Electoral College, Part III

Electoral College, Part III

By the end of this week Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. The discussion has, appropriately, moved away from the results of the election to how the country will be run under President Trump. As was to be expected, the discussion around the Electoral College has dissipated to the point of being nearly forgotten. I believe this is a terrible mistake. As the old saying goes, and I’m paraphrasing and putting my own spin on the sentiment, those who forget history are bound to repeat it.

I think it is important that the issue of the Electoral College and its usefulness or, in my opinion, obsolescence, should not be dismissed. With that in mind I bring you part III of my continued discussion of the Electoral College. This comes from an email that a friend of mine sent after reading a previous posting. Here is his email and my response in their entirety.

The Email

Hey Man,

I've been reading your articles about the electoral college, interesting stuff.  As I said, I’m in the middle somewhere like you, but the unfortunate truth is direct democracy would = 4 states effectively choosing the president due to large population centers (Florida, Texas, New York, California).  Are you advocating for more of a parliamentary system or something else?  Just curious.  I've been asked about it in class a lot, and I’m like yeah, it's not perfect, but then no presidential candidate would ever campaign in the mid-west because, who cares, right?  I think many people realize that due to the very large (and mostly conservative) movement around the Convention of States, codified in article V of the constitution.   I'm not saying you are right or wrong because you are one of the few people who make a rational argument about it (vs. all of my very liberal friends who are just crybabies for the most part), just happy to discuss this with someone who doesn't seem biased one way or the other and has actually thought it through. 

This article is a pretty good devils-advocate to yours and others I've seen http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/12/06/why_we_need_the_electoral_college_132499.html

My Response

Thanks for reading. I’m always glad when someone with some common sense and common courtesy is willing to discuss issues even if they disagree. Speaking of disagreement, I disagree that under a direct democracy the large population centers of Florida, Texas, New York and California would effectively choose the President. I would say that at most the change to a popular vote would keep this argument as a dead heat with the Electoral College. In my opinion it would still be a better system than the Electoral College. Explaining my argument in email may be tough but let me try.

If we take the four states you mentioned and calculate the total estimated number of votes cast in those states it is approximately 43 million. This is based upon the most recent census (2010) times the percentage of the population to determine the number of eligible voters times the estimated 2016 voter turnout from the website electionproject.org. It works out like this:

This means that if literally every person that votes in those four states voted for one candidate in the current election that person still would not have reached the majority of votes. Now let’s look at this as a more reasonable, yet I don’t think probable approach. Let’s assume that a single candidate won 70% of the vote in those locations which is quite unlikely considering that in this past election no candidate got more than about 62% in any particular state (except DC but I used that as an outlier since it was something like 93% for Clinton). That would give a particular candidate about 30 million votes. Based on the most recent election, that would be a little less than half the popular votes necessary to win the election (Clinton won the popular vote with about 62.5 million votes according to politico.com).

Let’s apply this same voting standard to the Electoral College. Winning these four states provides 151 electoral votes which is about 56% of the 270 total electoral votes. All it takes is a majority of the vote in those states to win all the electoral votes. That means it only takes 50.1% of the vote, approximately 21.5 million votes, to obtain 151 electoral votes. That math works out that a person that wins about 35% of the necessary popular votes in these states to win a popular vote election can end up with 56% of the Electoral Votes necessary to win.

In my opinion, if someone obtains 35% of the votes necessary to win a popular election then they should win 35% of the electoral votes to win the election, not 56%. Even if a candidate would have garnered 70% of the vote in the population centers, that candidate would still have to garner another 30 million votes from somewhere throughout the country. With that in mind, I’m still a firm believer of the popular vote for President of the United States.

Another alternative would be to allocate the electoral votes of each state based upon the actual results from each particular state. That is close to what Maine does where you don’t simply win 100% of the electoral votes simply by having the highest number of popular votes in that state. If this kind of law was enacted then each state would have the same voice, meaning number of electors, as under the current system but the votes would be more accurately allocated to the candidates. If this system was applied to the current election, Clinton would have won the electoral college with 281 electoral votes to 257 for Trump (my calculation is below and the data is from politico.com as of December 14, 2016).

The problem with discussing this around this time of year (which is the only time it can really be discussed because the election is coming up) is that it makes it appear that I’m advocating for a certain side. I would be writing the same things and making the same arguments if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton won both the popular vote and the electoral vote. Because of the results, it appears on the surface that anyone who advocates for changes to the Electoral College system is making the arguments because their candidate lost. I actually wrote my first blog post about the electoral college the night before the election. I fully intended to and would have posted the exact same thing if either candidate had won both the electoral vote and the popular vote. I’m just have a firm believe that if an election is going to be held for the President of the United States that election should actually mean something and shouldn’t just be window dressing to cover up the real election that doesn’t occur until December 19th. I didn’t cast a ballot for President because, at the end of the day, I truly believe that it doesn’t count. I’m not one of the 538 electors that will be voting as part of the electoral college so I don’t believe that my vote counts.

I read the article you sent over. (1) I’m glad to see it isn’t someone that is going crazy because one party one versus another party but (2) I have to disagree with his theory because what he proposes already exists. In Colorado, 22 people received votes for President. However, most states already have minimum requirements in order to be on the ballot. For example, in Virginia a candidate must have a petition with at least 5,000 signatures of qualified Virginia voters with at least 200 from each of Virginia’s congressional districts. Those kinds of rules will keep out the dozens and dozens of parties that the author of the article seems to believe will run amok in a popular vote system.

I suppose my first choice in a system would be the allocation system similar to that used in Maine. That would still provide the smaller states with a larger voice (places like Wyoming, South Dakota, and Vermont would still get three electoral votes even though it has a very small voter base) but the electoral votes would be allocated appropriately based upon the voice of each particular state. I would definitely be voting if I knew that at least a portion of the electoral votes from my state would go to the candidate I voted for or even the candidate I didn’t vote for because my vote would then have weight in the election as a whole. Until then I don’t believe that my voice, or the voice of the country, will truly be heard.

The Common Cold

The Common Cold

Patience is a Virtue