Ross Douthat on some reasons for the electoral college

Is there a case for a system that sometimes produces undemocratic outcomes? I think so, on two grounds. First, it creates incentives for political parties and candidates to seek supermajorities rather than just playing for 50.1 percent, because the latter play is a losing one more often than in a popular-vote presidential system.

Second, it creates incentives for political parties to try to break regional blocs controlled by the opposition, rather than just maximizing turnout in their own areas, because you win the presidency consistently only as a party of multiple regions and you can crack a rival party’s narrow majority by flipping a few states.

According to this — admittedly contrarian — theory, the fact that the Electoral College produces chaotic or undemocratic outcomes in moments of ideological or regional polarization is actually a helpful thing, insofar as it drives politicians and political hacks (by nature not the most creative types) to think bigger than regional blocs and 51 percent majorities.

That is from the NYT, he also considers some arguments against.


It is also a good way to take money from richer coastal states and redistribute to poorer states in middle America.

It's hardly necessary for that though; the UK redistributes from its richer center (London), to it's poorer coastal fringes along the SE and SW coast, Wales, north Scotland, without any need for a disproportionate voice for these regions in choosing the government.

Not that I have any particular problem with the Electoral College as being reasonably democratic under the US's non-unitary state federated model for democracy. Most of the argument around the EC is usually silly because Americans seem to only support it or reject it as far as their candidate goes, and for the main group rejecting the EC, for the narrow concerns of "Progressive politics". Persons who are angry about the EC in the US can commonly be supportive of more votes for "Progressive" regions in other countries either more reps the legislature or more voice choosing the exec.

The purpose is to prevent the tyranny of the majority. We have a constitutional democratic republic, not a democracy. The constitution is supposed to protect those inalienable that neither the federal nor the state can infringe on. The republic is to prevent a 51% majority from ruling over a 49% minority. And the Democracy gives us all a voice.

IMHO the suggestion for a more democratic vote should be applied to congressional representatives. Let the entire state vote on each representative rather than just a district.

The two unstated reasons the left trashes the Electoral College, in particular, and the Constitution, in general, are: one, it allows Republicans to win elections; and, two, it stands in their way of imposing on America a socialist nightmare.

No, Dick. John Kerry nearly won in 2004, would have if narrow outcome in Ohio had gone the other way, but Bush would have had a fairly clear popular vote lead.

As for having anything to do with systemic change or lack thereof, that does not seem to be a factor at all, unless one believes your incorrect fist asselrtion, which is just ignorant and stupid, as you usually are.

I whole-heartedly endorse my professor and his denunciation of fist asselrtions..

With a student body with an averaged combined SAT of 1020 (yes, that’s real), our wonderful James Madison University is leading the way in assisting semiliterate retards in achieving gainful employment after graduation.

Can someone who scores a 500 on the math SAT even pass calculus, or have even a tenuous grasp of econometrics??

Barkley Rosser gets to find out every day. Truly shaping future leaders, or at least future heavily indebted Wendy’s managers.

I was going to call bs on this but apparently it’s real. According to a cursory google search. This is literal fraud.

JMU takes in illiterate 18 year olds, charges them 50,000 a year and then throws them on the street. It’s like DeVry.

Current median SAT at JMU is 1136, and costs have those mentioned here. As it is, Money magazine rates JMU as #39 in the US as a good deal.

Swiѕs army knives are of a wide variety.

This, folks. This is white privilege.

A brilliant professor helps with lambda functions and the incredible applications thereof. He’s honored by many Institutions because of his intellect and contributions.

He has an incompetent moron son. That moronic son is white.

His idiot son who can’t break a 1000 SAT score immediately earns a tenured professorship at a glorified community college.

JMU = white privilege.

In all but a handful of elections the popular vote winner has been the electoral vote winner too. So how has that prevented a "tyranny of the majority"?

Contrary to popular repetition, the electoral college does not prevent tyranny by majority, it merely shifts what majority means to a less meaningful representation. The Senate is often held up in a similar manner.

In the US, this Senate system gives outsize influence to rural residents, as a significant number of them live in states with outsized influence. As a minority, this system does protect that minority. But if a political party (predictably) attempts to build a Senate majority on the basis of this, that Senate majority can be tyrannical in the same way as a simple representational majority. You now have tyranny of a non-representational majority, or phrased another way, tyranny of a selective minority.

While I agree with the concept of avoiding a tyranny of majority, the electoral college and Senate are horribly bad attempts at doing so as they create these selective minorities that need protection a lot less than many other minorities that lose influence in this system. The targets or racial discrimination have generally had their influence lowered as a result. The electoral college system and Senate have generally harmed efforts to protect those populations, and enabled selective minorities to protect their specialized interests.

In the case of the current day, it's turned rural, religious populations with an addiction to gasoline into patsies of the oil, defense and oligarchic super minority. The systemic design has motivated the creation of a party who gets their funding in return for suppressing regulation of pollution, avoiding progressive taxation, funding the defense industry, and protecting generational wealth.

It has used that funding to advertise a platform to a group composed of rural and suburban voters. To attract the rural minority that carries outsize influence, they promote abortion and rural subsidies. To attract the suburban voters, they promote local control. In both cases they promote a platform that is explicitly about keeping others out and avoiding change.

The result is a party which does not need majorities to have political power. There are a few minorities that benefit from this, but there are a million ways to be a minority, and only a few gain benefit here. The advantage they gain is often short term, but that's how most people think anyhow. For some it's more short term than others.

Rural populations have actually suffered dramatically as a result of their "benefits", as they've been outsmarted and manipulated by the rest of the party. They get farm subsidies, but also see most of this go to the largest industrial farm operations, which in the end hurts the competitive position of the smaller farmers. Those smaller farmers, in the long term, would have been better off without the subsidies, since prices would have risen in lieu of the subsidy, and it would have been better distributed.

