Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Eric Three Thousand's uncontroversial political commentary.

OK, I'm certainly not non-partisan but I usually try to keep things pretty light and fluffy here at Eric Three Thousand so I don't discuss politics very much. But every once in a while I may find a topic that shouldn't cause too much arguing. Here's one:

Whether you enjoy spending your spare time getting abortions or making it easier for the mentally deranged to buy automatic assault riffles, I think we can all agree on one thing: our electoral system sucks.

Now, obviously, to have a real democracy the first thing we would need to do is get rid of the Senate (since it means people in smaller states have more representation than people in larger states) but that's not going to happen and I think I'm OK with that (the senate performs an important function in the balance of power so I generally like having it there).

As far as the electoral process itself, instant runoff elections would be nice because it would allow for more political parties and we could get candidates that represent the majority of the American people instead of small groups at the extreme left or right. Instant runoff elections mean you vote for several candidates in order of preference. So, for instance, if the environment were the most important issue to you but you didn't think the Democratic Party was strong enough on the issue, you could vote for the Green Party candidate as your first choice and the Democratic Party candidate as your second choice. Since people would be less worried about "throwing away" their votes, third party candidates could actually get some traction. Unfortunately, this idea has been discussed for a long time and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.

But something we finally have the chance to do something about is the stupid electoral college. The electoral college makes absolutely no sense, everyone hates it, but we just haven't been able to get rid of it. Not only does it mean a person can assume the presidency after losing an election, but it also means the votes of people living in uncontested states effectively count less than the votes of people living in the small number of "battle-ground" states. Living in California, for instance, I always vote but the presidential election is kind of a waste of time since we know the state is going to the Democrat. In a democracy everyone's vote should count.

The original idea for getting rid of the electoral college, which I first remember hearing about years ago, was for the individual states to cast their electoral votes separately in proportion to the popular vote in the state (in other words, if the vote was split 60/40 the electoral votes would be split 60/40). This plan is definitely better but still not very good. One problem is that it would be impossible to perfectly divide the electoral votes (for instance, how would you split five votes in a 50/50 split?). Nebraska and Maine already allow for a split vote but apparently this hasn't occurred. The major problem with this plan is that all the states would have to do this at the same time, otherwise it would give a major advantage to one party or the other. For instance, if California suddenly gave 40% of its votes to the Republican candidate, that would suddenly throw off the balance of the election. And it just doesn't seem possible to get all the states to do it at once.

The new idea for fixing the problem is so simple I can't believe it hasn't been done yet. It's called the National Popular Vote plan. I first heard about this last year and the New Yorker had a brief discussion of it recently (April 16, 2007, Talk of the Town). The idea is for an individual state to simply give all its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This would give everyone an incentive to vote, no matter what state they live in. It also wouldn't matter whether one state signed on to this plan or all fifty; it would still help and it wouldn't give an advantage to either party. For some reason the state plans are based on a certain number of states signing on before it goes into effect, which seems unnecessary, but I still think it could happen.

So there you go: one small step toward democracy in the United States of America. It would be nice if we could get democracy and human rights in this country before we try to force democracy on other countries. Oops, sorry, I wasn't going to be controversial.

To learn more:


BigAssBelle said...

genius, eric. absolutely. i am so concerned about the electoral process in this country. i have been a supporter of publicly funded elections so we could, perhaps, get some potential candidates who aren't owned body and soul by big business. i have bemoaned the electoral college for years but beyond simply abolishing it, haven't heard of a cogent plan for dealing with this albatross. thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Great post. And yes, National Popular Vote is kicking forward and California's one of the states in play for this year -- the governor needs to reverse his veto stance from last year, that seemingly was based on him not understanding that presidential elections are about voting for president.

Instant runoff voting is a terrific idea good. See www.instantrunoff.com -- L.A. is one place where it's getting a lot of debate for local races.

eric3000 said...

Thanks for the link, Anonymous! I'll add it to the post.

Ms. Place said...

