Stupid Arguments for the Electoral College
December 19th, 2016, a day that will live in infamy, was the real election day in the United States of America. If you’re not from here, or you’re kind of daft, you might say “Umm, I thought that was back in November?!”.
If America was a normal country, you’d be right at this point. However, we’re not. We have an archaic device put in place known as the Electoral College to elect the President and Vice President. The election day in November? Well on that day we elected electors who gathered yesterday in their respective statehouses and cast their votes for President and Vice President. 538 of them, and to win the Presidency, you need a majority – 270.
Not going to go into the annoying details about what happens if no one gets a majority or if there is a tie. That didn’t happen and if you want to know, you can Google it. The point is yesterday they voted and they elected Donald Trump as President of the United States. Their vote is certified in early January and Trump will be inaugurated on Jan 20th, 2017.
I’ve never liked the Electoral College. Well, I take that back. I did when I was in high school and I was foolishly under the impression that it actually made small states relevant (despite the fact that I am not from one of these small states) since that’s what they taught you in high school. I was drawn to the absurdity of it in 2000.
Full disclosure, I voted for George W. Bush. (Sorry.) It didn’t matter, I lived in MN at the time, but I did.
I didn’t think W. was a much better candidate than Gore – I generally operate under the ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy. Things seemed to be fine under Clinton, so why wouldn’t they be fine under Gore. Of course, I didn’t find Gore, as a candidate, that impressive either. I am nothing if not a reasonable human and thanks to being a small-L libertarian at the time and having several conservative friends and co-workers, I was convinced to vote for Bush. (To be fair, if it’d not been for Iraq and he’d concentrated on Afghanistan after 9/11, I think both he and his legacy would have been remembered far, far fonder. This isn’t the place for this, though, so moving on…)
Despite being a Bush voter, I was befuddled. How could Gore have lost, despite winning the popular vote? Well, the same reason my vote for Bush in Minnesota counted as much as a vote for the Hamburglar would have.
The Electoral College.
People will argue left and right about why the Electoral College exists, and without having Alexander Hamilton here to speak his mind, we have to assume what they were thinking. Luckily they did leave us some context clues:
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.The Federalist #68
Essentially, Hamilton is saying that you need educated people to make such an important choice. Educated in understanding what was going on in the world and the country. These people, these electors would be more learned than Billy Farmer would be. As such, we could trust them to make the right decision.
#68 goes on to say:
…the Executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.The Federalist #68
Seems to me like Hamilton was making a preemptive swipe at lobbyists and Big Oil. Maybe. One more:
These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment.The Federalist #68
This passage basically states that while one man could potentially be corrupted by a foreign power, the entire body of electors could not be (and even of one delegation was, they’d be insulated from the others), and as such, would be an excellent safeguard to ensure that someone under the influence of
Russia England would not be able to ascend to President, even if they managed to con the citizenry into voting for them.
Creepy how much Federalist #68 predicted this election.
So if you go by what Hamilton wrote in #68, it’s reasonable to assume that the Electoral College was created to place a buffer between the citizenry and the election of President & Vice President to protect the office from outside interference, corruption, and from just plain old fucking stupid people.
What about small states? Well, replace ‘small’ with ‘slave’ and you have one of the main reasons for the electoral college. The slave states already have disproportionate representation (in their favor) prior to the enactment of the Constitution (in the Articles of Confederation days), thanks to the Three-Fifths Compromise. The Electoral College allowed for them to continue to exert more influence than states with a smaller ‘free’ population.
I’ve spent some time on the internet lately talking about the electoral college and today made the Facebook post opining that since the Electoral College has failed to do its one job and not elect Trump (I would never expect the republican electors to vote for Clinton, but 95% of any other republican would have been acceptable), then it should be abolished. Over the last few weeks when I have stated this, and today as well, I have been presented with the following stupid arguments in support of the Electoral College. Please enjoy while I explain why they’re stupid.
WE’RE A REPUBLIC, NOT A DEMOCRACY!
