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Source: (consider it) Thread: The Electoral College
Crœsos
Shipmate
# 238

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Since we keep coming back to this on the election thread and because it's a bit of a tangent in its own right I decided to start a separate thread on this subject.

A good place to start is by explaining what it is, how it's supposed to work, how it actually works, and whether it's still a good way to pick the U.S. President a quarter-millennium after it was invented.

quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
Could somebody explain something for me? It may be already covered, but this thread has now reached 70 pages and I haven't been following it. I tried to find out about it four years ago, but didn't succeed. All political cultures have things that are mystifying to foreigners.

What is the electoral college for?

Or is it just there because it's there?

I know it chooses the President, but why not just count up all the votes? That would give a more reliable result and prevent the situation where a person can become President with less votes than the loser.

It doesn't, so far as I can see, carry on doing anything the rest of the time. Isn't it the two houses of the Congress that do that? So the President doesn't have to rely on the support of his electors to carry out his policies.

Who belongs to it? Are they important people, or party nonentities, chosen because they can spare two or three days off work to fly to wherever it meets, vote for their two names and then fly home again?

Does it actually assemble, or can they send in their votes by post?

First, the easy stuff. The electoral college picks the U.S. President and Vice President. That's what they, and that's all they do. It has no other function. The actual electors are usually obscure members of political parties who hold no other elected or appointed position within the government. In the modern (meaning post-Civil War) era, the electors are chosen via popular vote on a (mostly) state-by-state level. (Nebraska and Maine subdivide their electors by Congressional District.) So each party will have a slate of electors listed and ready to go on election night.

The electors do actually meet to cast their votes, though not as a single body. They meet in their respective state capitals to vote, and the certified results are then sent to the U.S. Congress. Once they've cast and certified their votes, they cease being electors and go back to being ordinary citizens. After the Congress tabulates the certified results from each state, the President and Vice President are officially elected, provided one candidate has a majority of the electoral votes.

So that's how it works. The other question that's usually asked is why it was invented in the first place?

Part of it has to do with the Founders' distrust of the masses and popular sentiment. There's no way to force an elector to vote the way the citizens (or, in the pre-Civil War era, the state legislature) who picked him expect him to vote. So the Founders thought an elite group of wise men (and when they were designing the system they expected all the participants to be men) would be able to derail a truly disasterous choice by picking someone else.

Of course, a much larger reason the Founders didn't want to rely on the popular vote was the influence of America's Peculiar Institution. When the Constitution was being drafted there was the question of whether slaves should be counted as population for the purposes of taxation and congressional representation. The northern states, where slavery less common, argued that slaves should count as population for the purposes of assessing a state's tax obligations but not for purposes of representation. The southern states, which had much larger enslaved populations, argued the reverse: that slaves should count for representation but not for tax purposes. This was eventually hammered out in the Three-Fifths Compromise where a slave counted as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of both Congressional representation and taxation.

Of course, regardless of how they were counted for the purposes of representation or taxation slaves still didn't get to vote. This would put the slaveholding states at a disadvantage (from their perspective) in electing the President if the process were done on the basis of collecting the popular vote on a national scale. On the other hand, giving each state a say in the presidential election proportional to its Congressional representation would have those 3/5th slaves "baked in". And the system worked very well (from the perspective of southern slaveholders) for quite some time, as the first fifteen American Presidents were either southern slaveholders themselves or politically beholden to the interests of southern slaveholders.

Of course, this is not much of a concern since the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. So there's no real practical reason to retain the electoral college beyond the weight of tradition and the incredible difficulty involved in amending the U.S. Constitution.

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Humani nil a me alienum puto

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Hedgehog

Ship's Shortstop
# 14125

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As an added perspective to this, it should be remembered that this system was developed by people who were emerging from British rule. The Colonists did not want a king, but recognized that, just for adminsitrative purposes, there should be a single figurehead of government.

Rather like a Prime Minister. The PM is not directly elected by the populace, but selected (as a gross oversimplification) based on the results of those who WERE elected by the people.

I believe that the original idea was that, in much the same way, the President would be selected by Congress. But then it was felt that this would tend to make the President too beholden to Congress and too likely to become even more of an "old boys network" than it is. So, instead of having Congress do the selecting, it was decided to have "Electors" who would be selected by the State--in the exact same amount as they had representation in Congress. And it was also made a rule that an Elector could not BE a member of Congress.

So I would argue that, at its heart, the creation of the Electoral College owes its inspiration to how the Prime Minister was selected.

As has been pointed out, it may well have outlived its function, but it is part of the U.S. Constitution (in Article 2, IIRC)--so we can only get rid of it by amending the Constitution. It has been tried before but has never quite made it--perhaps because the need to fix it has generally seemed more academic than practical. After all, it is a pretty rare occurrence that the Electoral College vote does not reflect the popular vote. The 2000 election, of course. And I think there was one other time. In most other cases, the winner of the College is also the winner of the popular vote (including the most recent election).

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"We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it."--Pope Francis, Laudato Si'

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tclune
Shipmate
# 7959

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I have never been particularly impressed by the intelligence of Republicans. However, they'd have to be dumber than dirt to agree to changing the Constitution on this. Currently, the small states get much more say per voter than do the large states. My recollection is that each Wyoming vote is worth more than 4 California votes in terms of the electoral college. Why would the least populous states ever agree to changing this system? They whine now about being ignored.

