 12 million people, and Iowa, which has 3 million, that the person in Iowa has four times the political power in the Senate than the person in Illinois simply by virtue of geography. I am well aware that the founders weren’t seeking a true democracy, that states’ rights were to give leverage/power to residents of small states and white land owners with plantations in states where most of a state’s population weren’t viewed as human beings with the right to vote. Sure democracy wasn’t the intent. That doesn’t mean the Senate’s existence as a land prioritizing institution makes sense or is ethical in 2020.
  • As investors, we're all familiar with the idea of property carrying voting rights - the more property you own, the more votes you get. Such property can be shares of a corporation or mutual fund, or even land when voting in a home owners association.

    Property rights are rights to do what you want with what you own. That's different from voting rights. The only nexus is that property ownership has historically been used as a precondition for voting, much as age has been used to determine eligibility of voters.

    If the complaint is that "if you walk one foot over the border" things change, then one should also be complaining that Congressional seats are allocated according to those same borders (leaving it up to the states to divvy up those seats within their borders). That's based on the same concept - that the United States is a federation of states. Those states ceded some power to the federal government, not the other way around. See the 10th Amendment.

    States draw up Congressional districts crossing county lines. Those lines must still conform to state boundaries. "if you walk one foot over the border between [Wyoming], which has [1 representative for 568K] people, and [Colorado], which has [7 representatives for 5] million, that ... person in [Wyoming] has [1¼] times the political power in the [House]" . Same problem, same cause; we're just haggling over the magnitude (to paraphrase a punchline attributed to Winston Churchill). Reynolds v. Sims (one person, one vote) applies to voters only within states.

    If underrepresentation is of paramount concern to residents of a state, they always have the option of creating a spinoff. It's not as though it hasn't been done before.

    Finally, it's worth reminding people that while this discussion may be of academic interest, it's rendered all but moot by Article V of the Constitution. That bars the Constitution from being amended such that a state's representation in the Senate be diminished without its consent. And while other sections of the Constitution can be amended, currently Amendment XIV, §2 prohibits congressional districts from crossing state lines: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States ...".
  • States are not people. Theoretically, an extrememly wealthy person or corporation could buy up all of the private land in a state, evict the residents and then have two Senators all to themselves to rule on issues that affect 331 million other people. I'm not crazy about how Congressional districts are drawn up either--see gerrymandering--but at least there's an attempt to make the number of representatives proportional to the number of people in the state, notwithstanding the problems Mark already highlighted. The Senate is fundamentally a backwards anti-democratic institution where the smaller the state is population wise the more political power that population has--the exact opposite of what democracy is supposed to be. I'm quite frankly tired of having my life governed by a handful of people in Wyoming, and I can only imagine how the residents of California feel.
  • Gerrymandering is a completely different question, as you acknowledge. However, even without gerrymandering, minorities in a district are often effectively disenfranchised. That's a "feature" of winner take all representative democracy.

    There are mechanisms intended to address this undemocratic flaw in representative democracy, such as proportional representation, though they have problems of their own.

    As far as California goes, a concern until a few years ago when the networks changed their reporting policies was that voters felt their votes were useless. Sitting in the Pacific time zone, national elections were usually called while Californians were still voting. This had the effect of depressing turnout even for down ballot candidates.

    As the elephant in the room, if California were in play, it would get tons of attention by candidates even though each individual's votes counted for not quite so much as a Wyomingite's. OTOH, it's unlikely that candidates would pay much attention to Wyoming even if it were in play. (This year is obviously an exception, where Nebraska's 2nd district got a tremendous amount of attention.)
  • To a large extent, the Electoral College and Second Amendment are legacies of slavery. States with large slave populations wanted to count slaves for apportioning members of the House of Representatives (and hence electoral votes). Since in many areas slaves outnumbered European-Americans, southern states wanted armed militias to deter or respond to a potential slave rebellion.

    The U.S. Constitution sates, "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 do not know how the current system evolved from this clause. But is seems as though the current system, deeply flawed as it is, could be corrupted by a state legislature.
  • edited November 2020
    Proposition: Elections of federal officials should (1) be decided solely on the popular vote, (2) should operate under a uniform set of rules, (3) should be conducted under the auspices of one centralized federal agency.