Have you ever walked up to someone and said, “Man, I really like the red paint job on your car!” And that person replies, “Ugh. It’s not red, it’s Electric Crimson.” Yeah, anyone who tells you that we’re not a democracy, but a republic is that person.
a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law
a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
Point? It’s the same fucking thing. Merriam-Webster even lists democracy and republic as synonyms of each other. Basically, the whole ‘republic’ part of it was that instead of us voting on every single farm bill or tax write-off the government wants to enact, we choose people to make those choices for us. We often still do direct democracy in this country through referendums. Ever voted on a bond issue? That’s direct democracy – you’re directly telling the government ‘yes, it’s okay to sell some bonds!’.
Making the argument that we cannot abolish the Electoral College because “we’re not a (direct) democracy” is like arguing that you can’t call negative 52-degree weather “Winter Weather” simply because it’s not Dec. 21st yet.
WITHOUT THE COLLEGE, NYC, CALIFORNIA, AND CHICAGO WOULD BE THE ONLY VOTES THAT MATTERED!!!
So this was the basis of the argument against my opinion on my Facebook. First off, that’s statistically wrong. NY State and California, of which the total population, is 58.55M people, are only 18.3% of the total 319M in the US. Add in Illinois which is around 18M only gets you to 76.55M (about 24%). If we were to assume the number of registered voters would stay about the same percentage of the population when you eliminate children, non-citizens, people who are not allowed to vote, etc., you still don’t have enough people to, alone, decide the election.
There is the argument that you need to have the Electoral College to protect the farmer in the middle of Loving County, TX from the mean old movie star in Los Angeles County, CA. First, this argument is stupid because it implies that the farmer’s vote is intrinsically worth more than the movie star’s simply because the farmer lives in a rural area. This is literally the most undemocratic argument for the Electoral College. One of the most important ideals of a democratic society is that everyone’s vote is equal. Mine, the farmer’s, the movie star’s – all of our votes should weigh the same.
Under a popular vote system, they do. The fact that the movie star lives in a county with 1.1 million other people doesn’t make her vote worth more than the farmer’s. The fact that 1.1 million people live there is why that area will have more of an impact on the election. The population of the county does not change the weight of a single person’s vote.
Going further with this, under the Electoral College, if the Texas farmer was a liberal, his one vote is worth nothing. Same if the movie star was a conservative. Her vote would be worth nothing. However, under a popular vote, both of them have their votes weighed the same since neither of them would have their votes thrown out because of the statewide result.
Let’s pretend the Electoral College doesn’t exist for a second. Let’s look at some past elections:
1980 – Reagan 43,903,230 • Carter 35,480,115
1984 – Reagan 54,455,472 • Mondale 37,577,352
1988 – Bush 48,886,097 • Dukakis 41,809,074
2004 – Bush 62,040,610 • Kerry 59,028,444
I left out a few races, but I am trying to make a point. In all four of these elections, the Republicans won, overwhelmingly. This, if nothing else, disproves that liberals in just a few cities would be able to win the election for the democrat. You could easily argue that in 1992, Clinton only won because of Ross Perot. If everyone who voted for Perot in 1996 voted for Dole it would have been closer. W. won Florida by about 800 people. If anything, third parties make a greater impact on elections than geography does.
I am sure you will see this map thrown around a lot in relation to this election:
You look at that and you’re like “Holy shit, of course Trump won!” Well, check out this map:
The yellow counties represent where 50% of the population lives. There is a lot of open wilderness in our country (here is a list of every county – go ahead, sort by population – it takes a while to get up to the 10,000+ group). I’d also argue that this map doesn’t match up perfectly with the other one, again dispelling the myth that just because an area is urban doesn’t mean it will absolutely vote one way or the other. In a fair situation, where everyone’s vote is weighted the same, all of those grey counties could counter all of those yellow ones, and as such, candidates would have more reason to visit them.
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE PROTECTS SMALL STATES!!!!!!!!
Well, no, it doesn’t. It certainly makes them more powerful than they should be, but it doesn’t do anything to cause the candidates to give a damn about them.
This image from the National Popular Vote project website shows where Trump and Clinton actually campaigned this year. Small states?! New Hampshire and Nebraska, but really only because their votes are given out by Congressional district, so there is a chance for at least one of the votes to go the opposite way of the rest of the state. Utah as well, because Utah was weird this year.
No Wyoming though. No Alabama? No Alaska. No Hawaii. No Rhode Island, the smallest of the small states.
