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ETpro's avatar

Is it time for the USA to graduate from the Electoral College?

Asked by ETpro (34552points) July 28th, 2010

The National Public Vote initiative and Web site was founded by Stanford Engineer, John Koza. It has been gaining steam, and my state of Massachusetts yesterday joined the growing list of states that have voted to assign all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate winning the largest number of popular votes nationwide. The bill is on it’s way to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk, where it is expected to be signed. If Patric signs, Massachusetts will join Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington as popular vote states. With Patrick’s signature, 6 states with 73 (27%) of the 270 electoral votes will be determined by popular vote. New York appears poised to become the 7th popular vote state which would bring the total to 104 (38.5%) of all electoral votes being determined by popular vote.

Moving away from the Electoral College system would end, at least for presidential elections, the partisan practice of gerrymandering and carving up the country state by state with divisive political campaigning aimed at winning just the right combination of states to capture the electoral college majority even if, as happened with George W. Bush in 2000, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, Rutherford B.Hayes in 1876 and John Quincy Adams in 1824. the majority of Americans voted for the opponent. Interestingly, according to a CSPAN poll in 2009, those popular vote losers are rated as follows on a scale of 1–44, with 1 being the highest rating.

#19—John Q. Adams lost by 44,804
#30—Benjamin Harrison lost by 95,713
#33—Rutherford B Hayes lost by 264,292
#35—George W. Bush lost by 543,816

So it might appear the popular votes were more accurate predictors than the electoral college votes. Of the four who have lost the popular vote, only John Quincy Adams ranks above the 50th percentile in rankings, and he just barely so.

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43 Answers

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

I think it’s high time that the Electoral College was put to rest. The only thing it ever guaranteed was that the will of the voters was ignored.

BoBo1946's avatar

I’m sure Al Gore would have liked that a few years ago. See the pros and cons of electoral college. The bigger states would have a huge advantage as we know. But, to be a true democracy, it would be better to put the EC to rest.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

This dinosaur needs to die.

Seek's avatar

Definitely kill the beast.

Maybe we should turn the presidential election into something like American Idol – have everyone text message in their votes. We’ll probably end up with the closest thing to a true democracy since ancient Greece.

aprilsimnel's avatar


This “College” was formed by rich men who were afraid of “the masses”, and thought they were stupid. Even in those days, the “masses” they were afraid of were other white male property owners who weren’t quite as rich, never mind anyone other groups of people!

Kill it!

JLeslie's avatar

Yes, I hate the electoral college. My vote counts differently depending what state I live in, I hate that.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

Past time. It is a remnant from when we needed it. We don’t now. While they are at it, they should set term limits for all politicians and judges. How about some campaign finance reform also and get rid of the fed.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

…but the way they are going about this may be worse than what we already have. I’m not sure about this and require more time to read other articles.

In this day, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t just have a direct vote count in national elections. 55% of voters voted for this guy, and 45% for this guy, and so on. I see no reason why we can’t do this for national elections. Forget the red/blue states. It’s a national election encompassing all voters nationally.

With the technology we have today, we could actually have direct democracy in small communities, small cities, and neighborhood associations via home computers. We could eliminate whole city councils and school boards and vote directly on issues once a month. I’d like to see this tried out in some small communities and see how it goes. My guess is, the voter turn out would be fairly the same (lousy) in the begining, but as soon as there is a huge sesquicentennial KKK celebration (2016) parade, or a colorful LGBT pride parade through the community, more people would suddenly take an interest in the direct democracy process.

I am for democracy, and as direct as practical. One man, one vote. I know we can’t vote on every issue on state and national levels—nobody has time for that, therefore we require reps until something better comes along.

Back in the horse and buggy days, the electoral college may have had a purpose, but today it serves only one purpose, bargaining with the votes of the residents of any given state by people who don’t necessarily have the interests of those people at heart. Get rid of it, but be careful of this process we are watching. It could reduce our democratic access even more, not enhance it.