In West Virginia, lack of safety regulations and environmental regulations hurts the health and future viability of any region involved in mining. It turns an area into a client for the coal industry. The short term benefit of avoiding this or that mine closure is lost as the industry automates away jobs, declares bankruptcy to release themselves from pension/healthcare obligations, and leaves the area with a wrecked landscape full of unhealthy, uneducated populations where no business could attract knowledge workers to.

Those that have benefit the most are those oligarchic individuals. They never set out with a overarching plan to take advantage of that system, but they did. By the process of individual decision making they successfully exploited their minority preference afforded them by wealth to preserve and extend their position through the exploitation of another arbitrary minority preference enshrined in the Constitution.

If you want to protect minorities against majorities, you need to choose much better tools. You need to choose tools that protect any minority against any majority. You need to craft a system that promotes dialogue, and promotes trust. You need a system that allows honest dialogue to have immediate effect through persuasion, not systems where corralled influence creates, unaddressable topics.

So that is it, "undemocratic outcomes" are good. Such is life in Trump's America.

We are not a (direct) democracy! The smaller states were not going to join the union unless they were given a fundamental constitutional structure that assured they would always have a voice. The Dems want to change this, now, to their advantage, without a thought for a system that has served us well by (among other things) keeping states’ rights intact and preventing a tyranny of the majority.

More correctly, at the 1787 Convention, the smaller states had an irrational fear that they would be "ganged up on" by the big states, who would force through policies that somehow favored the big states over the small ones all the time. It was pointed out to the small state delegates, repeatedly, that it was exceptionally unlikely that this would happen with any regularity. It was noted that Massachusetts, for instance, would find much more common interest with small neighbor states like New Hampshire than it would with its fellow large state of Virginia, and that likewise Virginia would be more likely to align with its smaller southern neighbors. But this sound reasoning failed to make headway.

It was not sound reasoning. The fears of the small states we're justified. Note also the founders were afraid of democratic (mob) rule, and thus created a republic. That was not an accident.

I would add, it is not actually densely populated states that would dominate elections, but certain neighborhoods within densely populated cities that would dominate. That is obviously not a good idea. That said, the high population states do have more electoral votes, so their power is only slightly attenuated. NY and CA still dominate elections.

In what way were the fears of the small states "justified?" Give some specific examples from the early national period of US history where the interests of all the large states (e.g. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia) coincided, and were in direct opposition to the interests of all the small states (e.g., Rhode Island, Delaware, Georgia).

Well that's easy:

Abolition of slave trade. Both Mass and Penn had religious politics making ending the international slave trade a moral imperative. Virginia was a net exporter of slave so banning the trade was in their financial interest. In contrast, in the early years Georgia opposed this because it was a heavy importer of slaves and its major coastal towns relied upon international slave importation for commerce. Rhode Island was a major player in the triangle trade and when the US finally banned international slave import, Rhode Islanders were the first to be tried for the new crimes. Delaware is the weirdest case, basically one faction tried to limit slave importation (including for other US states) and they then charged higher prices while the other faction wished to open the state to important to drive down the price demanded by the cartel. In short the Large State ended up more aligned with each other than more culturally similar small states as did the small states.

Nor was this the only time. Hamilton, for instance, famously negotiated the trifecta of southern seat of government (favored by Virginia and opposed by Rhode Island), a temporary Pennsylvanian capital (favored by Pennsylvania and opposed by Georgia), and assumption of Revolutionary War debts at par by the new government with payment in full to speculators (favored by New York and opposed by Delaware).

Frankly the whole premise is silly. Part of why the large and small states have not polarized along these lines is because the structure of the government rewards common fronts across state sizes. A coalition without substantial backing in some large state is going to have a hard time passing legislation in the House. A coalition without small state backing will have a hard time passing legislation in the Senate.

Frankly, it is only in the most modern era where political parties have been so poorly managed that they would not actively seek broad coalition alignments even if it meant compromising ideological purity.

"Note also the founders were afraid of democratic (mob) rule, and thus created a republic. "

So that is, the American people is a mob. I remember reading that Reagan objected to the use of the word "masses" to describe America's people, but apparently "mobs" is OK.

Ya better to be some poor Latin American country with direct democracy.

Remember the Venezuelans, Brazilians, etc ELECTED their tryants.

Chavez didn’t have to play dirty to win. He played fair and square and went right in to power.

I wouldn't really say Brazil has had tyrants. That is strong language, to be reserved for the Kims and Maduros of the world.

So Americans must not be allowed to elect their own leaders. I can not imagine Brazilians living under such a system.

The Trump reference is both unnecessary and gratuitous. The Electoral College is not undemocratic. The Greek word demokratia simply means power resides with the people. There are all sorts of ways to instantiate that notion including ones that retard the ability of majorities, especially slim ones, from tyrannizing the minority. The Founders (as well as the Athenians) were well aware of the potential excesses of the majority, especially if it became a mob as during the French Revolution. The Electoral College is one solution to the problem and it was one chosen by the people not imposed. We'll see if the track record of Brazilian democracy fares so well, for so long, without interruption as American democracy has. I hope it does. Athenian democracy did not.

Douthat's argument for the Electoral College is almost purely conjectural. The only empirical argument he makes is essentially a variant on the post hoc fallacy. He identifies two points in time where one or two extremely close elections with undemocratic or near-undemocratic outcomes were followed by elections where one party built a good-sized majority. He then asserts that those sequences of events took place because the political party's were "responding to the College's incentives." He offers no further proof than the fact than the sequencing of the events, which is the classic error of the post hoc fallacy.

Douthat also offers no attempt to demonstrate why the incentive to "seek supermajorities" exists only in an undemocratic Electoral College system.

And while he does consider the fact that the aftermath of the 2016 election contradicts his "theory," he does not look at the other counterexamples from history, notably 1876 and 2000.