--Tom Clune

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comet

Snowball in Hell
# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
I have never been particularly impressed by the intelligence of Republicans. However, they'd have to be dumber than dirt to agree to changing the Constitution on this. Currently, the small states get much more say per voter than do the large states. My recollection is that each Wyoming vote is worth more than 4 California votes in terms of the electoral college. Why would the least populous states ever agree to changing this system? They whine now about being ignored.

--Tom Clune

I once had a letter from my congressman* telling me how the EC is such a good thing for this reason - as a small state, my vote is worth so much more than people from big states!

but that's BS. I want my vote worth exactly the same as a voter from Cali or NY. and no question, states like mine will probably always support the ES exactly because it is unfair. But how can we claim real democracy** if people's votes are unequal? what's wrong with One (hu)Man, One Vote?

*I was a teen at the time. this has been pissing me off for years.

** yeah, I know, it's a stretch. but I think we do try.

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Evil Dragon Lady, Breaker of Men's Constitutions

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.” -Calvin

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Carex
Shipmate
# 9643

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Actually it is to the advantage of the large states as well: by assigning their votes in a block rather than proportionally they force candidates to pay more attention to them than to other states. That's why you heard a lot more news about the race in Ohio than the one in New Hampshire, because if Romney couldn't win the former, the latter didn't matter.
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Carex
Shipmate
# 9643

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quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
...My recollection is that each Wyoming vote is worth more than 4 California votes...

A Democratic vote in Wyoming has the same value as a Republican vote in California: nil.
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tclune
Shipmate
# 7959

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quote:
Originally posted by comet:
But how can we claim real democracy** if people's votes are unequal? what's wrong with One (hu)Man, One Vote?

Are you also in favor of eliminating the Senate (not such a bad idea, on reflection)? The POTUS is kind of half-way between the strictly representational (let's gloss over gerrymandering for now) House and the strictly federalist Senate. It's not entirely clear to me that people are more entitled to representation than states, but I'm not convinced that they aren't, either. You may be right, but I need convincing.

--Tom Clune

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Crœsos
Shipmate
# 238

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quote:
Originally posted by Hedgehog:
After all, it is a pretty rare occurrence that the Electoral College vote does not reflect the popular vote. The 2000 election, of course. And I think there was one other time. In most other cases, the winner of the College is also the winner of the popular vote (including the most recent election).

It's happened three times, actually.

In 2000 George W. Bush lost the popular vote and "won" the electoral vote via a Supreme Court decision. Given his near-invisibility in the recent presidential election, even his former party is embarassed by him now.

In 1888 Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote bot won the electoral vote. The public apparently regretted this decision since they returned Grover Cleveland, the incumbent president defeated by Harrison, to the White House four years later. This was the only time the American electorate has chosen to return a former president to office.

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote and the electoral vote was unclear, as three states submitted two different slates of electoral votes that year. Hayes eventually cut a deal for those electoral votes by agreeing to end Reconstruction, essentially throwing African-Americans to the wolves to attain the presidency. Since this was during the Democratic party's white supremacist days it is unlikely African-Americans would have fared any better under Samuel Tilden.

Given the track record of presidents who win the electoral vote but lose the popular vote, wouldn't going with their more popular rivals make more sense?

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Humani nil a me alienum puto

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RuthW

liberal "peace first" hankie squeezer
# 13

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Two guys in the nineteenth century plus Bush hardly constitute a record from which we can draw conclusions about whether or not a future president will be any good.
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Alogon
Cabin boy emeritus
# 5513

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I think that it is time to abolish the electoral college because it makes Presidential campaigns such jigsaw puzzles. Campaign strategies and reportage are all about how to get the electoral votes in the most likely combination of States.

While it is nice to know that if you live in a battleground state, your vote is important, I bet that many in Ohio are enjoying the relative peace and quiet of not being blasted with political ads for the first time in months-- peace and quiet which Californians have enjoyed all year.

Without the electoral college to complicate campaigns, perhaps they can be more about the issues, as they should be.

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Patriarchy (n.): A belief in original sin unaccompanied by a belief in God.

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Enoch
Shipmate
# 14322

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Yebbut.

I accept the inertia argument, but the US hasn't had slavery since the 1860s.

Also, we're all too familiar here with the notion that politicians won't change an abuse if it's working in their own team's favour.

However, it isn't like the Prime Minister because the Prime Minister isn't like the President.

We vote for individual members of Parliament who represent where we live. They also belong to a party. That party has a leader. Most people, in deciding for whom to vote, will probably take into account which party the candidate is standing for, and who the leader is of that party, but they don't have to. Some MPs will have a personal following.

The party chooses its leader. It's assumed it chooses it from among the members of the elected house, but parties can change their leaders at any time, without an election. Gordon Brown, John Major and Julia Gillard all became Prime Minister in between elections. They correspond more to party leaders in Congress, but usually have far more clout over their own followers.

The US President is much more like an elected version of George III.

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Crœsos
Shipmate
# 238

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quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
Are you also in favor of eliminating the Senate (not such a bad idea, on reflection)?

Reforming the World's Worst Deliberative Body is probably a topic for another thread. I'll just note that most American states manage to operate bicameral legislatures with proportional representation in both houses.

quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
It's not entirely clear to me that people are more entitled to representation than states, but I'm not convinced that they aren't, either. You may be right, but I need convincing.