CMaz's avatar

The Electoral College is a sham.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

In protraction, I would especially like to see direct democracy applied to Public Service Commissions that are notoriously packed with individuals backed by the utilities, former corporate officers from the very same companies that these commissions are supposed to arbitrate, etc., rather than people who truly work in the public interest. I would like them replaced altogether with a direct vote process online or via phone.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Google Horse+Dead. This issue gets discussed and discussed and discussed, but that’s all that ever happens with it.

The Electoral College was originally intended to give voters in sparsely populated states more of a say in who gets to be POTUS. Although you can make good arguments for getting rid of it, it’s a part of the Constitution, and it’s very, very, hard to amend the Constitution. It would take ⅔ of each chamber of Congress plus the legislatures of ¾ of the states to ratify it. There would thus need to be a compelling bipartisan interest, and right now, there is no bipartisan interest in doing anything.

We’ve got better battles to choose. If you want to sign on to a cause that can make a difference, let’s have filibuster reform. It galls the hell out of me that 41 senators, who represent only 33% of the U.S. population, can flout the will of the majority through parliamentary tricks that the people of the United States have no say in.

Seek's avatar


The worst thing that ever happened to Congress was filibuster reform.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to filibuster, you actually had to stand up there and talk until you pissed yourself. I remember hearing a story of one Senator that tackled another one and sewed his mouth shut to get him to shut up.

Where are those stories on CSpan?

JLeslie's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex I never really understood why a state with a small population should be given more weight then the population deserves, although I am fine with each state getting two senators. Worse to me is if 49% of the population of a state is for Mr. A for president and 51% for Ms. B, it seems ridiculous that at least some of the electoral votes of that state wouldn’t go to Mr. A. Yet, it seems the majority of states will not split their vote among the electoral vote. The electoral college map gives a really deceptive image of Presidential elections, whole states drawn red or blue does not really give a good representation of the population within each state, how close the race might have been in each state, and local communitites within states that might vote very differently than the majority of the state.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr , that’s not the kind of “reform” we’re thinking about. A more apt term would be filibuster extermination, the dreaded “Nuclear Option.” Basically, we do away with the filibuster altogether, and everything passes on a straight up-or-down vote.

Personally, I’d like to see a return to the old days, when a senator had to stand there and recite the New York City phone book. Anything that would make it more difficult would be a step in the right direction, but it just needs to go away.

ETpro's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus The tiny California City of Bell sure just got a lesson in why direct democracy might be a good idea. The city, claiming lack of funds, had been laying off vital service workers, slashing all services for the poor (which makes up much of the city’s population) and planning to raise taxes. Then voters discovered that their city manager was making $800,000 a year (more than twice what the President of the United States is paid). All the city officials had incredibly bloated salaries. And the tax increase’s real reason was so they could vote themselves another raise!

@IchtheosaurusRex Read up on the National Public Vote website’s ideas. Their plan is to leave the Constitution in place, but change state voting laws one by one till the College is actually representative of the national majority vote. Maybe then, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to actually amend the constitution to retire and institution that is, for all practical purposes, already meaningless.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Cool! Stitching bee, anyone?

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

I was never able to understand why, even when the state’s majority/popular vote went either Republican or Democrat, our electoral representatives were still allowed to cast their vote for whichever party/candidate they themselves preferred, even if the majority disagrees with their vote. Allowing such a caveat only serves to increase voter disillusionment in the current system and apathy come election day.

lapilofu's avatar

The electoral college does, however, have the happy property that it reinforces each state as a unit. Each state being an independent unit is pretty fundamental to the structure of our government.

JLeslie's avatar

@lapilofu But, if all electoral votes go one way, and ⅓ of the state’s population wants the other guy running for president, it does not really accurately represent the state’s population in its’ entirety.

lapilofu's avatar

@JLeslie But every state gets to decide how their electoral votes go. Unless I’m misremembering, there are some states that do split their electoral votes.

JLeslie's avatar

@lapilofu Some are able to split the vote. I think it is very few not sure.