Bravo, Eric, Brava. Very well put, and this needed to be said. It's been extremely frustrating to see my vote count for nothing because of the electoral college. Who appoints these people any way?

Anonymous said...

Preach it brother!

We could be driving our solar flying cars in peace, but no...

Unfortunately, there's money & political power in the electoral college. But, yeah, I think most people outside this base (that is 99.99999999999999999999999999 percent of the electorate) are in favor of abolishing the sad relic. Or at least neutralizing the hell out of it.

-- desertwind

eric3000 said...

Yeah, I'm sure there is a small group of people who favor the electoral college. And I'm sure there are political consultants who will be out of a job. Fortunately, since the electoral college takes power away from most individual states, state politicians have some incentive to get rid of it.

Instant run-off elections, unfortunately, come with no such incentives for existing politicians. It will take power away from the Democratic and Republican Parties. It's hard to get politicians to vote to have power taken away from themselves, which is why I'm not very hopefull that it will happen any time soon.

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

I will have to follow the link. I never heard of it before your post and I am not quite sure I understand it. I don't see it as controversial at all.

My desktop computer died or is ill. I think I have the reverse of your electrical charge I can transfer a desire to sleep to any object. The computer keeps going to sleep and then quietly turns off. I am typing and reading on a postages stamp size laptop. I feel kind of limited to little thoughts.

ArtfulSub said...

One slight problem. What you propose is unconstitutional and would result in urbanites and large States having complete control of National Elections.

It is true that the current system SLIGHTLY favors rural areas and smaller States. Which is PRECISELY what the Founders intended.

One can't argue that cities like NYC and States like California are completely ignored. Their sheer size prevents that. The current speaker-of-the-house and 4 important Committee Chairs ALL reside in entirely urban California districts.

If NPV was adopted, contrary to the Constitution and the Founder's intent, that WOULD result in voter-sparse regions being UTTERLY ignored. This would occur both WITHIN many States AND Nationally.

In a State like Illinois, the voter-rich Chicago area would suck up all the benefits. Nationally, States like Alaska would lose all their benefits.

From a purely philosophical standpoint, it's likely that if the Founders examined today's situation, they would:

1) Study proposals that would have the EXACT OPPOSITE effect of what you propose.

2) Fight like pit-bulls to prevent NPV from being enacted.

eric3000 said...

Interesting. I thought everyone would be in favor of having the winner of the election actually become president. I guess I was wrong.

The constitution is pretty clear. The states have the power to decide how to use their electoral votes. Nothing even remotely unconstitutional about the National Popular Vote plan.

And I don't think anyone ever suggested that the current system favors rural areas over cities. The current system actually favors high-population areas but only in a small number of states. Are you suggesting Florida and Ohio are small, rural areas with small populations? I don't understand your argument at all.

Yes, highly populated areas will get more campaign attention; just like the current system! But under the National Popular Vote plan EVERY SINGLE vote in the United States will count. It's as simple as that.

ArtfulSub said...

I suggest you study this matter more carefully, because MOST of the arguments Pro and Con ARE along that Small State Big State and Rural/Urban divide.

The fact that "you've never heard anyone suggest this" indicates you haven't looked at the issue carefully.

Look at who is pushing eliminating the Electoral College.
See many people from Wyoming,Montana,Alaska etc... doing so?

Who are the leading proponents? Clinton and Schumer. In fact, a proposal to eliminate the Electoral College was Senator Clinton's very first legislative act. Do some actual RESEARCH and look at the votes on that proposal.

Then tell me there's no small state big state divide on that issue. Okay?

Regarding Florida and Ohio, the battlegrounds WITHIN those States are NOT the high-population density urban areas. Where in the HELL did you get that idea? If you saw GW Bush struggling mightily for votes in Little Haiti, it was a dream. A funny one, but still a dream.

California votes late in the day during National Elections due to the Earth's rotation around the Sun. Sorry if that makes you think your "vote doesn't count". I gather you just don't care about piddly little offices like Governor and Senator that aren't impacted by California's global position.