I guess it's largely a function of whether you see the President as leading/serving the American people or leading/serving the American states. Given the way most states tend to resist federal authority, I'd have to go with the former.

quote:
Originally posted by RuthW:
Two guys in the nineteenth century plus Bush hardly constitute a record from which we can draw conclusions about whether or not a future president will be any good.

Three cases out of the forty-six presidential elections the U.S. has had since 1832 (the first presidential election for which the popular vote is (mostly) known is a fairly good sample size.

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Humani nil a me alienum puto

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tclune
Shipmate
# 7959

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quote:
Originally posted by Alogon:
Without the electoral college to complicate campaigns, perhaps they can be more about the issues, as they should be.

I admire your optimism.

--Tom Clune

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comet

Snowball in Hell
# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
quote:
Originally posted by comet:
But how can we claim real democracy** if people's votes are unequal? what's wrong with One (hu)Man, One Vote?

Are you also in favor of eliminating the Senate (not such a bad idea, on reflection)?
not necessarily - our legislative branch has both the House and Senate - one for popular vote, one for states. Just because I think the executive branch should be chosen by the popular vote does not mean I support abolishing of the senate. if we only had the senate in the legislative branch, I might - honestly hadn't given it much thought.
quote:
Originally posted by Alogon:
While it is nice to know that if you live in a battleground state, your vote is important,

and if you live in a place like Alaska, which is staunchly right wing no matter what, a non-republican vote is worthless. I know many people who don't bother to vote for pres because of this - from both sides. why bother? And honestly, it's getting harder and harder to disagree with them. my presidential vote has never counted.

if the popular vote had any meaning at all, then at least I'd know that when it gets down to a few thousand votes or whatever in a tight race, then my vote might have made a difference. As it is now, I am assured that unless Anchorage falls into the sea or we have some mass change of heart in the AK populace, my vote for president will never be worth a damn.

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Evil Dragon Lady, Breaker of Men's Constitutions

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.” -Calvin

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Dal Segno

al Fine
# 14673

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quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
The US President is much more like an elected version of George III.

And would be even more so if George Washington had not resisted the temptation to be de facto King of America.

quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
Are you also in favor of eliminating the Senate (not such a bad idea, on reflection)?

Reforming the World's Worst Deliberative Body is probably a topic for another thread. I'll just note that most American states manage to operate bicameral legislatures with proportional representation in both houses.
The US system seems to be constructed so that it is very difficult for Federal Government to achieve anything. That might be a deliberate design decision on the part of the Founders. The House being biased towards the cities, the Senate towards the rural communities, the President having a veto, and the Supreme Court having the authority to overturn decisions.

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Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds

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comet

Snowball in Hell
# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by comet:
quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
quote:
Originally posted by comet:
But how can we claim real democracy** if people's votes are unequal? what's wrong with One (hu)Man, One Vote?

Are you also in favor of eliminating the Senate (not such a bad idea, on reflection)?
not necessarily - our legislative branch has both the House and Senate - one for popular vote, one for states. Just because I think the executive branch should be chosen by the popular vote does not mean I support abolishing of the senate. if we only had the senate in the legislative branch, I might - honestly hadn't given it much thought.
upon further thought- I'm not sure I would support such a thing. where there are two parts, as in the legislative branch - I think it makes sense to have regional representation as well.

The Alaska house and senate are both allocated according to population - which means both sides of the legislative branch are dominated by urban interests (Anchorage, last I checked, had over half the entire state's population). This has led to some nasty conflicts over things like subsistence hunting - people in rural areas who don't have access to a lot of job opportunities think they should get hunting preference as food is a real issue; people in the urban areas want sport hunting to count as or more important than subsistence so that they can have the same crack at game as rural residents do.

this has also led to redistricting being a real nightmare. On tuesday I went in to vote on local reps, neither of whom I know anything about or who live anywhere near where I do.

If we had the house allocated according to population and the senate allocated according to region, then at least in half the legislature the rural areas would have more strength of vote.

sorry for the tangent but Tom started it! [Biased]

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Evil Dragon Lady, Breaker of Men's Constitutions

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.” -Calvin

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Nick Tamen

Ship's Wayfaring Fool
# 15164

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quote:
Originally posted by RuthW:
Two guys in the nineteenth century plus Bush hardly constitute a record from which we can draw conclusions about whether or not a future president will be any good.

Or whether the system works well.

I disagree that there is no reason for the EC anymore (and Crœsos have hashed this out some in the 2012 election thread). I think the EC is valuable for reflecting the federal nature of the republic, which is fundamental to our constitutional system. I think, as currently implemented, it provides a balance between popular vote and the idea of the states electing the president.

I don't buy the argument that the EC is undemocratic because it doesn't line up perfectly with one person, one vote. Neither does the House of Representatives. There is one person, one vote within each state and each state has electoral votes based on its population. I think that's a fair balance,

And I don't buy the argument that the votes of blue voters in red states (and vice-versa) are "wasted." By that logic, anyone who votes for the losing candidate in any election has "wasted" her vote. And the vote is never worthless, since the nationwide popular vote has its own value; it may not directly elect the president, but it can and does determine the degree to which a "mandate" can be claimed, which can have an effect on a president's ability to get things done.


quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
There's no way to force an elector to vote the way the citizens (or, in the pre-Civil War era, the state legislature) who picked him expect him to vote.

All states except South Carolina had gone to the popular vote as the means of choosing and instructing electors by 1832.