Why doesn't Douthat make the most obvious and truest argument: that "democratic" does not mean "majoritarian", it means "rule of the people"? When you look back at historical democracies, even at the level of cities, fifty percent plus a feather is not typically how democracies function, votes are often weighted and representation is split along geographical, class, or other lines. He ceded far too much ground, and betrays a degree of his own ignorance, but saying the EC is "undemocratic".

Why should we can about "historical democracies"? Given that only a small handful of the population could vote at all.

"representation is split along geographical, class, or other lines"

Other lines. You mean like gender? Skin color?

I don't care what the word "democratic" used to mean. I'm much more interested in asking "what kind of democracy do we want?". And I'm pretty sure it doesn't look like any of the "historical democracies".

Yeah, what has anyone ever learned there from history, anyway?

I have no problems with learning from history. It is full of examples of things not to do.

You still haven't given any meaningful definition of what "democracy" means, nor have you made any case for why "majoritarian" should equal "democratic" except "wahhh history is dumb".

Once you start moving away from "majoritarian" then some votes, or groups of votes, start to matter more than others. That gives politicians incentives to pay more attention to the interests of voters whose votes are more valuable, essentially making them more privileged. That runs counter to the idea of equality. It's really up to anti-majoritarians to make the case that some people should enjoy an institutional advantage in elections.

But you're glibly conflating the principle of equality with democracy. That's not what democracy means. Individual rights are explicitly antidemocratic under your approach, in the sense that their rights cannot be violated even if the vast majority of the demos wants that person or those similarly situated to be singled out for some kind of sanction.

"That's not what democracy means."

Democracy can mean whatever we want it to mean, as long as it is inline with our values. If equality (or at least political equality) is something that we value as a society, then we should expect it to be reflected in how we practice democracy.

"Individual rights are explicitly antidemocratic under your approach"

We can and do explicitly state what majorities can and cannot do. I'm not proposing getting rid of checks and balances, due process or any of those things. I'm only saying that majorities should be able to win elections...

'I'm much more interested in aasking "What kind of democracy do we want?"'

And how will you resolve this question? What if it's "The electoral college is an ideal democracy"? Will you accept that, or will you call it an undemocratic relic of history? Also, regardless of the answer of any one individual in particular, how will you implement the resolution of this question? By taking a democratic vote? If that's the case, then you need a working definition of "democratic". Otherwise, you're caught in a tautology where you have to use democracy to decide what "democracy" is. Are you interested in democracy as theory, or as praxis?

An ideal democracy (if there is such a thing), must be seen as legitimate by the voters. As long as some voters are privileged over others simply based on where they happen to live, I very much doubt that the electoral college is an ideal democracy.

" how will you implement the resolution of this question?"

We've changed the way our democracy works many times in our history. For example, senators were once elected by state legislatures, not by the people. Lot's of people who can vote today couldn't in the past. It is possible for a flawed democracy to take incremental steps to improve itself.

California, Texas rule; Florida is happy since the entitlement checks flow in their direction. Add to the big four states, all the medium to small states, they cannot all be accommodated at the same moment (our tree trunk isn't round). So we rotate, quite predictably, in fake chaos, between the bit three, an occasion Illinois. The exceptions being Carter and Bubba Clinton. Government production functions switches to accommodate. California and New York pay a huge volatility price in government programs redesign, every eight years; we have periodic recessions.

It is New York's turn, but California has run the gauntlet on surplus taxes for DC. Tax shortages everywhere, except Florida and Texas. No one is electing a Californian, Harris can be Queen or King Maker. Chaotic, skewed, inefficient, but almost predictable. There is one demographic to watch, the boomer 'hold your nose and ' vote for Nixon crowd. Beto, they give it to Texas because, Texas was fracking oil and it carried us six years, and on. It really should go to Florida, but Florida has to wait, that means Texas gets another roll of the dice. Any outsider, small state governors running in the Dem side? A large ity mayor, a Bloomberg maybe, but New York is not getting two rolls in a row. California, off limits, narco state.

Wow, Matt, what slobberiing gibberish. Are you aware that Bill Clinton was from Arkansas? Jimmy Carter from Georgia. Gerald Ford from Michigan. You did mention Illinois, which gave us Obama. Harris looks like one of the stronger Dem candidates this time around, so looks a bit premature to just rule out CA. And among the top 5 or 6 current top Dems, while Beto is from TX and Harris is from CA, the two from NY do not seem to be going anywhere. The others in the top 5 or 6 are from VT and DE and MA and MN and IN, not exactly the places you have predicted.

Oh, and the electoral college for all the defense people are making of it, puts on top of things a small set of neighborhoods and areas in basically a handful of swing states: the I 10 corridor in FL, some part of central Ohio, some suburbs of Detroit, and Milwaukee, along with some rural areas of Wisconsin and Iowa, oh, and a few cirties in PA. That is about it. Wow, some democracy.

That’s interesting. I don’t have any opinion on his comment one way or another, but the lack of reading comprehension ability is hilarious:

Matt Young: “The exceptions being Carter and Bubba Clinton.”

Rosser: After Junior’s typical ad hominem bullshit: “you aware that Bill Clinton was from Arkansas? Jimmy Carter from Georgia. Gerald Ford from Michigan”

He mentioned 2/3, and the third was obviously never elected President.

Good god, you’re an idiot.

Fair enough on me missing Clinton and Carter, but the rest remains ridiculous. Yeah, NY has Trump now, but all this no smalll state governors or big city mayors, what? Well, Bernie is not gov, but senator from one of the smallest states, Vermont, and Biden is from another of the smallest states, in fact the second smallest in land area, Delaware. And we have the mayor of South Bend, Indiana running and probably in the top 6. All three of these are in the top 6. This is still just slobbering gibberish mostly. And his dismissal of Harris's chances? She is probably in the top 3 to 4, with better chances of taking out Trump if she gets the nomination that a lot of the Dem candidates.