There are two types of states that get screwed by the Electoral College. Small states and large states. Texas is likely to go red, so why campaign there? Cali will go blue, so to hell with them! Only competitive states are given any attention. The electoral college does nothing for the small states, and to believe that simply giving them more weight per voter makes them any more important a candidate than states like CA or TX is very, very, naive.
This is the map after the electoral vote yesterday. Small states are protected from the big states, eh? Watch.
ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, MT, WY, ID, UT, AZ, & AK. 54 EVs
California. 55 EVs.
One state nullified all of those state’s votes. At least with the popular vote, the 3,916,209 votes for Trump in California wouldn’t have been a complete waste.
ALL THAT STUFF HAMILTON SAID!!!
You know, had the republican electors said “Bad choice, idiots,” and elected (for instance) Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), I might have been “Well, it’s not representative, but the Electoral College has done what it was designed to do!” and walked away, annoyed but content. However, it didn’t. So any and all arguments for the Electoral College based on anything that happened during the founding of this country are moot, void, and disqualified.
…the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.
Hamilton here is specifically saying that the use of electors is so that they, and they alone can make the decision of who should be President and Vice President of the United States.
States have enacted laws to punish faithless electors, laws that I am certain would be found unconstitutional if ever challenged. Nonetheless, these laws effectively scare electors into voting for who the population voted for, despite the fact that they were deliberately designed to be a buffer between us and the election of the President. How can you analyze and deliberate the situation judiciously when you’re at risk of being fined, jailed, or removed?
There was also all of the ‘corruption’ stuff he mentioned earlier. Electors from both parties tend to be party insiders, officials, or office holders (Gov. Andrew Cuomo D-NY is an elector) despite Hamilton’s argument that “No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors.”
Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers were very intelligent and forward-thinking for their time, but there are things now that could have in no way been even a theoretical possibility to them. In 1787, it took a man on horseback several days to get information from S. Carolina to Maine. Now it can be done, via a tube of light, in about 100 ms. Thinking that Hamilton and the others would have considered the possibility of mega-cities like New York (London was the biggest city they would have known about, with about 750,000 people) and Los Angeles controlling the whole of the vote and building in protection for that is just silly.
If the Electoral College is going to allow someone like Donald Trump – a man who has lied repeatedly, a man who’s admitted to sexual assault, a man who’s complimented a dictator who runs what is one of America’s most dangerous geopolitical foes, a man who’s benefited from said dictator’s hacking as well as financially, a man who refuses to isolate himself from the multiple conflicts of interests he has, among many, many other disqualifying issues – to become President; it does not serve its intended purpose.
IT’S TOO HARD TO REPLACE!!!
This is probably the most accurate argument. Eliminating the Electoral College will take a Constitutional Amendment. To do so, you’d need two-thirds of the states to call a Constitutional Convention (34), or two-thirds of the House (290), and two-thirds of the Senate (67) to pass the Amendment. Going the Congressional route, you’d then need three-quarters (38) of the states to ratify it.
None of this is likely to happen. The Electoral College has benefited republicans twice in the last five elections, and most states are controlled by republicans. As well, given their performance lately, the idea that the Democrats could get a super-majority in the House and the Senate is a hilarious thought, not likely to happen.
There is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an idea that keeps the Electoral College intact, but ensures the winner of the national popular vote will become President regardless of state results. In it, states in the compact agree that the winner of the national popular vote will get their electors (regardless of how their state election resulted). 11 states have so far agreed to it, however, it doesn’t take effect till there are enough states to ensure the popular vote winner’s Electoral College win (270 EVs).
It’s an interesting concept that is certain to cause legal challenges. However, the states are not under any obligation, Federally, to take the will of the people of their state into account when it comes to appointing electors. There weren’t even popular vote elections everywhere at the beginning.
ARE YOU DONE YET?
Basically. The moral of the story is that support of the Electoral College circles around two things:
- Not every vote is equal, and that’s okay!
- Sometimes my guy can win, even though more dirty east/west coast liberals elected the other guy!
Any argument supporting the Electoral College can be beaten back with math or statistics or simple common sense. It was a great idea in 1787, but much like trying to use a musket to rise up against a tyrannical government, it’s got no point anymore and is a very bad thing for our democracy. It’s time to upgrade to the AR-15. It’s time to abolish the Electoral College.