    Implementation: Best suited to run the electoral process is the USPS. They have local offices across the nation, a large amount of experience handling / moving individual parcels, an abundance of counting and sorting machines (some no longer used to deliver mail). In addition, the USPS has been playing an increasingly important role in elections owing to the popularity of mail-in voting.

    Redress: The U.S. Department of Justice and / or Congress would consider and investigate all complaints alleging voting irregularities, one or the other being fully empowered to determine appropriate remedies and enforce corrective measures including, but not limited to, overturning any previously announced results that are later determined to have been inaccurate or fraudulent.

    Comparative Advantage: A big advantage of having one centralized voting administration operating under standardized rules is that it would make it easier, faster, more efficient and much less costly for the losing side to challenge election results than under the current process which necessitates having to assemble and field multiple teams of highly skilled (and highly paid) attorneys branching out across the country to individual states to investigate and challenge allegations of impropriety as well as the rules under which each jurisdiction chose to operate.
  • msf
    edited November 2020
    "should operate under a uniform set of rules"

    Harder than it sounds. Each state sets its own voter qualification requirements.

    Consider just one requirement - can a convicted felon who has served his sentence vote? Some states say yes, some say no. California appears to be passing Prop 17, which would go further and allow felons on parole to vote.

    Then there's a question of what banners the candidates run under. A handful of states have fusion voting, allowing candidates to run on multiple party lines. This in turn affects not only who is on the ballot, but which parties automatically get lines on the state/local elections.

    AFAIK all states have laws providing automatic lines to the Democratic and Republican parties. How other parties get access to the ballot (without petitioning) varies from state to state. In NY, Cuomo tried, with some success, to impede third parties' access to ballots.

    Each state has its own ballot layout and voting system. In twenty years (since Bush v Gore) the US has not been able to standardize this. Nor arguably should it, unless we are all convinced that there is a single best, most secure and reliable system. Otherwise, states still have a role to play as literally laboratories of democracy (voting).
  • +1 hank I'm tired of Federalism. States aren't the laboratories of democracy,they're the laboratories of oligarchical fascism !
  • edited November 2020
    I just tossed it out there for reactions. May or may not represent my own viewpoint. Thanks to any and all who comment. Your thoughts on my modest proposal are greatly appreciated.:)
  • I'm not at all sure that I'd like Mr. Louis DeJoy or his ilk to be in charge of honestly counting votes, or for that matter, honestly doing much of anything.

    The sorting and counting machinery of the USPS is nothing like that used by ballot counting agencies, so no efficiency gain there.

    The USPS (or any centralized federal agency) would need to hire an army of temporary workers, and need a significant amount of additional workspace, for a very short time. That doesn't seem like an efficient situation on a national basis. Better handled locally, I would think.
  • @OJ - and lest we forget the scenario of armed nut jobs surrounding a post office and threatening the employees there.
  • Look at the population of California and the population of Wyoming and ask why they each deserve two senators in an ostensible democracy. Then ask why only the Senate has to approve a president's Supreme Court Justice nominations while the House is left out.

    Obviously so CA can't dominate WY or any other state. It was actually brilliant to set it up that way. It is called "checks and balance."
  • I kind of agree with @Gary1952. I idea was every state would have an equal amount of representation on one level, and representation by population on another level. We were not designed to be a true democracy, majority rules, but a republic with a constitution and protections for minority views. OTOH, I do believe that we need a constitutional amendment abolishing the electoral college and allowing the president to be elected by popular vote.
  • edited November 2020
    And must remain so. Otherwise the huge population centers will control the country forever. Actually it will never happen with ratification of 3/4 states required. It needs to not be not self-serving amendment and for the general good, which it is not.

    Thanks for agreeing bil, but I cannot agree on the amendment. All one has to do is look at what CA has done to the election process.
  • edited November 2020
    What happens when the minority view is holding the majority view hostage?
    Here are some policy views of Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a state with a population of 579,000 in a nation with a population of 328 million. In 2018 he won re-election in Wyoming with 136,000 votes. I would maintain that on many of these issues the majority of Americans when polled would disagree with his views, and these issues have little to do specifically with his state, but affect all Americans, and in fact, in the case of climate science, the world:

    Gun laws

    In 2002, he received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. According to a Washington Post survey, he has voted with Republicans 94 percent of the time.[citation needed]