That's not to mention that small state governors Hickenlooper and Bullock are running, and that Booker is a former big city mayor.

Actually if you go back to Washington, the President has been elected out of one of the 4 most populous states well over half the time. After all back in the day Virginia and Ohio both were among the most populated states.

And it was the explicit plan of both parties during the era of Ohio dominance to put forth Presidents and Veeps from Ohio specifically to court its large EC bloc.

Frankly I find the whole "EC penalizes residents of large states" to be utterly silly. These are the same folks who, somehow, have ended up with "one of their own" in the White House far more often than chance. Likewise, the congressmen are vastly more likely to have lived, worked, and been educated in places like NY, CA, PA, VA, and MA. Add to that, oh say every major television network anchor, all the movie stars, all the major judges, all the biggest lawyers, and all the high level bureaucrats ... I am just not seeing the power imbalance.

If the people of highly populated areas are not dominating the country there sure is a funny setup for it here.

Any articles on the cost per electoral vote by state in the last few elections? Just wondering on the efficiency of the parties' spending.

I recall some post-election articles saying that as campaign season wound down, Bill Clinton was screaming at his wife's campaign to spend more time and dollars on the upper Midwest.

When will this bogus issue die? If the rules were different the candidates’ strategies would have been completely different and maybe the candidates selected would have been different.

No kidding. The left and it's useful idiots are still butthurt over their electoral thumping when most of the US rejected not only crooked Hillary but THEM. Yes, the people of the US rejected the failed and incompetent elite class that used to run the country, which is why the very undemocratic elite have been running a slow motion but failed coup for last 2 years. You can count on the elite to fail - the best and the brightest, the cream of the ivy league, undeserving priveleged incompetents with shiny credentials and social networks to die for, have failed.

"You're fired!", said the people.

"The left and it's useful idiots are still butthurt over their electoral thumping when most of the US rejected not only crooked Hillary but THEM."

"Most of the US" means fewer people than voted for the other candidate. How do you do, Mr. Orwell?

If you take California out, Trump won the popular vote in the other 49 combined, and that was the point- the electoral college reflects this fact.

If you take out periods 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 Germany was quite peaceful nation in XX century.

Herrs Honecker and Ulbricht would like a word with you.

"Most of the people" means states - most of the states.

I don't mind being called Mr Orwell - that is a complement.

Ed, You watch too much Fox TV and sound like a Rush impersoator.

You have all of the words, but no content.

I don't watch fox news - too biased and it would be self-brainwashing.

I only listen to Rush occasionally, but I don't like his intense bias. However, his audio skits are lol funny! If only I could filter out everything else.

When I have the time and access - the old fashioned way in the library - I read the WSJ first and then The Economist. Then I browse the "new arrivals" in the non-fiction section. I usually have 10-15 checked out at one time but rarely finish any. I finished Kahneman, several by Dan Ariely, Malcolm Gladwell, and Jared Diamond and many more. I finished Tyler's 'Average is Over'.

I also read everyday, usually reading what I know I am going to agree with, just to keep my blood pressure down. That's sad and bad but very human.

If it will make you happy, all I read today was the Robert Reich oped on RCP - I disagreed with him on every single point he made, but I read it anyway and didn't even vomit.

If it makes you happy, do you can hold on to your delusions, and we are all delusional, but some don't know it, I really love reading and listening to Victor Davis Hansen.

I don't know what I am. When I'm around conservatives I feel like a leftist, when I am around leftists I feel like a conservative.

I spend a lot of time alone in my thoughts. I always have a book or multiple audio books (on my phone) with me.

"You are never alone with a poet in your pocket" - John Adams, from his biography by David McCullough, another fave.

Reality is always much more complicated than our interpretation of it.

""Most of the US" means fewer people than voted for the other candidate. How do you do, Mr. Orwell?"

The assumption here seems to be that if the rules had been different, it would have made no difference in the vote outcome.

I know my vote would have been different if we had a national popular vote: I live in MA where Hillary's victory was a foregone conclusion. I voted for Gary Johnson. In a national popular election, I would have voted for Trump. I am sure there are lots of people in one-party states that either don't vote or vote differently in the context of the electoral college as they would in a popular vote. Not to mention that the campaigns would have different strategies.

So... instead we get 53-54% popular vote shares every once in a while as opposed to the dreaded 51%?

Pretty much. Plus the author claims the EC encourages a supermajority model but we just had an election with a minority vote winner. I don’t get Tyler’s obsession with this guy.

Sure beats living in those countries where the election is “won” with a 99% majority.

There is nothing undemocratic about the electoral college simply because the electoral college vote and the national popular vote may differ.

It boils down to federalism, not "democracy." You can only tally the national popular vote if you assume that 1 vote in NY is the same as 1 vote in Idaho by abstracting from the differences. In other words, the criticism of the EC assumes a purely unitary, not a federal system. If you want a truly unitary system then the EC, the Senate, and even the House of Representatives all must go (which is typical of Progressives who typically prefer ever greater centralization of power so that they and their not-so-expert bureaucrats can ram their policies down the throats of everyone else).

"You can only tally the national popular vote if you assume that 1 vote in NY is the same as 1 vote in Idaho"

And why should it be otherwise?

Because otherwise there's no reason for rural, gun-toting, agrarian Idaho to stay in political union with urban, service-economy New York where only the police have guns (ha!).

The solution, as Anon7 pointed out, is to abolish the federal system--the States as political subdivisions with powers not delegated to the federal government would disappear. But then your unitary polity becomes unmanageable. 1,000 voters in a small town can probably agree to disagree with the other 1,001. But 63M don't necessarily need to agree to disagree with the other 63.1M.

How does favoring elimination of the Electoral College constitute a "favoring a unitary polity." Yes, I see that you asserted that above. Now prove it.

