Electoral college reform

What are the good reasons for not using a simple majority? The electoral college is a remnant of a system designed to remove popular influence from the selection of the president - electors were originally chosen by the populace and then made the decision of who would be president, explicitly (cf. the Federalist Papers) in order to remove the decision from the hands of the (presumably unqualified) populace. Nowadays most states (but not all) use a winner-take-all system, but this is a decision taken on a state-by-state basis. If most or all states decided to split their electors (which they well could), then we’d be left with something largely resembling a direct election by simple majority.

In other words, there are no “good reasons” for this system, it is just a series of hacks (like most political solutions) that have evolved over time as we’ve adjusted our thinking and political needs. Given the modern distaste for it and the political gamesmanship it produces (“battleground states”), methinks it’s time for another hack at this system - e.g., widespread adoption of vote-splitting.


It does require 3/4 of the states to agree to not mattering in the next presidential election, or a constitutional convention


The same reasons other elections aren’t national and are by region. Or why there’s not state wide elections for state representatives in state governments. It’s a way of dividing up into areas that while proportional to population also account for geographic differences.

Except that it wouldn’t be the same as a simple majority at all.

It’s unfortunate that how to divide up electors is a state decision and not something that’s simply consistent across all states. It wasn’t always winner take all, just like it’s not that way everywhere.

A method that splits a states electors but keeps the electoral college prevents the small states from loosing all relevance. It would make the elector distribution much more like how the house and senate are split up. I definitely favor something that does this. Either by district (and have to deal with gerrymandering just like house seats), or simply proportional across the entire state. I’m not sure which is better. If we solve the gerrymandering issue for districts, that’s probably the better answer.

Without this, going to a simple majority across the entire county, just using the popular vote only creates other issues. It makes the election simply about the big cities and big states and nothing else. The winner-takes-all state assignment makes it feel similar because of “safe” states, but solving them to not be “safe” and have a better distribution is the better answer. Otherwise, it’s just as bad. On pure popular votes, win NY, the CA cities, Chicago, Dallas and Houston, and you’re just about done. You don’t even need to worry about the rest, they are simply overwhelmed.

Might as well just hold the election in the top 10 media markets and ignore the rest.

Winner take all distribution is still stupid. But, pure popular nationwide is just as bad.


How many places do you think matter in general elections under the current system?

Trump has put a lot more places in play now than had been true in the last few presidential elections, but before that, a typical general election strategy might revolve around just a handful of counties in two or three states.

And under the current system, the ~8.6 million people that live in NYC (for example) don’t matter at all in terms of getting attention from candidates unless they’re rich enough to be big donors. I think that kind of thing is a bigger problem, given that NYC has more people than the 9 smallest states combined. Ditto California, Massachusetts, and any other “safe” state.


Only to do it officially. If enough states sign on to the NPVIC we can sidestep an amendment.


New York state is a great example. It’s a “Safe State” because of NYC and the winner-take-all distribution. If it used a different distribution method for it’s electors, it wouldn’t be a safe state anymore. That’s the problem to fix.

Just use New York state as a model for the entire nation to see the issue. The popular vote winner gets the entire state. NYC is almost half the state all by itself and leans very blue. The people in Saratoga effectively don’t matter. If you win NYC by enough margin the rest of the state barely matters. There’s no need to win in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Saratoga, Watertown, Plattsburgh, or any of the other places that make up the huge bulk of the NY state geography.

From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election_in_New_York,_2016

Clinton won 18 of 27 congressional districts. But, the distribution wasn’t 18, 9, +2 somewhere. It was 29 all to one candidate.

A single national popular vote produces the exact same problem.

It’s Vermont, New Hampshire, Kansas, Delaware instead of Saratoga is all. Win the 10 biggest media markets and the other 200 don’t matter at all.

States that are considered “Safe States” is clearly a problem. Fix that problem. Don’t just turn it into “Safe Cities and the rest can pound sand”. Instead of campaigning across the sub set of 50 states that aren’t “safe”, force a campaign across the sub set of 488 districts that aren’t safe. Fix the gerrymandering of districts too, so that they’re not all safe by definition too.


And changing that would seem to be a way to get presidential candidates to pay attention to states that have a reliable majority. But of course the state legislatures are more interested in securing the greatest number of votes for the party that they are from,.

The only way I can see it happening is if a state makes an agreement with a right leaning state of similar size to go for proportional representation at the same time.

I know it’s not really what we’re talking about, but there’s something about these EC arguments I never understand:

Pro-EC person says: If the EC is eliminated the small states won’t matter! No one will try to appeal to, or craft their platforms with the issues of, small-state voters in mind.

But… If your state only counts for a handful of electoral votes, then aren’t you being ignored anyway? With or without the EC, Delaware isn’t worth much. (You know what I mean, Delaware.) With the EC, you’re only worth 3 electoral votes. Without the EC, you can’t deliver a lot of popular votes.

So is keeping the EC really so crucial? How does it “protect” small-state voters?

There’s probably something simple and obvious I’m missing, because this argument comes up again and again.


Isn’t this what the Senate is for? To give the states a hand in the political process, rather than the populace.


Also, right now your vote doesn’t really matter unless you’re in one of a small number of “swing states” where the outcome of the election isn’t a foregone conclusion. If you’re a Democrat in Wyoming or a Republican in California you might just as well not turn up at all because the other side is virtually guaranteed a 50%+epsilon majority (sometimes way more than that) and that means that all electoral votes for that state go to them.