California USED to vote absurdly late during PRIMARY elections. That really does mean your "vote doesn't count" to some degree, but has little to do with the Electoral College. It means political hacks in New Hampshire and Iowa were more cunning than yours.

California is currently seen as "safe" for the Democrat Party so Presidential Nominees from both parties tend to ignore it. That has little to do with Electoral College.

The Electoral College DOES protect the interests of Small States and less populated areas within Big States. It FAVORS them.

Everyone who's studied the issue, including Senator Clinton acknowledges that.

I believe that FAVORITISM is effectively off-set by the advantages in sheer numbers that urban areas and large States have.

Others think that Big States and especially Big States dominated by a single metropolis deserve more clout.

That's the debate.

ArtfulSub said...

The Electoral College is intended to dilute the votes of population centers that may have different concerns from the majority of the country. The system is designed to require presidential candidates to appeal to many different types of interests, rather than those of a specific region or state. The College enabled the Founding Fathers to deftly incorporate the Connecticut Compromise and three-fifths compromise into the system of choosing the President and Vice President, sparing the convention further acrimony over the issue of state representation.

In the Federalist Papers No. 39, James Madison argued that the Constitution was designed to be a mixture of federal (state-based) and national (population-based) government. The Congress would have two houses, one federal and one national in character, while the President would be elected by a mixture of the two modes, giving some electoral power to the states and some to the people in general. Both the Congress and the President would be elected by mixed federal and national means. [2]

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

Well God bless our founding fathers but, I can not really buy into the fact that the constitution is the holy grail unmovable and unchangeable. I have seen presidents change it in an instant. Meanwhile the elections are bought and sold by corporations. Is this the spirit of the 'founding fathers'

Debate they will, for years and years because solutions aren't something politicians and corporations want. The system, as it is, works for them, not the American people.

And that is the end of my political statements for the year.

I liked the link ....Of course I wanted to know if you thought Miss Piggy voted for herself. She only got one vote.

eric3000 said...


Thank you for explaining how the rotation of the planet factors into the electoral process. That's very helpful.

eric3000 said...


"Then tell me there's no small state big state divide on that issue."

I never said anything about a small state/big state divide. What I said is that the current system and the proposed system both favor more populated areas. Whether a candidate is focusing on a few contested states or is trying to get votes all over the country, he or she is going to go where the votes are. The fact that Alaska uses the current electoral system does not mean candidates spend a lot of time there.

I also never suggested that states like California have no representation. We're only talking about the presidential election here. And I never said that voting doesn't matter; I'm just saying presidential candidates don't spend much time in uncontested states. I vote in local elections and never suggested otherwise so, again, you are just changing the subject for no apparent reason.
I also don't know why you bring up the primary elections, which have nothing to do with the electoral college.

"California is currently seen as "safe" for the Democrat Party so Presidential Nominees from both parties tend to ignore it. That has little to do with Electoral College."

That has everything to do with the electoral college. California would not be "safe" if it weren't for the electoral college. Republican votes in California would be just as important as Republican votes in Florida or Ohio or any other state.

Your constitutional quotes from Wikipedia are interesting but do nothing to disprove my statement that the founding fathers did not describe the electoral college system as it exists in its current form. They left the details up to the states. I completely agree with you that the founding fathers wanted a ballance between state and federal powers; that's why we have the senate.

Whether the founding fathers actually would be in favor of the current system doesn't hold much weight with me since they also didn't want women or blacks to vote.

You are welcome to disagree with me but you are not welcome to misquote me, insult me, and bring up half a dozen unrelated topics to try to win an argument.

Thanks for your interest in this issue. (Oh, and I noticed your use of the term "Democrat Party," by which I assume you mean the Democratic Party. Your childish name-calling is pretty sad but I just want to point out again that I think everyone's vote should count; it's actually Republicans who are marginalized in California in the presidential election.)