Because it removes the States from the equation. It means the People elect the President, not the States, which was the original intent, and anti-majoritarian compromise. The Seventeenth Amendment, passed during the Progressive era, had the same effect.

We are engaged in a long and accelerating process to abolish federalism. The notion of the States as individual experiments in democratic-republican rule is over. I don't agree that this is a good thing because it's not really about "progress" but about power constantly craving higher altitude.

The notion that there was some sort of "original intent" at the Constitutional Convention that "the States elect the President" is incorrect. The delegates held a wide range of views on this subject. The main reason they rejected direct popular election--which James Wilson, among others, consistently favored--was that they believed that the enormity of the new nation would make it impossible for voters to be informed about candidates outside their own state or region. They failed to predict the almost immediate rise of political parties and their function in alleviating this difficulty in a pre-mass media era.

I.e., political parties and mass media facilitate a unitary polity governed by national popular vote.

I disagree for two reasons: the US is geographically and culturally quite diverse, and removing political subdivisions is just power seeking altitude.

You keep using that phrase "unitary polity" like a mantra. Try actually responding to what others say instead of just trying to handwave us away.

Here is Richard Epstein on the issue:

These arguments are (no surprise, given the source) really bad. Obviously enough, given that you can win the electoral college without a majority of the votes, it doens't push politicians towards seeking a super-majority. Why would it do that? It also doesn't encourage wide campaigning - just the opposite. Take a state like, say, Mississippi, which is strongly Republican, but which does have a non-trivial Democratic population. Without the EC, it would make sense for a Democrat to campaign there, to make sure to maximize the votes he or she might get. With the electoral college, there's no point. (There's also no point in the Republican campaigning there!) So, both points "in favor" of the EC are pretty much completely wrong. If this is the best that a supposedly smart person can do, there really is no argument in favor of it.

One more example of the pretzels into which defenders of the EC twist themselves to justify this idiotic system of choosing a President.

I'm open to other ideas. What did you have in mind?

For those who want to get rid of the electoral college, consider this hypothetical:

What would be your response if Trump won the popular vote by a million by running up a 5 million vote margin in Texas, but lost the electoral college because he lost Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by a total of 100,000 votes? What would you be saying to Electoral College detractors in that case, considering that they would largely be Republicans making the aspersions?

I'd say they were right to be angry, and I assume they'd try very hard (harder than Democrats) to abolish the EC, I believe that the EC will be abolished only if Republicans lose because of it.

I would be saying "now do you understand why I've been telling you the Electoral College has to go for all these years?"

As I noted above, this nearly happened in 2004. Bush won the popular vote than pretty easily, but came quite cloase to losing the EC. Early in the day it looked like Kerry would win FL, which would have done it, but then the I 10 corridor came in for Bush. But Ohil was a very close call, which most have forgotten, and if it ha gone to Kerry, he would have become president. As it is, even now there are Dems who claim Bush's victory in OH involved some fraudulent activities by the Sec of State of OH.

Such a national election would be a disaster the first time the margin comes down under 1 million. You would would have Broward Counties the country over finding new ballots to count every single day for months afterwards, and you would have no method for resolving a disputed election.

Bingo. I had forgotten this point, and it is crucial.

+1, that has always been the biggest benefit of the EC. It drastically narrows the opportunities for any kind of voting shenanigans or just recounting.

Without it we would probably have recounts going on for years after every Presidential election. Even a 3 million voter difference is less than 3% of the total vote count.

All NY and CA have to do is declare themselves "sanctuary States" and pass motor-voter laws. Democracy in the US has become a territorial fight, not an ideological one.

Done. Of course, you had tongue firmly in cheek, no? :)

Illegal immigrants already have driver licenses in CA and NY and those states do have "motor voter" laws (the whole country does now). But those licenses are issued via a different process and state on them that they are not valid as ID for any purpose besides driving. See: REALID Act of 2005. So no, illegal immigrants cannot register to vote by that process and cannot use their licenses as ID to vote. Please educate yourself before indulging in tinfoil hattery

"You would would have Broward Counties the country over finding new ballots to count every single day for months afterwards"

Worse, in some ways, you would have various counties finding new ways to harvest votes. Remember, right now, we don't have a national system of voter registration, national polling standards, national voting laws, etc. All that would need to change if we cared about the national popular vote.

Yeah, came to the comments to make a similar point. One of the things the EC protects against is partisan vote counting. All a one-party State can do is count their own EC votes, which they'd get anyway, they can't offset votes in other States.

In addition, when a vote tactic like gathering absentee ballots from people and turning them in is legal in CA, but illegal in NC, suddenly voters are still not equal. Do we really want a federal election agency in charge of elections down to the local level now, to ensure they're fair? You'd have to trust they don't have a bias while they fight all the local biases.

Fortunately, there are enough reasons for the EC that I doubt anyone will get enough votes to change to a popular vote anytime soon.

Lots of political entities all over the world conduct direct popular elections of their chief executive. Begin with all 50 US States. If the Electoral College is such an essential "protection," why has not one state set up something similar? Why do other countries not do so?

In parliamentary democracies one votes for the party via one's own representative. The prime minister is therefore also elected indirectly.

And this idiotic state compact will fall apart, if it ever takes effect, the very instant a Republican candidate benefits from it- the law will be changed the day after the election giving the electoral votes to the Democrat who actually carried the state.

You are spot on. The left’s guiding principle is By Any Means Necessary.

"The left’s guiding principle is By Any Means Necessary."

Tell Merrick Garland

Ok, I’ll bite. What part of the Constitution was changed/ignored in his case?

Complaining when the current rules give rise to what you see as a disastrous outcome is pretty much universal.

Or just ignored. You can't enforce an unconstitutional compact.

Isn't it more often the case that the president fails to win the majority of States than the majority of popular vote? That would suggest that, if anything, the Electoral College already too heavily favors nationalism over federalism, large states over small states. We should probably be debating whether each member State should get an equal number of electoral votes, like the member states in the United Nations General Assembly.