JLeslie's avatar

@lapilofu When I lived in FL I felt my vote counted for president, swing state and all. When I am in a very blue or very red state, my vote means nothing.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Yes, it should be eliminated. The Electoral College may have had an actual reason for existing in the very earliest years of the United States, but we are a pretty well educated people now & no one should be making our political decisions for us.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I think we’re forgetting a bit of history here. The smaller population states would have refused to join the new United States without the equalizing power of Senate representation and the Electoral College. Complaining about these things won’t changes them and it is vanishingly unlikely that the required supermajorities in the Senate or of State legislatures would ever vote to amend the constitution. Approximately 40% of the States are over-represented in some way; by either equal Senate representation or the minimum of one seat in the House (which is how the Electoral College numbers are determined). It is clearly against these States’ interests to vote for such amendment. As @IchtheosaurusRex reminds us, it requires ⅔ of both Houses and ¾ of the States to pass amendments to the Constitution. Killing the filibuster in the Senate is a more attainable goal, only taking the vote of 61 Senators to do it. But the last time the Senate “reformed” this, they made it easier (the Senator no longer has to stand on the Senate floor and talk).

perspicacious's avatar

Yes. I would like for Presidential elections to be by popular vote—period.

JLeslie's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land They can still have their representation in congress. I am fine with 2 senators for every state and minimimum one representative for each state no matter what the population. I don’t think the smaller states are going to secede if it is changed.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@JLeslie They might not secede, but making the change would require them to vote against their own interests. Not going to happen.

JLeslie's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land How many states are that small?

JLeslie's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Also, I think the group I most identify with, reformed liberal Jews, actually does better with the electoral college. We are so small, maybe 5 million people, but since we tend to live in concentrated areas our vote has some power. I still want to get rid of the electoral collee even considering that.

ETpro's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Actually, the way the National Public Vote movement recommends changing it does not require any change to the constitution, and because polls say 70% of the public supports changing to popular vote for presidents, it is gaining some momentum. It indeed could happen.

Also, the change to the filibuster rule will only require 50 votes this election year. Being as 1012 is the beginning of a new Congress, the rules of the Senate must be negotiated and adopted anew, and that requires only a straight majority vote. There is no filibuster available to block the majority until the new rules are adopted. In the unlikely event of a 50/50 tie, Joe Biden as President of the Senate would cast the tie breaking vote, and he would vote Yea.

I hope they retain the filibuster but change the rules to require that the senator or senators wanting to stop legislation must remain on the floor speaking 24 hours a day, 7 days a week till the majority either gives in or the minority gets tired of talking. That would put Party of No strategy, no matter which party used it, on CSPAN for the American Public to see. When a party tried to block progress on enormously popular things like extending unemployment insurance benefits, they could do it. But they would have to be blatantly obvious about it. They couldn’t play spin games about it being the other side’s fault nothing is getting done. Everybody in America would know that the nation’s vital business is not getting done because Senator X of Party Y prefers to spend the Senate’s time reading the New York telephone book on the Senate Floor rather than allowing the Constitutionally required majority vote. There is no filibuster in the Constitution. It is an artifact of Senate rules.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Here is the breakdown by population. The states with populations under 3 million are definitely over-represented in both House and Senate; many more in the Senate. A constitutional amendment requires the vote of 38 states to pass. There are 19 States under 3 million, 13 under 2 million; only 13 states necessary to block an amendment (remember the ERA?). The political reality is that none of these states are likely to voluntarily give up power, especially given most of these states have very conservative voting populations. There are also several states bordering on 3 million whose populations are either declining or not keeping up with the general population increase.

I often support causes that go against my economic interests (single-payer national health care, raising taxes to balance the budget, replacing property taxes by income taxes, etc), but people like me are a distinct minority. On a statewide basis, throwing in the power of vested interests, this simply won’t happen. I’d like to see the Electoral College abolished also, even though I live in one of those over-represented states (New Hampshire). This cause is a non-starter though.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

The link didn’t work and I don’t have time to fix it. It’s Wikipedia list of States by population.