And of course there is a way to force an elector to vote the way the citizens who picked him expect him to vote, but it is up to each state to do it. 24 of the states have faithless elector laws; why all states don't have them is beyond me. In my state, a vote cast by an elector that is not a vote for the candidates of the party that nominated that elector (in other words, a vote for the candidate that didn't win the popular vote in the state) operates by law as a resignation from office, the vote is invalid and the remaining electors appoint a replacement for the faithless elector. (There is also a $500 fine.)

[ 08. November 2012, 17:50: Message edited by: Nick Tamen ]

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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Crœsos
Shipmate
# 238

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quote:
Originally posted by Dal Segno:
The US system seems to be constructed so that it is very difficult for Federal Government to achieve anything. That might be a deliberate design decision on the part of the Founders. The House being biased towards the cities, the Senate towards the rural communities, the President having a veto, and the Supreme Court having the authority to overturn decisions.

I've heard the U.S. referred to as "the Frozen Republic" for this reason. American history is large stretches of the status quo, punctuated by brief periods of very rapid change (e.g. the Civil War, the New Deal). And yes, this was part of a deliberate design on behalf of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Having a large number of veto points within the structure of government is at the root of the idea of "checks and balances".

Of course, bloviating on the internet about what changes we'd like to see and why we think they're good ideas aren't constrained in this manner.

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Humani nil a me alienum puto

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comet

Snowball in Hell
# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
And the vote is never worthless, since the nationwide popular vote has its own value; it may not directly elect the president, but it can and does determine the degree to which a "mandate" can be claimed, which can have an effect on a president's ability to get things done.

and that has the legal power of exactly nothing.

if a state has, say, 9 electoral votes, and their popular vote went something in the range of 51-49, it would at least make some sense if 5 electoral votes went one way and 4 the other. but in most states that is not the case. no matter how close the race, all of a state's electoral votes will go one way or another. meaning, from a practical point of view, if I'm in the minority, my vote is essentially worthless in the grand scheme of things. it doesn't matter if it was 51-49 or 99-1, that will not be reflected in the final result. I want to know that even though I'm in the minority in my state, that my vote may still matter in the entire election. but it really doesn't.

I do still vote, always have and probably always will. because I retain some hope that someday, somehow, my one vote will push it over the edge. But I know many people - at least a dozen within my own circle - who do not bother because they feel it is futile. if they all voted, would it pop us over the edge? probably not - they are both on the liberal and conservative sides. the EC disenfranchises voters.

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Evil Dragon Lady, Breaker of Men's Constitutions

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.” -Calvin

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Nick Tamen

Ship's Wayfaring Fool
# 15164

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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
Reforming the World's Worst Deliberative Body is probably a topic for another thread. I'll just note that most American states manage to operate bicameral legislatures with proportional representation in both houses.

But state senates do not have the same function as the US Senate. All senates provide for bicameral legislatures with some checks and balances. But the purpose of the US Senate, as designed in the Constitution, is to give equal representation to states without regard to population.

quote:
I guess it's largely a function of whether you see the President as leading/serving the American people or leading/serving the American states. Given the way most states tend to resist federal authority, I'd have to go with the former.
Actually, I think the resistance to federal authority can just as easily cut the other way -- that the president should be chosen by and accountable (if "accountable" is the right word -- best I can come up with right now) to the states and cannot exercise authority without the consent of the states. The resistance to federal authority is based on the concept of power resting with states except as specifically conferred on the federal government.

But frankly, I think it's a distinction without much difference. The president leads and serves the nation, which is the people who are simultaneously citizens of the United States and citizens of the 50 separate and sovereign states that together comprise the United States. And "the states" means the people of the states, for that is where the state's sovereignty resides.

I think if there is real concern that the popular vote should always control, the best avenue, from a federal standpoint, is that presented by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under that scheme, each participating state chooses to allot its electors to the winner of the national popular vote. That respects the national popular vote and also respects the rights of states to determine how to allot their electoral votes.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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Nick Tamen

Ship's Wayfaring Fool
# 15164

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quote:
Originally posted by comet:
the EC disenfranchises voters.

Sorry, but no. As long as they have the right to vote, they are not disenfranchised. Whether they choose to exercise that right is up to them.

And for the sake of disclsure, I'll say that I have now voted in nine presidential elections. In only one of those elections did I vote for the candidate who carried my state. Yet I have never believed that my vote was "wasted."

[ 08. November 2012, 18:12: Message edited by: Nick Tamen ]

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comet

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by comet:
the EC disenfranchises voters.

Sorry, but no. As long as they have the right to vote, they are not disenfranchised. Whether they choose to exercise that right is up to them.
how to do you figure that? I have the right to demand my dog recite "Casey At The Bat", too. Doesn't mean it will do any good. I don't just want the right, I want it to actually do something.

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by comet:
quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by comet:
the EC disenfranchises voters.

Sorry, but no. As long as they have the right to vote, they are not disenfranchised. Whether they choose to exercise that right is up to them.
how to do you figure that? I have the right to demand my dog recite "Casey At The Bat", too. Doesn't mean it will do any good. I don't just want the right, I want it to actually do something.
I figure it because "disenfranchise" means to deprive someone of the right to vote (or of some other right of citizenship). The Electoral College does not deprive anyone of the right to vote. I'll take your word for it that it may cause some to feel that their vote doesn't matter, but the right to vote has not been taken away.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
But frankly, I think it's a distinction without much difference. The president leads and serves the nation, which is the people who are simultaneously citizens of the United States and citizens of the 50 separate and sovereign states that together comprise the United States. And "the states" means the people of the states, for that is where the state's sovereignty resides.

