The Electoral College - Time For Change

The Electoral College needs to be adjusted to ensure that settled Constitutional law of "One Man, One Vote" occurs in Presidential elections.

What do Republicans in Massachusetts have in common with Democrats in Utah?


Their votes in Presidential elections do not count.


Being a Republican in Massachusetts in Presidential elections is like having a ticket to ride on the merry-go-round, but not getting a chance to grasp the brass ring, even if you have a good horse for the ride.  Due to the “winner-take-all” provision of the Electoral College, the election for us is somewhere between a formality and a rumor.  So much for the settled Constitutional principle of “one man, one vote.” 


It’s time to make an adjustment to the Electoral College. This does not mean abolishing it in favor of the popular vote.  There are problems with the current system that can be improved/remedied by simply connecting the popular vote to the electoral vote count. 


Here are some of the problems this adjustment would fix:


  • Let’s begin with the obvious – every vote would count!  This is just common sense, but then again, if common sense was so common …?
  • By connecting the popular and electoral votes, candidates would need to campaign in all jurisdictions, not simply write off States like Massachusetts and Utah, as either won or lost before the campaign even begins.
  • Understanding that their votes count, voter interest in the relevant issues will increase, as will their turnout due to “get-out-the vote” campaigns that are lacking in “safe States.”  For instance, were Romney to receive just 40% of the vote in the Bay State, he would still receive 4.4 electors.  However, the same 40% vote count would net 22 electoral votes in California.  Obviously the same would work on the other side.  Were Obama to get 40% of the Utah vote, he would earn 2.4 electoral votes, and in Texas he would net 15.2 electors.
  • Speaking of California, their 55 electoral votes is the equivalent of 20% of the total needed for election.  Do we really want one State to hold so much leverage over the rest of the Nation in a winner-take-all format?
  • But, it’s not just California. Here is a specific example from the last Presidential election.  In 2008, more than 4.3M North Carolinians voted. Neither major candidate received 50% of the vote. However, because Obama edged McCain by 14,000 votes he received all 15 electoral votes, even though the combined vote of McCain and “Other” was higher. In a proportional system both candidates would have split the electoral vote, and the votes of more than 2.1M people would have “counted.”
  • However, the most (in)famous example of the problem with the current system was Florida in 2000.  Everyone remembers the close race, the hanging chads, the disputed vote count and the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision.  Bush was declared the winner by 537 votes (of nearly 6M cast), yet scored all 25 electoral votes.
  • In a broader sense, a candidate with the math skills of a first grader understands that they can win the election by simply taking the eleven largest States, while ignoring the other 39.  How is that a good thing for the smaller States?
  • And, while this seems unlikely, what we have in actual practice is only slightly better.  Most States – like Massachusetts – are ignored, while the “real” election takes place in a handful of “swing States” – an acronym for States that actually have political balance, and provide a real opportunity for every voter to meaningfully participate.  How exciting it must be for them to have the huge rallies and all the enthusiasm and excitement involved with selecting a President.
  • A likely consequence of proportion-based electors would be the formation of a legitimate Third Party, with responsible candidates ready to run on mainstream issues that are too often pushed aside by the noise and money of the extremes of the existing Parties. 
  • The best example is Ross Perot, a Populist candidate in 1992 who received 19% of the popular vote but zero electoral votes.  Unknown is how many voters were convinced to not “waste their vote” on Perot, and cast their ballots for the traditional Party candidates instead (Clinton, 43%, and Bush, 37%).  How differently would the voters have behaved, and history have been changed if the popular vote had been connected to the electoral vote count?
  • Considering the irresponsible polarity of the parties today, don’t we need a fresh approach?  Isn’t there the real possibility that a third party would expose and isolate the extremes of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and provide voters with a better choice for the future of the Country?
  • There are other reasons too.  While many people deny that voter fraud exists, the fact is that the winner-take-all format encourages fraudulent registrations and/or voting practices – especially in so-called “toss-up” States.  Proportional voting greatly diminishes the potential impact of voter fraud – real or imagined – and greatly lessens the incentive to unfairly influence elections.  Perhaps this might even stop the Voter ID discussion, even if it is a responsible and necessary idea.
  • Let’s diminish the influence of Media bias in the form of bogus polls meant to create an aura of inevitability for who’s going to win, no matter how deliberately skewed the sampling.  All of this is done to discourage voters on the losing side from voting, while encouraging more people to back the winner.  While this distorts the diminishing pretense of Media objectivity, what is seldom acknowledged, however, is the additional perverse effect their bias has on important down-ticket elections. Enough of this.  We deserve better.
  • And finally, elections are held so “We the people” can elect the candidates we believe best represent our interests, and those of the Country.  The new message to the candidates will be to communicate more effectively with all the people, and to get out their vote, because every vote counts – literally!