In any event, when the country was given a choice between popular election and the Electoral College, the vote was unanimous to approve the Electoral College [], and a super-majority of States also agreed. If a similar super-majority consensus ever develops in favor of popular election, then we can amend the Constitution at that point.

Interestingly, the UN Secretary General is selected by the UN Security Council and General Assembly. In both bodies, each member State has 1 representative, not proportional representation to population. We seem to naturally intuit that large states like China and India shouldn't be able to dominate multi-state bodies by virtue of their population.

The Secretary-General must receive nine votes of Security Council members and no vetoes from the Big Five (i.e., the countries with nukes and/or that won World War 2). The votes are weighted, just not by population.

Actually, I was wrong about the Electoral College winner often not winning the majority of States. Since FDR's first election in 1932, the EC winner has not won the most states only twice (1960, 1976) and has not received the highest popular vote only twice (2000, 2016). So, it appears that the Framers may have been better at balancing federalism vs. nationalism than they are necessarily given credit for.

Of course! The left has gone bonkers after losing in 2016! They were convinced crooked Hillary would win are shocked SHOCKED she lost! Now they are trying to wrestle control of the country "by any means necessary", even by a slow motion coup.

Apparently, the left was asleep in class during the "does the end justify the means?" discussion. Clearly, their answer is "yes".

At no point in the ratification process was "the country" given "a choice between popular election and the Electoral College." When the Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, there was no provision for the states to make a choice between the two. They were given the option of accepting the Constitution with the Electoral College, or rejecting the whole thing.

As far as the Constitutional Convention itself goes, there was never a "unanimous" vote on the Electoral College. The closest to that seems to have been a 10-1 vote on Roger Sherman's proposal to make the House of Representatives, not the Senate, decide the outcome if a candidate failed to get a majority in the Electoral College. It is clear from the records of Madison and others of the debates in the Convention, that no one was really enthusiastic about the Electoral College, and that most delegates to the Convention expected that the House of Representatives would decide the outcome of most Presidential elections.

"The draft Constitution [with the Electoral College] receiv[ed] the unanimous approval of the state delegations."

That, of course, was not a vote on the Electoral College itself. It was a vote to approve the full document. We know that many individual delegates to the Convention did not approve of every provision of the Constitution. The Constitution was full of compromises which were deemed necessary at the time in order to achieve the more urgent goal of creating an effective national government. Men of a wide range of views, from the extreme centralizing nationalism of Alexander Hamilton to the small-state oriented views of William Paterson, accepted what they viewed as an imperfect document because they believed it was the best outcome that could be achieved at the time. Some of the compromises made in 1787, however, proved to be based on invalid assumptions. As I noted in another comment earlier, the assumptions involved in the creation of the Electoral College were among them.

Conventional wisdom is that the framers created the electoral college so that level-headed electorals could override the voters if their emotions prevailed over reason. Indeed, when Trump gained the most electoral votes while losing the popular vote, many held out hope that the electorals would defy the voters in places like Wisconsin and vote for Ms.Clinton and thereby save the republic from an ignoramus who would go on to consider Kim Jong-un deserving of his praise and America's friendship. The electorals voted for Trump, Trump has made America a laughingstock, and America will likely re-elect the ignoramus in 2020 with help from the electoral college.

The other conventional wisdom for the electoral college was that it favored small, mostly southern states, that is the slave states. That's both true and false. True because it did indeed favor the small southern slave states, but false because at the time the population growth in the south was expected to far outpace that in the north because of all that fertile land in the south and, thus, in time, the electoral college would favor the north. Of course, in time nothing of the sort happened as industrialization took hold in the north and many southerners migrated north for the jobs. Sure, as America has de-industrialized, many have migrated south, not so much for good jobs (there aren't many) but relatively cheap housing and low-skilled service jobs. I don't believe those who migrated north for the industrial jobs or migrated south for cheap housing and low-skilled service jobs gave much thought to the electoral college in deciding to migrate.

Douthat's position in support of the electoral college is contrarian because it defies actual experience: America has become extremely polarized because of the electoral college not in spite of it. America has become polarized in large part because Americans have become highly segregated, with high skilled, high paid Americans concentrated on the east coast and west coast, low-skilled, low paid Americans concentrated in the mid-west and south, and older Americans living on social security and dependent on Medicare concentrated in Florida. Concentration occurred not because of the electoral college but the electoral college has accentuated the consequences of that concentration.

Data from wikipedia - Number of US Electoral votes per million:

Lots of red states with high EV per million, but also lots of blue places. Note California is not underrepresented.

If a person cared about blue having more influence relative to red, they might want to do away with EV on that basis.

But if you believed in the influence of the specific blue place which are overrepresented (perhaps you're pro-Hawaiian or pro-Vermont or pro-Delaware), possibly not.

Conventional wisdom is that the framers created the electoral college so that level-headed electorals could override the voters if their emotions prevailed over reason.

I have always heard that it was so the States as political bodies would elect the national government's Executive. Was it ever the intent that the Electoral College be a synod?

I'm happy to be proved wrong if you have a source.

"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.

It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of several, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place."

Alexander Hamilton,

I'm guessing that synodal model didn't stick because it's a good way to get tarred and feathered when you return home after voting the other way.

You a part right on the reasons for polarization. There are other reasons, well described by Jonathan Haidt. Some people value traditions, place, family, and community. They tend to remain in place, even places with less economic opportunity. For others, those forces are less than their desire for adventure, economic success, or perhaps some other factors that draw them into the big, densely populated cities. By moving, they have demonstrated they value family, place, traditions etc less than an interesting or highly paid career.

Some people are actually trying to escape traditions, especially if they are deviants, in the anthropological sense of the word. For example, in the recent past many gays would migrate from rural areas to the city to find relief from cultural oppression.