If we accept this argument (that the people and the states are interchangable), doesn't it follow that the electoral college is an unnecessarily complicated, Rube Goldberg-esque apparatus inserted into the election process?

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comet

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
I figure it because "disenfranchise" means to deprive someone of the right to vote (or of some other right of citizenship). The Electoral College does not deprive anyone of the right to vote. I'll take your word for it that it may cause some to feel that their vote doesn't matter, but the right to vote has not been taken away.

fair enough - I knew it wasn't the best choice of words but I was struggling to find a better choice. yes, we officially have the right to tick a mark on a piece of paper (or screen, I suppose) but we do not retain our right to have it make a real difference in the outcome unless we remain in the majority for our given state.

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Hedgehog

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quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
However, it isn't like the Prime Minister because the Prime Minister isn't like the President.

[edit]

The US President is much more like an elected version of George III.

I was discussing the concept when the EC was created. At that time, the President was not like the President, either. The presidential powers set forth in Art. II of the U.S. Constititution are amazingly sparse.

Art. II, Sec. 1: "The executive Power shall be vested in the President of the United States of America." The rest of the section deals with setting up the EC, discussing the age/country of birth requirements for the office; what to do if there is a vacancy during a term in office; etc.

Art. II, Sec. 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy . . . and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." He can "require the Opinion, in writing" of the principle officers of the executive departments. He can grant reprieves and pardons. With the advice and consent of the Senate, he can make treaties and appoint people like ambassadors and judges. And he can temporarily fill vacancies that may happen while the Senate is in recess.

Art. II, Sec. 3: The President is permitted to give a State of the Union speech to Congress. He can suggest legislation to Congress. "On extraordinary Occasions" he can convene both houses of Congress and adjourn them if there is a disagreement between them concerning adjournment. He can meet ambassadors of other countries. And "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

Art. II, Sec. 4: He can be impeached.


That's it. That's the powers of the President as contained in the Article of the Constitution creating the office. It was intended as almost a purely administrative position. All real power was in Congress. The President was never meant to be an elected version of George III.

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comet

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(crossposted with Hedgehog)

and in all reality, doesn't it just give a huge impact from those few swing states? for my vote to make any difference at all, I'd have to move to a swing state. it really would make no difference if I was in a firm majority, either. only swing state voters get to really know their vote is going to matter one whit.

I don't expect my state will ever go the other way - and those who call elections agree with me. my state doesn't make a difference in elections. if it was a popular vote, those of us swimming about in the pacific could have a real impact on a close race. but (aside from 2000) races have always been called before the polls even close here. how do you convince someone who feels disenfranchised to exercise their right to vote when they could have the race finalized before they even get to the voting booth?

[ 08. November 2012, 18:36: Message edited by: comet ]

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Evil Dragon Lady, Breaker of Men's Constitutions

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RuthW

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
I think if there is real concern that the popular vote should always control, the best avenue, from a federal standpoint, is that presented by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under that scheme, each participating state chooses to allot its electors to the winner of the national popular vote. That respects the national popular vote and also respects the rights of states to determine how to allot their electoral votes.

So the thing to do is to be the big state that holds out from this system. Let a bunch of other states agree to divide their electors according to the popular vote, and then California and New York will throw all of ours to the Democrat. [Big Grin] Actually, California and New York have already signed up. But the point holds. Texas and Florida haven't signed up.

The focus of campaigns would switch to major urban areas. Presidential candidates currently go to LA and NYC for money only, never to court our votes. The metropolitan areas of LA and NYC together have over 30 million people in them, about 10% of the population, more than the population of the 20 smallest states combined. This would fix that.

However, if all states allotted their electors according to the national popular vote, wouldn't the race be thrown to the House of Reps to decide rather frequently? If it was really close or there was a strong showing by a third-party candidate, the chances that no candidate would get the majority required by the Constitution seem rather high.

If we're going to have some kind of proportional division, to me it makes more sense to for each state to divide its electors according to how the voting went in the state -- Florida would divide its electors down the middle this year, California would send some Republican electors but more Democrats, etc.

[ 08. November 2012, 18:40: Message edited by: RuthW ]

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
If we accept this argument (that the people and the states are interchangable), doesn't it follow that the electoral college is an unnecessarily complicated, Rube Goldberg-esque apparatus inserted into the election process?

Not really, because the people of each state and the people of the United States, while the same people, are not quite the same thing. The sovereignty of each state resides in the people of that state. This is seen most clearly in the reality that it is the people of the state who can adopt or amend that state's constitution, whether by referenda, convention or other method they approve.

The US is a federation of those states. Compare how the US Constitution is amended: through votes of the states, acting either through their legislatures or through convention, not by vote of the people.

quote:
Originally posted by comet:
fair enough - I knew it wasn't the best choice of words but I was struggling to find a better choice. yes, we officially have the right to tick a mark on a piece of paper (or screen, I suppose) but we do not retain our right to have it make a real difference in the outcome unless we remain in the majority for our given state.

I really couldn't think of a better word, but please know that my disagreement over the word disenfranchise wasn't meant to convey that I didn't understand the point you're making.