There’s a lot to be said for proportional representation in the legislature, which is what modern democracies use. The late-18th-century setup in the USA naturally gravitates towards a situation where there are only two big parties, but we can’t blame the founders for that because back at the time political parties hadn’t really been invented yet. Since then the civilised countries of the world have learned a thing or two about how to run a functioning democracy but the US constitution hasn’t caught up.


Well the obvious thing you are missing is that the EC is supposed to be based on population - and was setup to mirror the house #'s to do so - it’s only the changes to the law as of the start of the 20th century that capped the # of house reps that changed the EC to ‘small swing states matter’.

That and the EC was supposed to be the ‘best and brightest’ who were meant to vote against a demonstratively unqualified candidate (like Trump) regardless of the vote outcome. This part was meant as a ‘failsafe’ against ‘rule by mob’.

The first part was screwed up because our capital building got too small and we bandaided it (without also changing the EC to continue to grow - which it could have despite the house cap - although it could be said that if the house was fully representative of population then the republicans would never hold a majority there again either so…) The second part of the EC justification has failed in the most public way possible (because states made people sent as part of the EC partisan instead of intellectual as was intended) - so with both parts of how the EC was supposed to work failed - why even have it?


I’m not missing that part. That’s what I meant by small state. A state with a (relatively) small population.

No - the EC was meant to mirror the house - meaning that small states had a minimum # of reps but no maximum - based on population.

That is to say - larger states - should have more EC votes - by proportion. Believe it or not - the original ratio of voters to member of the house was 50,000:1 - if we used the same ratio today the house would sit at around 6,000 members. The senate wouldn’t change - the EC mirrors the congress in number (senate and house) so the EC would be 6100 roughly and no one running for president would ever be able to target a specific demographic so tightly as to ignore the popular sentiment.

If that’s a good thing or a bad thing… I leave for you to make up your mind on - however note that while a body politic so large can work - it would never be able to survive the partisan brinkmanship that occurs these days - and such a large block should prevent straight party pandering/votes.

But that’s my take on it anyway - even if we didn’t go that far - the EC was meant to give more populous states more votes, not the other way around.


I’d like this to be true, and by the sounds of it you’d like it to be true, but sadly it isn’t. There are a great many things wrong with Trump, but he did win the election under the rules agreed upon by all sides before it started. The system doesn’t use a simple majority for good reasons. Just because Trump & Co. are filling political discourse with untruths, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should stoop to the same level.

Unless you mean Trump cheated by using the Russians, in which case I’m right with you!


Let me be clear, then.
Hillary Clinton absolutely, definitively, conclusively won the popular vote, by a wide margin. Millions more Americans voted for her than her opponent. It’s a sore spot with the President to this day; he continually brings up the fact that he was sooooo smart to have figured out how to win the Electoral vote (while massively losing the popular vote).

Yes, Trump most definitely won, by the antiquated rules our country still uses.

He also was beaten by Hillary.

Both of those things are quite true.


Among other things, one of the reasons I heard for the electoral college was that it was instituted at a time when most of the population was uneducated, and it gave an opportunity for the presumably more educated electors to “correct” the outcome if the uneducated populace voted for someone clearly unsuitable for the job. That’s why in this election there was a desperate last minute push for the electors to exercise this power to not vote the way their states’ rules told them to vote. In the end, they didn’t exercise this discretion.

So in a bit of twisted irony, the non-popular candidate, who was actually less qualified, was selected by the electoral college’s blind adherence to the states’ rules, and they didn’t use their discretionary power to actually go with the more qualified popular candidate.

I think the universe has a perverted sense of humor.

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National Popular Vote Interstate Compact | Adoption

So, going by Nate Silver, purple swing states will never vote for NPV. The whole electoral system gives them outrageous attention and power; they’ll never willingly throw that away.

But there aren’t enough blue states to get to 270.

The rest has to come from red states. But, conservatives being the empathy-deprived homunculi that they are, it seems there would need to be some sort of upset win by Democrats (where Republicans won the popular vote but lost the electoral college) to motivate red states to join the Compact. Otherwise, if they continue to think the prevailing unfairness will always favor red states… they’ll always be motivated to retain the unfairness.

That, or we wait 10-20 years for Latino demographics to change in red states. Except, then they become purple (and they wont want NPV). So, wait another 10-20 years for these future purple states to become solidly blue-- and we’ll make the system “fair” just in time to benefit the red minority.

I want to be hopeful, but it’s difficult.


Another consideration is that the EC gave slave-owning states a representation in federal government that far outweighed their voting population. Even today, the number of House seats per state is based on the population of the states, not on the voting population, so votes from citizens of states with a higher proportion of non-citizens are not equal, in political power, to votes from citizens of other states. This inequality is smaller than that generated by the slave system, with the proportion of citizens to total population currently going from 87%-89% (CA, FL, TX) to 99% (ME, MS). Apart from minors, another fraction of the population that is counted but cannot vote is convicted felons that have seen their voting rights revoked.

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What should be the purpose of voting in a parliamentary democracy? Do we want to choose representatives who held opinions that are closely aligned with our own, or representatives who represent a wide consensus of the popular opinion? Compromises would have to be worked on, if not a the popular level, then at the parliamentary level. I don’t think that the result of a proportional representation, like in the Israeli case, necessarily ensures a far better outcome. It can create a governing coalition that panders to the particular desires of a set of focused interest groups.

In an ideal world, a single representative per district has to take into account the needs of all the people that they represent, and would be elected if it supports a set of policies that can get a majority of the voting population behind it. Proportional representation postpones the compromising and policy consensus building, taking it away from the voters and putting it on the hands of the representatives that they elected.