In the end, the cities tend to have very different values than the rural areas. I don't think that makes everyone in rural areas a dummy. Quite a few intellectuals bail out of the city and migrate to the country. Vermont is favorite bugout location for NYC refugees I hear, but I don't have numbers.

You don't have migrate to the coasts to find large, liberal and prosperous cities.Dallas, Atlanta and Minneapolis are examples in "fly over country". The political divide in the US is not about the coasts vs the heartland, but about cities and rural regions everywhere.

It's pretty hard to win EC and lose the popular vote. In such cases, the popular vote margin is usually so slim as to make it rather hard to demand that "the people" desperately wanted one candidate over the other.

It is the end of the world that a few Rust Belt states without a ton of Hispanics are going to decide a couple of elections. We all know that as soon as its demographically possible Democrats are going to abandon that part of the country.

The winner of the popular vote has lost the electoral college four times--1876, 1888, 2000, 2016--while in a fifth case, 1824, no one had a majority in the Electoral College, and the House of Representatives chose the runner-up in the popular vote. In addition, there is at least a plausible case that Richard Nixon actually won the popular vote in 1960. I recall reading an article 2-3 years ago which made the case that Nixon won without bringing in the vote in Illinois at all.

That's 5, possibly 6, problematic elections out of about 50 for which we have popular vote date (there is none prior to 1824).

The outcome in 2016 was not all that close on the popular vote. Clinton won by 3 million. That is not very close.

In terms of percentage of the popular vote, Tilden in 1876 won by a 51-48 margin, even larger than Clinton's in 2016.

Democrat, left-leaning types need to be careful getting what they wish for with the Electoral College. In 2004, if John Kerry could have flipped just a few thousand votes in Ohio and Florida, he would have won the Eletoral vote, but lost the popular vote.

Kerry could have won the electoral college by winning Ohio which he lost by 110,000 votes, so not a "few thousand". In Florida, he lost by almost 400,000. Still, your point is valid.

Well, my response at the time to that possibility was similar to what I said to Yancey's hypothetical above--"does this make you Republicans understand what we've been arguing all these years?"

We've always understood what you've been arguing all these years. We just disagree with your conclusion. A national popular vote would be total chaos, with every one-party state running up as many votes as they could find/manufacture. Swing states determine elections and it is hard to cheat there because both parties are strong enough to keep the other in check.

There is nothing immoral in an election where the winner got fewer votes: The vote total is an artifact of the contest for electoral votes.

"A national popular vote would be total chaos, with every one-party state running up as many votes as they could find/manufacture."

That should be an easy proposition to demonstrate empirically. Most states in the US have counties that are just as strongly "one party" as are any states in the US. Does this regularly happen? What about in countries outside the US where the head of state is chosen by direct election and which are comparable to the US in freedom from corruption (France comes to mind)? Does this "total chaos" happen there? Demonstrate this with rigorous empiricism and you will have an argument. Until then you don't.

Florida 2000 was total chaos, not even a one party state. It seems obvious that a US popular vote would be problematic. The burden of proof that a national popular vote would work better is on those proposing the change.

The "chaos" in 2000 came from 1) the horde of Republican congressional staffers who were sent down to Florida to stage the so-called "Brooks Brothers riot," and 2) on the legal side, the unwarranted interventions of the US Supreme Court. Those aside, what you had was simply a recount in a close election. These happen from time to time. They are simply a feature of elections. The side that loses, invariably, is not happy and goes through a stage of snarling and gritting their teeth. And then they move on. Had the Supreme Court not terminated the Florida recount in 2000, that is undoubtedly what would have happened.

When you say "It seems obvious that a US popular vote would be problematic," that is not an empirical statement. The words "it seems obvious" are not a substitute for facts.

The proof that a national popular vote would work is the experience of 50 states that conduct governor's races by direct popular vote and that of countries like France that elect their heads of state by popular vote. How they work better than the Electoral College is simply this--they do not result in the candidate with fewer votes being elected.

Let me guess, you also want to abolish the senate, or move to a parliamentary system altogether, or better yet have the house of reps appoint state governors..

We have a system that is designed to mitigate the risk of a handful of cities forcing their views on the entire country. Let’s be clear, the Dems want to trash it specifically because they loathe the original intent of the system.

The problem isn’t the electoral college, or the senate, or insert institutional scapegoat de jour here...The problem is refusing to understand and endorse federalism.

Instead of conjecturing about my supposed beliefs and goals, why not respond to what I'm actually saying.

The only way that "a handful of cities" could "force their views on the entire country" would be if that "handful of cities" accounted a majority of the voters, in which case it would be perfectly proper for them to do so (assuming that "force their views" means "pass laws that people are required to obey").

And that's the point you are failing to grasp. 1,000 voters in a small town deciding on who's mayor and responsible for fixing the potholes can agree to disagree with the other 1,001. But 63M voters don't have to agree to disagree with the other 63.001M in national elections. They can just form their own country and duke it out like we did in the 1860's. So we ameliorate pure majority rule with the Constitution's counter-majoritarian provisions. The very existence of tiny places like VT and NH or remote States like AK and HI having two Senators is a rebuke to pure majority rule.

Whatever "pure majority rule" means, direct election of the President would be far short of it, so, no, it would not put us on the brink of civil war, if that's what you are trying to suggest.

What a waste of time. You can't usefully engage with people who don't believe in the arguments they are making.

It's hard to change federal elections but the parties have complete control of their primaries. If they wanted to, in their upcoming primaries Democrats could: allow 16 year olds to vote, drop caucuses for elections, the eliminate super delegates, states could pledge to award their own delegates to the winner of the national popular vote, and so on.

The fact that they aren't talking about doing any of these things is telling.

Eventually, you have to come to terms with the fact that bitches are seldom unhappy about what they complain they are unhappy about. Bitches are unhappy because they are bitches.

