fixing the Electoral College

Back in August, Bob H. commented:

Btw, Slate has a new article on problems with trying to fix the Electoral College.

I’d be interested to get your take on it. Cheers.

Quoting from the Slate article now:
Slate; splitting CA electorial college votes for partisan gain

It’s hardly news at this point that, as it works today, the Electoral College undermines American democracy. It does so in three fundamental ways: First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken “red” and “blue” states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.

This last problem is about to make things much worse, as strategic actors try to exploit spreading discontent with the system by pushing “reform” proposals for purely partisan advantage. Thus, in California, top Republican strategists are now proposing a ballot initiative that would “reform” the system by awarding the state’s electoral votes by congressional district. Its real purpose is to break up the state’s 55 electors, which typically go to the Democrats in a bloc as inevitably as Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma give their 56 combined electors to the Republicans. Following the proposed division of California’s well-gerrymandered blue and red congressional districts, it is likely that the 2008 GOP nominee under this plan would carry away about 20 electors. In one fell swoop, this would ruin the Democrats’ chances for winning the presidency.

This is very plainly not reform. It is tactical gamesmanship.

The article goes on to suggest that a national popular vote plan is a better reform and specifically backs the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact plan.

I am in full agreement with the article that changing the way that states allocate their electorial college votes away from the current system into a system that is more proportional to how voters voter in that state is a piecemental solution that is full of partisan gamesmanship.

Even if every state in the nation changed to the same such a system it is a bad idea. Apparently it actually makes things worse. FairVote did a study of past predisidential elections and how they would have turned out under different rules for how state’s electorial votes would have been allocated. [Caution: I have not read or carefully reviewed the actual ‘Fuzzy Math’ publication that they have; I have found FairVote to be untrustworthy on other matters in the past so I consider it possible that they spin the results of this study.] They found:

  • For the 2000 Gore v Bush election:

    Al Gore won the popular vote by a small margin, but lost the Electoral College vote. Gore’s margin of victory in the popular vote was 0.52%, but Bush’s Electoral College margin of victory was 0.93%. Had a congressional district allocation been in place, Bush’s electoral vote margin of victory would have been 7.06%, eight times an already distorted result.

  • Considering allocating electorial votes proportional to the state’s popular vote or by majority winner in each of the state’s congressional districts:

    Our analysis reveals that both of these methods fail to meet our criteria. Neither reform option promotes majority rule, greater competitiveness, or voter equality. Pursued at a state level, both reforms dramatically increase incentives for partisan machinations. If done nationally, the congressional district system has a sharp partisan tilt toward the Republican Party. The whole number proportional system sharply increases the odds of contingent elections (the selection of president by Congress)

In short, the reform that I and many others desire is that the president be elected by a national popular vote. There are a couple of plans for how to do this. I am not convinced that all of them will work. I’ll cover them in a future post.


6 responses to “fixing the Electoral College

  1. I like the idea of having states award their electoral votes to winner of overall US popular vote. In fact even if California was the first one to start, the effect would already be good for the California and other “blue” and “red” states as candidates would have a good reason to compaign trying to win more popular vote overall knowing that at least one very large state awards its electoral votes this way.

  2. >[William]In fact even if California was the first
    >one to start, the effect would already be good for
    >the California and other “blue” and “red” states as
    >candidates would have a good reason to
    >campaign trying to win more popular vote overall
    >knowing that at least one very large state awards
    >its electoral votes this way.
    I disagree. A change like this needs to occur at the national level (possibly through the interstate compact approach) to work. Otherwise the reform will be piece-mental and the Republicans will work to get ‘blue’ states to adopt this reform (which they are) and Democrats will work to get the ‘red’ states to adopt it (which they are too). It will be ripe for manipulation and abuse.

    Here is a recent discussion on this:

  3. In two weeks Ontario votes in a referendum whether or not to change its voting system from First-past-the-post to Mixed-Member proportional. In the MMP system a voter votes for a candidate, and also a party. The candidate is elected normally, but the party votes are allocated by popular vote. It’s a neat idea, because it means anyone voting leaves the polls knowing their vote helped directly shape the outcome. It’s an interesting proposition, and certainly a system that would address some of concerns felt by voters in the States.

    That said, I don’t think Ontarians will approve the change. Most people don’t know what MMP is… even still, two weeks before the election. But this system is used successfully in Germany, which is actually one of the stronger democracies out there today. The system naturally leads to minority governments, coalitions, and many partys. Some Americans might think such a system would rob their government the ability of “decisive action.” But as you can imagine, requiring there to be a strong consensus might have prevented many of the questionable decisions made over the last 7 years. :-)

    In any case, voting reform in the US would seem like a good idea to me. Uniform national election laws would help that happen.

  4. Pingback: California Republican Initiative Gives Up « All About Voting

  5. Pingback: Alex Keyssar on “How Not to Choose a President” « All About Voting

  6. Pingback: Republican CA electorial college proposal and Ballot access issues « All About Voting

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