But here's where I have a hard time. How is the idea that one voting blue for president in a very red state (for example) feels his vote is wasted any different logically from one wanting to vote blue for governor in a very red state? Either way, it seems to me, the vote "doesn't make a difference" the way you have laid it out.

[ 08. November 2012, 18:44: Message edited by: Nick Tamen ]

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by RuthW:
quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
I think if there is real concern that the popular vote should always control, the best avenue, from a federal standpoint, is that presented by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under that scheme, each participating state chooses to allot its electors to the winner of the national popular vote. That respects the national popular vote and also respects the rights of states to determine how to allot their electoral votes.

So the thing to do is to be the big state that holds out from this system. Let a bunch of other states agree to divide their electors according to the popular vote, and then California and New York will throw all of ours to the Democrat. [Big Grin] Actually, California and New York have already signed up. But the point holds. Texas and Florida haven't signed up.
LOL. But under the compact, no one participates until a sufficient number of states to provide a majority of electors. So all California and New York have done is say that if enough other states agree to participate, they will too.

And I think your point about how the focus of campaigns would move from swing states to more populated areas is a valid one. Campaigns would go where the most votes are.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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comet

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# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
How is the idea that one voting blue for president in a very red state (for example) feels his vote is wasted any different logically from one wanting to vote blue for governor in a very red state? Either way, it seems to me, the vote "doesn't make a difference" the way you have laid it out.

not true - in my gubernatorial election it can conceivably come down to a few votes. in the presidential election, my state will always go 100% one way or another. the individual voter be damned.

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Crœsos
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# 238

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
If we accept this argument (that the people and the states are interchangable), doesn't it follow that the electoral college is an unnecessarily complicated, Rube Goldberg-esque apparatus inserted into the election process?

Not really, because the people of each state and the people of the United States, while the same people, are not quite the same thing. The sovereignty of each state resides in the people of that state. This is seen most clearly in the reality that it is the people of the state who can adopt or amend that state's constitution, whether by referenda, convention or other method they approve.

The US is a federation of those states. Compare how the US Constitution is amended: through votes of the states, acting either through their legislatures or through convention, not by vote of the people.[/QB]

But if "[t]he sovereignty of each state resides in the people" and amending the U.S. Constitution is done through the states, how is that not also through the people?

quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
But here's where I have a hard time. How is the idea that one voting blue for president in a very red state (for example) feels his vote is wasted any different logically from one wanting to vote blue for governor in a very red state? Either way, it seems to me, the vote "doesn't make a difference" the way you have laid it out.

A vote cast for governor still shows up in the final tally, even if on the losing side. A vote cast for a losing presidential candidate is essentially discarded.

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by comet:
quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
How is the idea that one voting blue for president in a very red state (for example) feels his vote is wasted any different logically from one wanting to vote blue for governor in a very red state? Either way, it seems to me, the vote "doesn't make a difference" the way you have laid it out.

not true - in my gubernatorial election it can conceivably come down to a few votes. in the presidential election, my state will always go 100% one way or another. the individual voter be damned.
Not necessarily not true, though. You happen to be in a state with a relatively small electorate, so the idea that a few votes there could make the difference isn't that crazy.

But lets say you're in the bigger and even more red state of Utah. It's been decades since a Democrat was elected governor there and it's not likely to happen anytime soon. Does that mean there's no point in voting blue for governor there, that any such votes there are wasted?

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
But if "[t]he sovereignty of each state resides in the people" and amending the U.S. Constitution is done through the states, how is that not also through the people?

It's the difference between directly (through, say, referendum for state constitution) and indirectly (through the state legislature). The EC is a form of indirect representation -- the people of the states decide who will be ther state's electors and how they will cast the state's electoral votes.

quote:
A vote cast for governor still shows up in the final tally, even if on the losing side. A vote cast for a losing presidential candidate is essentially discarded.
No it's not. It's still counted up and reported in the final tally. It's just that determinative tallies are at state level, not the national level.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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comet

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# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
A vote cast for governor still shows up in the final tally, even if on the losing side. A vote cast for a losing presidential candidate is essentially discarded.

yes, but beyond that - a vote cast for president in a popular vote still counts towards the total even if the rest of my state went the other way.

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Autenrieth Road

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RuthW, you seem to be arguing from the impressions that the National Popular Vote Compact is an agreement among states to divide their electoral votes proportionately to the popular vote. That is not how I understand it. AIUI, the states in the compact agree to deliver all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. That is why part of the agreement is for it to take effect when states representing 270 electoral votes have signed on. At that point, at least 270 votes will go to the winner of the popular vote, the electoral college will therefore go to the winner of the electoral college, and it doesn't matter how the rest of the states assign their electors.

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Truth

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comet

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# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by Autenrieth Road:
RuthW, you seem to be arguing from the impressions that the National Popular Vote Compact is an agreement among states to divide their electoral votes proportionately to the popular vote. That is not how I understand it. AIUI, the states in the compact agree to deliver all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. That is why part of the agreement is for it to take effect when states representing 270 electoral votes have signed on. At that point, at least 270 votes will go to the winner of the popular vote, the electoral college will therefore go to the winner of the electoral college, and it doesn't matter how the rest of the states assign their electors.

what would be the point of having the EC at all, then?

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Augustine the Aleut
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Nick Tamen writes:
quote:
The EC is a form of indirect representation -- the people of the states decide who will be ther state's electors and how they will cast the state's electoral votes.

