View Full Version : Electoral College vs. The Popular Vote

Al Coholic
02-08-2009, 01:56 PM
In 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes. But lost the election. In one district he lost by a few hundred votes. Had he won that district, he would have won the election.

So what do you think is more fair? The benefits of electing a president by the electoral college are that idealy, each state and district has a voice in the election. But we all know that in the end, the election is decided by about 10-15 states, with the rest pretty much locked in. However, if the USA switched to a popular vote, who's vote would matter? Would candidates just go to the biggest cities/media markets and pander to rural areas?

02-08-2009, 04:49 PM
The benefits of electing a president by the electoral college are that idealy, each state and district has a voice in the election.

I'd prefer it if each citizen had a voice in the election. I go with popular vote.

Are you following the Al Franken thing at the moment? Has some interesting parallels to Bush v. Gore.


02-09-2009, 08:11 AM
I prefer the popular vote. Every vote would be equal then.

Mota Boy
02-09-2009, 10:24 PM
The American political system was never intended to be a democracy. The founding fathers were a group of brilliant intellectuals terrified of the common man. They may have set up the most progressive government the world had yet seen, but they intended to keep tight control over it to prevent it from going astray. Over the years, democratic ideas have slowly eroded the elitist system the fathers put in place. Unfortunately, the framework of the original system still remains, creating an unwieldy electoral process that desperately needs to be overhauled. The current Electoral College system is undemocratic in that it is not responsive to the will of the people and results in a system where some citizens’ votes weigh more than others merely based on location. In order to rectify this error, an election based on simple national plurality would be much more responsive to the will of Americans.
The Electoral College dates back to a time when the country was relatively empty and easily controlled by a few men. The electoral process, although democratic at its base, was heavily insulated from the “common” voter. Even then, the group of eligible voters that the founding fathers snubbed their noses at composed only a minute portion of the population, and comprised solely of white, adult, land-owning males. These men were elected their local officials and state legislatures, but had very little control over the national government. In fact, at the time the Constitution was ratified in 1788, only the House of Representatives was elected by the general public, a mere one half of one third of the government. The remaining officials were appointed by other elected representatives. State legislatures selected senators and also members of the Electoral College. It was the Electoral College that decided upon the president, who in turn would select, with Congress’s approval, the judicial branch. While a remarkable system for its day, it grew outmoded as the world became increasingly progressive.

The democratization of American politics was a slow, steady process fueled by both a dedication to the ideas on which the country was founded and by political parties looking to further their own interests. The beliefs that had been the backbone of the American Revolution, equality and representation, were only applied to the new nation on very limited basis, but they did not end with the Revolution. Populists pushed for an expansion of suffrage and further democratization of the government. Newly enfranchised voters in turned championed the populists, creating a positive feedback loop. Over the years since the ratification of the Constitution, the nation has made significant gains toward becoming a full-fledged democracy. By the presidential elections of 1828, the land-holding requirement had largely been removed. In 1870 suffrage was extended to black males through the 16th Amendment. In 1913, the 17th Amendment ensured the popular election of senators. With the 19th Amendment in 1920, the vote was at last extended to women. Since the founding of this country, the way America selects its leaders has changed drastically, yet the system for choosing them has not evolved with it, resulting in the embarrassment of the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was created at a time when individual states were very distrustful of one another, an almost laughable concept now. Each state is designated a number of electoral votes based on its number of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives. The number of Senators is always two, while the number of Representatives fluctuates based on population, ensuring a minimum of three electoral votes for each state. After the election votes have cast, the winner of the plurality of the votes in a given state receives all of that state’s electoral votes, the exceptions being Maine and Nebraska, where two electoral votes are decided on a statewide vote while the remaining votes go to the winner of the plurality in each district.

Today the Electoral College is but a formality. Electors are selected with the candidates they back. In 26 states, electors are required by law to vote for their party’s candidate, but since the party itself decides which members to send, even electors free to choose almost never deviate from the party line, with only nine instances in the past century, all having no effect on the outcome . The electors are only in place to perform a ritual; in a way they are merely participating in a ceremony honoring a bygone era. The reason behind their actions has long lost its importance, but they carry on nevertheless, seemingly fearful of discontinuing the tradition. Ironically, while the electors themselves have no control over the outcome of the election, their mere existence can be immensely influential on the outcome of any election.

By giving all a states votes to the winner of a plurality in that particular state, the Electoral College allows the possibility that the loser of the popular vote could win the election. If a candidate is immensely popular in only a few states and loses in most of the other states by a small margin, his opponent could emerge victorious, despite receiving fewer votes. Even more outrageous, a candidate could waltz his way into the Oval Office by only carrying the eleven most heavily populated states . As a nation that prides itself in its democratic values, this is intolerable. The mere possibility that a vital democratic process could be subverted should elicit outrage; the fact that it occurs on a regular basis is mind-boggling.

Mota Boy
02-09-2009, 10:26 PM
Four times during the nation’s history, the Electoral College system has prevented the winner of the popular vote from becoming president, most recently in the 2000 election. Over seven percent of the time, the most important political event in the country is determined not by voters, but by an outdated electoral system. With an unrivaled ability to influence government policy and through it the lives of every citizen, the president should be selected with the utmost respect to will of the people he or she will be governing. Fortunately, an undemocratic outcome of the presidential election is fairly uncommon. Unfortunately, the Electoral College has several other undemocratic aspects that not only occur often, but also are essential elements of the system.