JLeslie's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Very nice of you to look up the populations, thanks :). I think what bothers me is that I don’t see how the Executive branch directly affects a state. In my mind the president is for all of the people of the US, and so each of us should have an individual vote. I am the same person whether I live in TN or NY. The legislative branch seems more likely to have influence in getting something from the federal government for a particular state. Maybe that is not the literal truth, but that is how I think about it.

ETpro's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land You may be right about the smaller states balking on a constitutional amendment. Again, that is not what the linked group is shooting for. They are trying to change the voting laws, state by state, to make the original purpose of the Electoral College of no effect. In the 37 states they have surveys for, the public strongly supports the effort. I do not know how the other 13 states feel, but the supporting states include small ones and New Hampshire is one.

I agree with @JLeslie that having two senators or a bit more clout in the House per capita helps each individual sparsely populated state hold their own in the legislative give and take. But today, with 50 states instead of 13, the Electoral College gives the least populous states like Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska no more clout over an elected president than California has. The voters know this. Even, conservative Alaska and Vermont favors dumping the Electoral College. But can the voters convince their state legislators to take the step?

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I support the cause, but I don’t see it as a winnable issue. I don’t believe that a President Gore would have sent us back into Iraq.

Public opinion is only one factor in the issue. How many of the people polled actually vote? How much economic clout do they have? Sadly, especially in lower population States, special interest groups are a powerful force to be reckoned with. If they see any bit of their power being threatened, money starts to flow into lobbying and propaganda campaigns. In my experience, grass-roots campaigns tend to fold up when opposed by determined well-financed opposition.

The power of the Executive Branch in the day to day operation of the federal government is much greater than the other two. This directly affects the States as well as foreign policy.

JLeslie's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land I understand you think it would never happen, not enough political will, but why is it in a state’s interest when it comes to foreign policy? Why should a person in a particular state have more say about who is elected to be president regarding where the candidate stands on international affairs? So, TN gets to care about whether we lift the embargo with Cuba, or the people of the United States get to vote for the guy who stands where they prefer on the issue? Can you give me some examples of how the president affects individual states directly? I realize he has veto power, and can declare disasters to give aid, maybe I am overtired, I am drawing somewhat of a blank. But then, I tend to think in terms of I am an American first, and what state I live in is secondary, so I am biased in my thought processs on the topic.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@JLeslie My attention was somewhat distracted when writing that last paragraph. Frankly, I can’t remember where I was heading with it. The basic point of my thoughts on this is the difficulty of amending the Constitution in the face of determined opposition from well-funded special interests. The two most recent efforts being the Equal Rights Amendment, falling barely short of ratification and the Balanced Budget Amendment, which got nowhere in Congress but led to a movement calling for a Constitutional Convention (the only alternative to the normal amendment process). The religious right has been calling for an amendment to overturn Roe v Wade; that is also spinning its wheels in the mud.

JLeslie's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land I’m glad you think Roe V. Wade is spinning wheels in the mud, I hope you are right. I’ll give up the electoral college fight to keep Roe V. Wade. I actually think it is good that it is very difficult to amend the constitution, it should take a long time, and serious thought.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@JLeslie So do I. I’d rather spend time fighting for another try at the ERA, this time with sexual orientation thrown in as well. The U.S. may not be ready yet, not enough hardcore opponents have died off. At least abortion rights and gender equality can be preserved at the State level.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@ETpro , well, it would be nice if the state legislatures could get all lovey-dovey and agree to such a thing. The problem – Texas, and the other more populous Red States (e.g., Georgia), where gerrymandering is a Republican preoccupation. You’ll never get them to go for it, especially after their boy W got in despite losing the popular vote. So all the Blue States go with it, and the Red States don’t? This does not sound like a winning strategy for the home team to me.

ETpro's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex Texas and Georgia should be among the easier states to persuade, Like @stranger_in_a_strange_land observed, it is the low population states like Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska that currently gain the most artificial clout through the Electoral College. Of course, if you point out that Red States are notorious for not understanding what’s in their own best interest, I would certainly agree with you..

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@ETpro People of that persuasion tend to be more vulnerable to scare propaganda of special interest groups.

Incinerator's avatar

I’ll drink to that!

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