Only in half of the states: in 26 of them, the elector can do pretty well what they please with their vote.
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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
But if "[t]he sovereignty of each state resides in the people" and amending the U.S. Constitution is done through the states, how is that not also through the people?

It's the difference between directly (through, say, referendum for state constitution) and indirectly (through the state legislature). The EC is a form of indirect representation -- the people of the states decide who will be ther state's electors and how they will cast the state's electoral votes.
Please make up your mind. Either the distinction between the people and their states matters or it doesn't. You don't get to switch back and forth for the sake of convenience.

quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
A vote cast for governor still shows up in the final tally, even if on the losing side. A vote cast for a losing presidential candidate is essentially discarded.
No it's not. It's still counted up and reported in the final tally. It's just that determinative tallies are at state level, not the national level.
No, it's not. There's no official addendum to the electoral vote of each states saying "this represents X% of our popular vote".

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by comet:
what would be the point of having the EC at all, then?

Well, as I said upstream, it preserves the federalism component inherent in the EC by honoring a state's right to determine how its electoral votes would be alloted. A state chooses to participate in the Compact and tie its electoral votes to the national popular vote.

But beyond that, it's a much simpler solution to the kinds of problems you've raised. Getting rid of the EC requires a constitutional amendment -- meaning a 2/3 approval in each house of Congress, and then approval by legislatures of 3/4 of the states.

Implementation of the Compact, on the other hand, only requires approval by a simple majority in enough state legislatures to account for 270 electoral votes. The states (and DC) that have already adopted it represent 132 electoral votes, so that's already about half-way to the necessary 270.

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RuthW

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quote:
Originally posted by Autenrieth Road:
RuthW, you seem to be arguing from the impressions that the National Popular Vote Compact is an agreement among states to divide their electoral votes proportionately to the popular vote. That is not how I understand it. AIUI, the states in the compact agree to deliver all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. That is why part of the agreement is for it to take effect when states representing 270 electoral votes have signed on. At that point, at least 270 votes will go to the winner of the popular vote, the electoral college will therefore go to the winner of the electoral college, and it doesn't matter how the rest of the states assign their electors.

Oh. Well then. [Hot and Hormonal] Thanks for setting me straight!
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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
Well, as I said upstream, it preserves the federalism component inherent in the EC by honoring a state's right to determine how its electoral votes would be alloted.

[Confused] If a state's sovereignty rests with its people, wouldn't counting the actual votes of these people be a much more straightforward way of gauging how these sovereigns want their votes distributed?

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Organ Builder
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Even the Founding Fathers weren't above wanting to make certain that sovereignty remained with the right kind of people.

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Autenrieth Road

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quote:
Originally posted by Autenrieth Road:
At that point, at least 270 votes will go to the winner of the popular vote, the electoral college will therefore go to the winner of the electoral college, and it doesn't matter how the rest of the states assign their electors.

The quoted sentence brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department, True Tautologies division. I meant to say "...the electoral college will therefore go to the winner of the popular vote..."

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comet

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by comet:
what would be the point of having the EC at all, then?

Well, as I said upstream, it preserves the federalism component inherent in the EC by honoring a state's right to determine how its electoral votes would be alloted.
I might be being too binary here - but I fail to see why either a) we pretend it's a state decision or b) we pretend it's a populace decision. if it's up to the states, stop holding this huge (and expensive) national popular vote that really means little to nothing, when we can just allot our electors in some other election (or just let the state government do it); or, if it really is up to the People, make it a real popular vote. this smacks of impotent symbolism.

quote:
But beyond that, it's a much simpler solution to the kinds of problems you've raised. Getting rid of the EC requires a constitutional amendment -- meaning a 2/3 approval in each house of Congress, and then approval by legislatures of 3/4 of the states.

Implementation of the Compact, on the other hand, only requires approval by a simple majority in enough state legislatures to account for 270 electoral votes. The states (and DC) that have already adopted it represent 132 electoral votes, so that's already about half-way to the necessary 270.

Fair enough, but that sounds so bloody complicated. Why does everything have to be so complicated? (rhetorical question, obviously)

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Augustine the Aleut:
Nick Tamen writes:
quote:
The EC is a form of indirect representation -- the people of the states decide who will be ther state's electors and how they will cast the state's electoral votes.

Only in half of the states: in 26 of them, the elector can do pretty well what they please with their vote.
Which as I said upstream those states can (and should) prohibit.

quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
Please make up your mind. Either the distinction between the people and their states matters or it doesn't. You don't get to switch back and forth for the sake of convenience.

I'm not switching back and forth at all. I'm simply noting, as I have before, the implications of the 50 states being united in a federal republic, and how that can affect the ways people relate to their state governments and the federal government. Seems pretty basic to me -- people relate to the US not only as citizens of the US but also as 50 distinct groups of people organized as 50 sovereign states.

quote:
No, it's not. There's no official addendum to the electoral vote of each states saying "this represents X% of our popular vote".
I confess I don't understand what you're saying. So far as I know, every state certifies its election results by stating that Candidate A received x% of the vote and Candidate B received y% of the vote. That means that all votes are counted up and reported in the final tally with a winner declared. The fact that Candidate A won doesn't mean the votes for Candidate B are not counted and reported in the final tally. It means B didn't win.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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comet

Snowball in Hell
# 10353

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quote:
Originally posted by Organ Builder:
Even the Founding Fathers weren't above wanting to make certain that sovereignty remained with the right kind of people.

them and the rest of us. the problem is, my right kind of people aren't always your right kind of people and certainly aren't the other guy's right kind of people. the days of state leadership being the educated business elite are long gone, at least in my state. my (now former, thanks to redistricting) House representative is one of the dumbest, lowest educated adults I've ever met.