Engendered into the Electoral College are several undemocratic state biases. Since every state automatically receives three electoral votes, small states are disproportionately represented under the system, wielding a greater influence than they should based on their population. For instance, while Wyoming has one electoral vote for every 164,808 people, Ohio must divide each of its votes between 541,597 people. This creates a situation where the state of Wyoming has over three times the relative influence of Ohio. Oddly enough, the Electoral College also gives an unfair advantage to large states. Large states, with their numerous electoral votes, are critical players in the election process. This leads to candidates spending much more time and money wooing large states than their less important neighbors. When a Californian casts his ballot, he helps to decide the fate of his state’s 57 electoral votes. In contrast, if the same person lives in Vermont his vote only affects three. Seen in this light, merely by moving from Vermont to California a person automatically ups the value of their vote 19-fold. Keeping the importance of large states in mind, candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time and money fighting for these votes.

Even within this small crowd, however, there is still another group that gobbles up more than its fair share. During the 2000 election, Gore had little to worry about losing the California vote and Texas might as well have already voted for Bush. Other important states, however, remained up in the air until the last minute, and in once case, beyond. Pennsylvania and Florida have 23 and 25 electoral voted respectively, and as the 2000 campaign was wrapping up the two states looked like they could go either way. For this reason, both candidates campaigned vigorously in these locations, one flying in when the other seemed to be taking the lead. In the end, despite millions of dollars spent nation wide and uncounted campaign stops around the country, the choice of whom should be the “leader of the free world” for the next four years was decided by only one state. The utter lunacy of this caused the European press to collapse into howls of laughter over America’s “Electile Dysfunction.1” In retrospect, if Gore had only won his home state, Tennessee, he would be the unquestioned victor. Our Electoral College reduces elections to a game of Monopoly,tm with candidates spending their time fighting over hot properties instead of key minority groups.

Finally, the Electoral College system renders minority voters completely mute. Democrats living in staunchly Republican Utah have almost no hope of winning a plurality. Similarly, Bush managed to round up nearly four and half million votes in California , yet came away empty handed. Despite a turnout number large enough to carry several smaller states simultaneously, Californian Republicans got nothing for their effort, which is what many expected. California had long ago been marked as a sure bet for Gore. Situations such as these doubtlessly contribute to America’s abysmal voter turnout; the Electoral College simply tells local political minorities that they are wasting their time.

And yet, despite these glaring problems, the Electoral College has endured. Since 1804 there have been over 700 attempts to amend the Electoral College system to no avail. It has endured partly because of a reluctance to overhaul the system and because it does have some beneficial qualities. Proponents argue that it forces candidates to have a wide distribution of popular support. Without this system, they warn, the large state bias could easily become a large city bias and cause candidates to focus on a single region of the country. The Electoral College has also stubbornly refused to give up the ghost by proving beneficial to the two parties that ultimately decide its fate. If the Electoral College was thrown out, third party candidates, no longer held hostage by a winner-takes-all system, would have a much better shot at the presidency. With this in mind, Republicans and Democrats would be foolish to work for legislation that could only undermine their authority. While a good explanation for the persistence of the Electoral College, this is a horrible argument for its continued existence.

An election decided by simple plurality may result in some large city bias, but biases are already present within the existing system, and if politicians focus solely on large cities, a more open system would make it much easier for a new party to emerge to give a voice for rural Americans. As for the purely selfish reasons held by the major parties to discourage an overhaul of the system, they are as undemocratic as possible, placing the thirst for power by a few over the will of the electorate.

In conclusion, the Electoral College is an anachronism, a throwback to a time when America was run by an oligarchy, when suffrage was more of a privilege than an inherent right. It is truly appalling that despite its obvious flaws, the skeleton of this now hollow system still haunts us today. Deciding the presidency on a state-by-state basis inherited from colonial suspicions leaves us with the paradoxical situation where votes at one location count more that another based upon the arbitrary division of the country into states. The fact that the Electoral College continues to exist is a slap in the face of our democratic ideals. By throwing off the dusty framework of the Electoral College, America loses nothing, whereas by tolerating its presence we stand to lose another democratic election.

02-10-2009, 12:30 PM
Are you following the Al Franken thing at the moment? Has some interesting parallels to Bush v. Gore.


The Franken/Coleman thing is driving me nuts.

Coleman won and Franken supporters are being whiny bastards.

However, the good that's come from this is run-off voting is being established in Hennepin county (Minneapolis), and a few other larger counties (though I'm not sure when Ramsey county - where St. Paul is - will get in on this). Dean Barkley won like 15% of the votes in this election, and it's really been hard to tell where his votes would've gone had he not been an option. So that's why runoff voting is popping up... very awesome.

02-18-2009, 03:38 PM
However, if the USA switched to a popular vote, who's vote would matter? Would candidates just go to the biggest cities/media markets and pander to rural areas?

It is assumed that the people are the jusga that the actions of their employees (the President and subjects) no?:eek:

Al Coholic
03-09-2009, 12:37 PM
It is assumed that the people are the jusga that the actions of their employees (the President and subjects) no?:eek:

I don't follow. What I meant was the atleast the electoral college means each state has some influence toward the outcome. For example, North Dakota has a population of only 640,000 out of about 300,000,000 Americans. A ratio of less than 1:450. But they have 3/540 electoral votes. A ratio of only about 1:170. When you consider that those votes are on a winner takes all system, that means campaigning in ND could earn you 3 electoral votes. But on the popular vote system, it may only sway a few thousand voters, and would be alltogether probably not even worth visiting.

My point is that on a popular vote system, whole states may be forgotten, as candidates just went to cities and towns where they thought they could earn the most votes. A switch to the popular vote may be more democratic in theory, but it would change the way candidates campaign in a generally unfavorable way.