There has been significant discussion in recent years to drop the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote. But, this runs afoul of the protections placed in the Constitution by the Founders to protect the interests of the smaller States from the larger ones.  Connecting the popular vote to the electoral vote is the answer, and adds the protection of “one man-one vote” to all Americans.


After the 2000 election, some States – not surprisingly including Massachusetts –passed laws that may one-day award 100% of our electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote, even if the State vote differs from the National total.  Can you imagine?  What an impractical over-reaction.  

However, two States – Maine and Nebraska – have adopted proportional distribution of electors.  The Country should follow their lead, and amend the Constitution prior to the next election


What do you think?

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toto September 29, 2012 at 06:05 PM
In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in (recently) closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win. NationalPopularVote
toto September 29, 2012 at 06:08 PM
More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to presidential elections. They have no influence. That's more than 85 million voters, 200 million Americans, ignored. When and where voters are ignored, then so are the issues they care about most. The number and population of battleground states is shrinking as the U.S. population grows. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing. A shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the country. The bill ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.
Jim Hatherley October 01, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Toto, here's where I make the distinction between the "popular" vote and "proportional electoral" vote option that I presented: 1. The latter maintains the State-specific nature of the voting, with all the attendant down-ballot influences the Presidential race posseses. 2. The effects of voter fraud will heightened by a popular vote, and diminished by the concept of proportional electors. Think about it ... how will the popular vote be influenced by the potential of millions of voters not properly registered or legally eligible to vote. We must be much more vigilant about the ballot box. Thanks again for all your excellent postings.
Amy Buttiglieri October 03, 2012 at 10:21 AM
Any history teachers out there? Love the dialogue, Jim & Toto - I can feel my mind expanding! If memory serves, didn't we create the electoral college because most people couldn't physically get to the places to vote? There was no internet in 1796. People on farms didn't get the paper every day. No TV or radio. So citizens would talk with the local rep, and he voted for them. At that time, wouldn't there be huge "local debate" to appoint that rep, and therefore the rep, well, "represented" the local views? (note: my American Govt classes were 30 years ago...)
Jim Hatherley October 03, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Thanks, Amy, and I agree that Toto has significantly added to this discussion. You ask a different question - in fact 2 questions, the first about the electoral college and the second about representative democracy. The Electoral College was the compromise struck to protect the interests of the smaller states vs. the larger states. Electors are awarded on an equal basis in terms of population count (which is why the number of electors = the number of House Reps + 2 Senators). As the population shifts (via 10 year census counts), the number of electors increases/decreases. This is why Massachusetts' numbers of Reps in Congress and electoral votes have been steadily declining over the past 50 years. As to representative democracy, much of the tinking of the framers was based on the philosophy of Edmund Locke, who believed that "pure democracy" was the not dissimilar from anarchy (mob rule). As a result, the popular vote is broken into representative districts, where the Representative participates in more deliberative decision making, and is held accountable via elections for supporting/not supporting the interests of his constituency etc. Perhaps others will add to this. Enjoy the day.


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