Yes there is a region that has benefitted from the inequities of the Electoral College for more than two centuries: the white dominated South. Thanks for nothing, EC!

The South's current success owes more to air conditioning than anything else. Once HVAC got invented, people started voting with their feet for right-to-work and low taxes. It's a good place to be middle class. It's also a really good place to be non-white middle class.

The antebellum wealth was based on retrograde economies that were rapidly becoming uncompetitive. The idea that the South has been feeding off the fat of the land due to the EC is ahistorical. BTW, return the federal government to its Constitutional limits and national elections stop being existential contests between the coasts and the rest of the country.

it creates incentives for political parties and candidates to seek supermajorities rather than just playing for 50.1 percent, because the latter play is a losing one more often than in a popular-vote presidential system.

This isn't true. Every time that 50.1 percent loses, 49.9 percent wins. Far from being a supermajority, 49.9 percent isn't even a majority.

So in fact, there is an incentive to make sure that your support is regionally concentrated in an appropriate manner, even if you can't get a majority, because then you could still win. But this fact undermines his next point.

The Electoral College is asinine nowadays, just as much as Senators being elected by state legislatures would be. Once you have an election of 5 or 6 Million vote majorities losing the election, people will rightly be disgusted. One man one vote. I have held this position since becoming an adult, and, in the same sense, I oppose gerrymandering. It's a matter of fairness. Recent history shows how deplorable the system is at this time.

What I read above was special pleading and whining from advocates of political parties or ideologies, or the horror of the majority winning, not one single argument about fairness or basic decency, because it isn't. It's this very special pleading that makes it inappropriate as national policy. The people crying about leftists, the Democrats , etc., are embarrassing themselves. Time will, as always, shift these partisan results.

Democracy doesn't scale beyond a moderately sized city-state. Thus we have anti-majoritarian compromises like the EC and the Senate. Otherwise, there's not a lot of reason for places as wildly divergent as California and the Deep South to hang together.

Admittedly at some point I expect Southern California will simply stop obeying the dictates of the Midwest and South. Likewise, I do not expect the Midwest and South to be ruled by Southern California and the NYC metro areas. If the federal government were trimmed back to its Constitutional limits, this wouldn't be an issue.

"to its Constitutional limits,"

Ever heard of John Randolph of Roanoke? He was Mr. Limited Constitution. In 1829, he pointed out that the Marshall Court had already done away with the possibility of his position, because, if it were a Constitution, you couldn't have the justices going this way and that way all the time, because that was just politics as usual, not a constitution. A constitution involved limited decisions and the amendment process for large decisions or changes. Hence you had to admit and accept the decisions of the Marshall Court and work from there, or just chuck the constitution out. Now, maybe this is my view and not his, but, even so, I stand by it. You can either have a constitution that has changed over the years or, one that goes back and forth at the whim of current politics. What you can't do is simply act as if the Marshall Court never existed, at least if you're as principled as John Randolph was. The possibility you want vanished long ago or you need to amend the Constitution now, but to act as if John Marshall didn't exist is not principled.

Constitutional law has metastasized way beyond rationality, as Scalia used to articulate well in his dissents. Basically, to use one example, if you want a right to abortion you have to get it from your State's legislature--there is simply no Constitutional right to abortion on any common-sense, contextual reading of the document.

I agree though, that bridge was crossed a long time back. There are a number of anachronisms that have popped up: immigration was never really dealt with, and the Post Office could be safely abolished. And when was the last time you worried about soldiers being quartered in your home?

There's a lot of tears spilt over this issue but it's not going to change this side of a Constitutional amendment.

So, whatever.

That's right.

People forget it's the states who for for the President, not the people.

Also, how is Ross "— admittedly contrarian — " for favoring a system that has been in place for the whole tenure of one of the longest running democracies?

Here's a question: If we were writing the constitution today, would anyone argue for an electoral college? Of course not.

End of debate.

That's an illogical statement. If we were writing a Constitution today, the people in the 40 States with populations smaller than L.A. County would argue vigorously for an Electoral College or some other counter-majoritarian measure.

That's quite the assumption on your part. Especially since the EC doesn't really boost the voting power of small states in a dramatic or decisive manner.

"Especially since the EC doesn't really boost the voting power of small states in a dramatic or decisive manner."

It's got you upset about 2016. In any event, those of us who don't want the Executive elected by the same few metro area counties forever are quite happy with the Electoral College and have not reached the "end of debate." There is also an amendment process to the Constitution which you are free to use.

Let's keep in mind that Hillary Clinton carried nearly 500 counties in 2016. I have never heard a group of nearly 500 referred to as "a few."

Yes. I'm someone. If we were writing a constitution today, I'd argue for an electoral college. Therefore your statement is false.

If you want a point of comparison, off the top of my head, no other major English-speaking country elects their executive head via direct vote of the people. Many, many countries vote for representatives, or parties, or some other intermediate group, which then votes for the President/Prime Minister. A direct vote by the people is associated with tyrannical fake elections for dictators (mostly in Central and South America) more than it is with free national elections to determine who is running things.

That "English-speaking" in your second paragraph is doing a lot of work. Most English-speaking nations around the world have the monarch of England as their head of state, who is not elected in any way. They have also adopted parliamentary governments, unlike the US. If you drop the "English speaking" part, you immediately have to deal with nations like France where the head of state is--wait for it--chosen by direct popular election.

You also, of course, have the other counterexample I've identified upthread, namely, that all 50 states of the US choose their chief executives by direct popular election.

That's part of that non-unitary governance we keep referring to.

The small state advantage in the EC is trivial and has little impact on the partisan lean.

For every small Republican state (Alaska, South Dakota, Idaho) there is one small Democratic state (New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware).

The bigger issue is the winner-take-all function which turns a 51-49 margin in a handful of states into a landslide.

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