I'm actually kind of fond of him. everytime he opens his mouth he says something cute. he was elected because his opponent was educated and a successful businessman. many of the people in the south part of our former district fear education. and initiative. in his 6(?) years in office, he has introduced one bill - to allow a non-profit to hold a little gambling thingie as a fundraiser. bless him.

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Evil Dragon Lady, Breaker of Men's Constitutions

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.” -Calvin

Posts: 17022 | From: halfway between Seduction and Peril | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged
Autenrieth Road

Shipmate
# 10509

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If the election went to the winner of the popular vote (whether by eliminating the electoral college, or by the National Popular Vote Compact going into effect), when would it have been possible to call the election? (I ask this as a real question, not as a rhetorical question.)

Would elections be susceptible to getting called before the Western states had finished voting? Probably not for the West Coast states since California is so big, but quite possible ISTM for small-in-population Alaska and Hawaii. Or maybe not so possible, given that the absolute numbers for a state couldn't be called until much later in the counting process (unlike the current calling of percentages) and by then Alaska and Hawaii would be finished voting.

Would it be possible for the hanging-chad-type battle in Florida, or other demands for recounts, to be fought in polling places all over the nation? Currently the demands are limited because they are limited to states where the electoral votes are in doubt. If it's a matter of "piece together enough challenges, and eke out a win", will these challenges multiply? There was some other big voting problem in 2000 AIUI (Missouri, maybe?) but it was ignored because it wasn't big enough to cast the electoral votes of that state into question. On the one hand, sure, every vote should be counted accurately. On the other hand, are we ready for challenges to mount all over the country?

If we want every vote to count equally, should we also be campaigning for more uniformity in voting arrangements? I was in and out voting in 12 minutes; the way my day was arranged on Tuesday I'm glad I didn't have to try to make the choice about ditching work and other obligations to spend 4 hours waiting to vote as other people around the nation had to do.

Currently candidates campaign mostly in swing states. If the winner were determined by popular vote, would we see evenly distributed 50-state campaigns? Or would the candidates still make decisions about where to concentrate their campaign resources, and result in certain areas or regions still being ignored? For example, would campaigning move to the largest cities, as being the densest place to reach voters? Or to the places with the largest numbers of undecided or weakly committed voters (since the election is won at the margin by how many of these voters you can persuade to your side, presuming that the strongly committed don't need additional wooing)? Would this be a problem; or maybe it doesn't matter if campaigning is not evenly distributed?

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Truth

Posts: 9559 | From: starlight | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged
Nick Tamen

Ship's Wayfaring Fool
# 15164

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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
[Confused] If a state's sovereignty rests with its people, wouldn't counting the actual votes of these people be a much more straightforward way of gauging how these sovereigns want their votes distributed?

But that is what's done now. The relevant phrase is "a state's sovereignty rests with its people," meaning the people of the state have the foundational authority in the government of the state. The people of the state, either directly or through their elected representatives in their legislatures, decide how their electors will be chosen and then, through popular vote, decide how they want their state's electoral votes to be cast.

quote:
Originally posted by comet:
I might be being too binary here - but I fail to see why either a) we pretend it's a state decision or b) we pretend it's a populace decision.

What I'm trying to say is that's a balance of the two, or at least intended to be. Each state has the power to decide how it will choose its electors, and originally, most state legislatures chose their electors. But since 1832 (with the exception of South Carolina until after the Civil War), popular election has been the method states use to choose their electors.


quote:
Fair enough, but that sounds so bloody complicated. Why does everything have to be so complicated? (rhetorical question, obviously)
LOL. But not nearly as complicated as trying to get a constitutional amendment through.

[ 08. November 2012, 19:56: Message edited by: Nick Tamen ]

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

Posts: 2443 | From: On heaven-crammed earth | Registered: Sep 2009  |  IP: Logged
Augustine the Aleut
Shipmate
# 1472

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I did note that Nick Tamen already mentioned this and perhaps states should abolish electors' independence of action, but they haven't and, until they do, it does rather poke a serious hole into the theory (perhaps a bit like praising a high school class for the example of pureity and virginity when half of them have already done it).

While I understand the theory of the electoral college and how at the time there was a certain logic, it now appears to me to warp the electoral process, and give a handful of swing states an undue importance in campaigning. Only a combination of invincible ignorance or laudable civic duty seems to save elections in non-swing states from a drastic fall in voter participation.

It now seems to primarily serve to freeze in time a certain interpretation of US constitutional theory. I suppose it does provide a possible solution to the death of a presidential or VP candidate between election day and the meeting of the new congress.

In the meantime, the Nebraskan and Mainois approaches seem to offer a reasonable compromise (each congressional district chooses its own elector, and the overall winner in the state gets a bonus two), without needing a constitutional amendment or violating the aforementioned particular interpretation of the US constitution.

As an irrelevant tangent, a friend of mine was a Michigan elector (she was with child at time so we called her The Grand Electress) in the 1990s and quite enjoyed it, including the limo drive to Lansing and the official dinner.

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