Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Electoral Reform meets California

This week California became the largest state to join the National Popular Vote movement:

Is it weird to admit electoral reform gets me excited? I absolutely despise our current electoral college and I think reform is inevitable. Most people aren't even fully aware of how the political college works (here's a previous post where I broke it down) and there are several flaws with our current system. As everyone already knows, the electoral college cannot ensure that the candidate with the most votes actually becomes president. It's no secret Al Gore received over half a million more votes than George Bush (which is refereed to as the "popular vote" but doesn't actually exist since we don't vote directly for any presidential candidate). Our current system also gives the votes in small states more heft. A good example of this is the most populous state, California, versus the least populous state, Wyoming. California has fifty-five electoral votes for a population of 33,871,648. That means California gets one electoral vote per 615,848 residents. Wyoming, on the other hand, has three electoral votes for its population of 493,782 equaling in one vote per 164,594 residents. This means a vote in Wyoming is more influential than a vote in California and is another way the electoral college undermines equal representation.

The complaint that the founding fathers wanted the electoral college to be the way it is currently is a bit silly as well. For one, it was only created as a compromise between the ideas that the President should be elected by Congress or by a nation wide popular vote. While the states were given the same number of electors as U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators combined, the founding fathers expected the House of Representatives would eventually decide the winner (as was the case in the election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr). It was up to the states to decide how they would vote with the electors they were given, not the founding fathers or the constitution. Most electors were chosen by state legislators at that time, but eventually states gave voters the right to vote for electors in their own states creating our current system. This is important because there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that gives the people the right to vote for President. Even the supreme court has been very clear on the issue.

McPherson v. Blacker:
"The constitution does not provide that the appointment of electors shall be by popular vote, nor that the electors shall be voted for upon a general ticket nor that the majority of those who exercise the elective franchise can alone choose the electors...

"In short, the appointment and mode of appointment of electors belong exclusively to the states under the constitution of the United States."
The fact two states, Nebraska and Maine, don't use the "winner-take-all" system (they use the District Plan) highlights the ridiculousness of questioning California's right to decide how to award it's electors.

While I think it's good people are critical of any new way of voting in presidential elections, the electoral college has basically failed four out of 44 elections. Those aren't great odds and it seems silly to hold so strongly onto the system that gave us George Bush. There is the real concern that presidential candidates would spend more time in large population centers campaigning while ignoring more rural states, but many presidential candidates skip the time and expense of campaigning in states where the outcome is already known already under our current system. While they'd probably have to be some kind of threshold requirement and maybe instant runoffs, voters sould be able to have real control over the election of their president.

So go California!


  1. I'm all for restructuring the Senate (or just doing away with it completely), and I certainly would like to see a national presidential election held based on popular vote, but I hope California isn't actually considering splitting their electoral votes. That would probably hand Romney the election in 2012 (not that I think anything can be done that quickly in California).

  2. The National Popular Cote would only go into effect if enough states signed onto the deal. Since it takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, they would need to have at least that many under their belt. So, even though CA has voted to join the NPV, nothing has actually changed since there only about halfway there so far. The video explains all this but it wasn't loading for some reason. I replaced it with another though so hopefully it will be more clear! Because of that, we don't have to worry about the votes being split up. It's still winner-take-all. The winner is just guaranteed to be the person who received more vote.

    And I agree about the senate too. Starting with term limits. lol

  3. I don't even see the need for a Senate at all. It just seems like a horrible idea in general.

    I sometimes wonder if we have the worst election system because we have such an old one, like the Windows NT of democracies.

  4. The way the senate is formed is pretty clear in the constitution so I don't see how the undemocratic issues can be fixed. It's pretty ridiculous that geography wins over actual people in the senate though.


What's on your mind?