Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Electoral College shenanigans - again


For the benefit of non-US readers who may not understand the electoral rigmarole here, the President is elected not by direct vote, but by the members of an Electoral College.  Each state of the Union has as many members of the Electoral College as it has congressional districts, plus two for its Senators (of which each state has two).  In most states, the votes of all its Electoral College delegates are awarded to the Presidential candidate who wins the majority of votes in that state.

The Electoral College system has been widely criticized.  As Wikipedia notes:

Critics argue that the Electoral College is inherently undemocratic and gives swing states disproportionate influence in electing the President and Vice President. The Electoral College gives a numeric advantage in the election of the president to the smaller states, as the minimum number of electors for the small states is three compared to one for the election of representatives. On the other hand, the winner-take-all method of voting favors the larger states. A number of constitutional amendments have been proposed seeking to alter the Electoral College or replace it with a direct popular vote.

Unfortunately, many of these proposals have been alleged to be biased towards one side or the other of American politics.  There haven't been any of which I'm aware which would have been genuinely neutral, politically speaking.

The latest plan comes from Republicans, who are alarmed by efforts from the Democratic Party and progressive groups to undermine the Electoral College (by means of the so-called National Popular Vote initiative).  The Founders wanted to protect the political influence of less populous, more rural states, which would otherwise be swamped by more populous states and urban areas;  hence their embrace of the Electoral College.  The Republican initiative proposes to remove the 'winner-take-all' approach in the states they control, and assign their Electoral College votes on a congressional district basis.  This would be no more or less fair than the current elections for Congress itself, but would dramatically impact Presidential elections.

The National Journal reports:

Already, two states -- Maine and Nebraska -- award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. The candidate who wins the most votes statewide takes the final two at-large electoral votes. Only once, when President Obama won a congressional district based in Omaha in 2008, has either of those states actually split their vote.

But if more reliably blue states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were to award their electoral votes proportionally, Republicans would be able to eat into what has become a deep Democratic advantage.

. . .

Obama won all three states in 2008, handing him 46 electoral votes because of the winner-take-all system. Had electoral votes been awarded by district, Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have cut into that lead. Final election results show that Romney won nine of Michigan's 14 districts, five of eight in Wisconsin, and at least 12 of 18 in Pennsylvania. Allocate the two statewide votes in each state to Obama and that means Romney would have emerged from those three Democratic states with 26 electoral votes, compared with just 19 for Obama (and one district where votes are still being counted).

Republicans are able to contemplate such a bold plan because of their electoral success in 2010, when the party won control of state legislative chambers and the governorships in all three states, giving them total control over the levers of state government.

. . .

Tweaks of electoral-vote rules are hardly unprecedented, according to Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University. State legislatures routinely changed Electoral College allocation rules in the early years of the Republic; the political fallout then can inform present-day lawmakers considering the changes.

"State legislative elections became tantamount to the presidential election in a state. Local issues were put aside for presidential politics," McDonald said. "These states legislators thus risk the nationalization of their state politics, to the detriment of their personal careers. State legislators learned that once they fixed the Electoral College rules, national politics no longer dominated state elections."

There's more at the link.  Hot Air analyzes the proposal here.

I'm not sure whether this would be any more fair than the present system;  but I don't see how it can be less fair.  What say you, readers?

Peter

8 comments:

armedlaughing said...

I'm old-fashioned, but I like the system as it is.
Popular vote disenfranchises the fly-over States.
The Framers were pretty clever. We need to keep the States from gerrymandering and rescind the 17th Amendment, to start...

gfa

Brad J (Kazrak) said...

The biggest problem with giving electoral votes by district is the gerrymandering issue. I recall reading a comment shortly after the election that, had one of the critical states (I believe it was Ohio) had this sort of vote division, it would have given more of its electoral votes to Romney despite Obama winning the state overall.

I would be in favor of this, if and only if all states were required to have their redistricting done by an actual nonpartisan board (NOT bipartisan) as some states are now doing. (Amazingly enough, California's seems to be doing well, which is something I rarely if ever say about anything involving California's politics.)

toto said...
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toto said...
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Peter said...

Sorry, readers, we got spam-blasted by a supporter of the National Popular Vote campaign. I'm not interested in blindly regurgitated propaganda, but a reasoned discussion of alternatives.

JFM said...

One thing awarding Electoral vote by district would do or should do is give people the feeling that their vote actually counts for something. If you are a conservative and live in Cal or NY why bother voting? If you live in a red district in a blue state your vote might count this way.

toto said...

The congressional district method of awarding electoral votes (currently used in Maine and Nebraska) would not help make every vote matter. In NC, for example, there are only 4 of the 13 congressional districts that would be close enough to get any attention from presidential candidates. A smaller fraction of the country's population lives in competitive congressional districts (about 12%) than in the current battleground states (about 20%) that now get overwhelming attention, while 80% of the states are ignored Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.