    In April 2013, Barrasso was one of 46 senators to vote against the passing of a bill which would have expanded background checks for all gun buyers. Barrasso voted with 40 Republicans and 5 Democrats to stop the bill.[13]

    Health care

    Barrasso voted against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in December 2009,[14] and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[15] Barrasso was part of the group of 13 senators drafting the Senate version of the AHCA behind closed doors.[16][17][18][19]


    Barrasso opposed the CIA's creation of its Center on Climate Change and National Security in 2009.[20] In 2011, Barrasso introduced a bill that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting carbon dioxide emissions.[21]

    Barrasso denies anthropogenic climate change.[22] Asked in 2014 on the C-SPAN interview program Newsmakers if human activity contributes to climate change, Barrasso said, "The climate is constantly changing. The role human activity plays is not known."[23][24][25] As of January 2019 Barrasso has a 8% lifetime score on the National Environmental Scorecard of the League of Conservation Voters.[26][27] Barrasso was a leading critic of the climate change policies of the administration of US President Barack Obama.[28]

    Along with Pat Roberts and Mike Enzi, Barrasso introduced a bill to remove tax credits for electric cars.[29] In December 2018, he penned an op-ed in the New York Times stating his belief in climate science and climate change, but opposition to a carbon fee and dividend.[30]

    Barrasso co-authored and was one of 22 senators to sign a letter[31] to President Donald Trump urging the President to have the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Barrasso has received over $585,000 from the oil and gas industry since 2012.[32] In 2018 alone Barrasso received over $690,000 in funding from oil and gas companies.[33]

    In 2019, Barrasso inaccurately claimed that "livestock will be banned" as a result of the Green New Deal, and said we needed to "say goodbye to dairy, to beef, to family farms, to ranches. American favorites like cheeseburgers and milkshake would become a thing of the past."[34]

    Criminal justice

    He opposed the FIRST STEP Act, legislation which sought to reform the federal prison system. Nonetheless, the bill passed 87-12 on December 18, 2018.[37]
    Foreign policy

    Donald Trump

    After it was revealed in November 2018 that President Donald Trump had business dealings with Russia while a candidate during the 2016 election, Barrasso said, "The president is an international businessman; I’m not surprised he was doing international business." Asked if Trump should have disclosed those business ties to voters during the campaign, Barrasso said, "There were so many things involved in the 2016 campaign, it’s hard to point to what one thing influenced voters."[39][40] Barrasso joined President Donald Trump on Thanksgiving 2019 in a surprise visit to American troops stationed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Approximately 370 are Wyoming National Guard soldiers."[41]

  • @Gary1952 : No, the people would control the country forever. Are you forgetting that CA was Republican in the past, the South was Democrat. Why should anyone's vote count more than anyone else's? Big cities can have very split votes or go for either party if the people living there get the policies they want. That is what is supposed to happen. Politicians are supposed to work for the people. The people, all of them, should decide who we elect as President.
  • We will never see the 2 Senators per state changed or the EC dropped until 2/3 of the states are firmly controlled by one party, top to bottom. Could happen someday, but very unlikely.
  • Agreed, all of which leads to Krugman's failed state argument:
  • If the founding fathers could have foreseen a McConnell maybe we would have a different setup.
  • well I'll be d...… It's Mark Esper. Who woulda thunk?
  • Old_Joe said:

    If the founding fathers could have foreseen a McConnell maybe we would have a different setup.

    or a harry reid.

  • edited November 2020
    Gary1952 said:

    Old_Joe said:

    If the founding fathers could have foreseen a McConnell maybe we would have a different setup.

    or a harry reid.

    @Gary1952 : If you think for one minute that McConnell would not have invoked the Nuke OP to get the three supremes passed, even if Reid hadn't done so for lower court judges, you are naive. None of the three would have been appointed any other way. This was the chance of a lifetime. And they get to feed their supporters the line that Harry did it first. The Supreme Court is far different than a Federal judge. So don't be surprised if what goes around comes around if the Dems win even one of the runoffs in GA.
  • edited November 2020
    The point being it is POLITICAL. Those who control the senate and presidency call the shots. Just as Harry Reid did, one of the nastiest senators ever.

    Harry Reid started it. The link I posted is accurate. Paybacks are a b!tch. I fully expect the new regime to mix it up and screw with the US traditions and Constitutional composition. Some folks can never accept what is without winning.
Sign In or Register to comment.