Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Changing the way the Electoral College works:
In the news
Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania are pushing a scheme that, if GOPers in other states follow their lead, could cause President Barack Obama to lose the 2012 election—not because of the vote count, but because of new rules. ...
[Currently] Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. ...
Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for carrying the state.
Looks as if the Republicans are inspired by the British rotten boroughs
of old. Those gave the Tories disproportionately more power than a consistent nation-wide formula
for representation would have done. The rotten boroughs were eliminated in the Reform Act of 1832, widely considered to have "launched the rise of modern democracy in Britain".
In other words, the Republicans are looking to move away from "modern democracy" - which strives for proportional representation - and towards a kind of "crude democracy". Crude, in that it has the outward form of democracy
- people voting - but with a representation formula that advantages one party.
Of interest: The British rotten boroughs were eliminated due to, in part, public pressure. I suspect that in this country, public pressure will be lacking due to the miserable job the press does informing people of what's important. Especially since it involves mathematics, where journalists have shown less understanding than that of a high school algebra student. Plus you have Fox News adding to the confusion with their unique form of "journalism".
The only thing working against a Pennsylvania-type plan is that, if implemented, it would bolster the party's power at the national level but diminish the attention the state would get during a presidential campaign. So competitive states might wish to preserve their valued status in this regard. It's interesting that the Republicans would put attaining federal power above preserving the influence of their cherished states (see Tenth Amendment fanaticism, abolishing the Seventeenth Amendment).
Nice article, thanks for the information.
> the Republicans are looking to move
> away from "modern democracy" -
> which strives for proportional
Wait a minute. Right now it's a winner-take-all system. If "the GOP presidential nominee carries [a majority of the] districts"" then how is it more "proportional" for Obama to get 100% of the electoral votes than it is for Obama to get a proportional fraction of the electoral votes? Note that the non-proportional votes he would get are votes he would get under the current system of winner-take-all anyway. So it seems more fair -- proportional with a moderate winner-take-all bias. As opposed to completely non-proportional, the way the system is now.
Besides, we don't have a "rotten boroughs" problem because we have mandatory reapportionment every 10 years. "Rotten boroughs" is a problem where the population of an area crashes, but the representatives remain perpetually, essentially falling into private hands. We don't have a "rotten boroughs" problem in the United States because we have mandatory reapportionment and redistricting, so it's not an argument against the system, although I suspect that there are enough other problems that I wouldn't support the system out of hand.
By request, I'll try reposting under my usual alias. I'll see if it leads to serious discussion like it did when I posted as anonymous, or just verbal abuse, since the trolls know I'm a conservative.
Perfect gerrymandering (in a two-party system) can give a party 50% of all seats with 25% of the vote + 1 vote per won district. And that is under the condition that each vote weighs the same (which is not the case with the electoral college that gives a higher relative weight to less populated states).
Gerrymandering has been a bipartisan thing for most of US history but at the moment the pendulum on that is clearly on the Right.
jms wrote, "So it seems more fair -- proportional with a moderate winner-take-all bias."
Wrong, as usual. The point is that (a) the districts themselves are gerrymandered (see HB's comment), and (b) the Republicans would move to this system only in states they thought Obama was going to win. Red states would remain winner-take-all.
As far as verbal abuse, it has little to do with being a conservative and a lot to do with being ignorant. This comment of yours was a typical example.
According to the internet fact-o-matic, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008 by 3.2M votes to 2.6M votes, or 3.2M out of 5.8M, or 55% of the vote.
Under a system of true proportional representation, which is what Quiddity is championing, Obama would have been awarded 55% of the 21 votes, or 12 of the 21 votes (11.55 rounded up.)
According to the gazette article:
An analysis by the online news service Capitolwire noted that had the proposed distribution process been in place in Pennsylvania in 2008 before the state lost one congressional district due to a population decline in the 2010 census, Mr. Obama would have won only 11 of the state's 21 votes.
So had the proposed system been in place in 2008, the proposed system would have produced virtually the same split in the electoral college as true proportional representation.
But what about 2012? Let's parse the article very carefully, because there is a deception:
Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.
2008 was a high water mark for the Democrats. But, as we saw this week, Democrats are not doing so well as of late. I looked for recent Pennsylvania polls for the 2012 election, and found some results at pollwatchdaily.
A Franklin and Marshall College poll conducted Aug. 22-29 finds that 52 percent of voters believe it is time for a change in the White House compared to 41 percent who say Obama deserves re-election, with 7 percent undecided. ...
When Quinnipiac University polled the state in July, it found that 52 percent did not think Obama deserved re-election while 43 percent did, with 6 percent undecided.
So, if the election were held today, apparently Obama would receive 41-43% of the popular vote in Pennsylvania.
Apparently the Republicans can't gerrymander very well, because under the proposed new system, Democrats would win 8 of 20 electoral votes in 2012, or 40% -- virtually the same result as true proportional representation based on current political polling.
All these authors are comparing apples and oranges. You can't honestly compare the 2008 statewide totals to 2012 projections. That was a different election, and Obama was much, much more popular then. You have to compare the 2012 popular vote projections to the projected outcome of the 2012 election under the proposed new rules, and under that comparison, the results of the projected new rules are virtually identical with the results under proportional representation.
If Barack Obama's polling rises above 50%, no one will be talking about 12 safe Republican districts. If Republicans carry 12 districts, Obama will not get 50% of the vote. The scenario will not happen.
It seems to me that Democrats should favor this plan, as it would yield 8 electoral votes in Pennsylvania, as opposed to, if current trends continue, zero.
jms wrote: "...It seems to me that Democrats should favor this plan..."
Yawn. It's already been stipulated that Republicans would only do this in states where they thought they would lose the popular vote for the presidency.
It's obvious that for the plan to have any effect, you'd need a state where (a) the Republicans control the state legislature, (b) they could be reasonably sure of losing the popular vote for the presidency in 2012. Perhaps that's a difficult hurdle to overcome. The point, rather, is continuing Republican perfidy in ignoring norms when it suits their thirst for power.
Yawn. It's already been stipulated that Republicans would only do this in states where they thought they would lose the popular vote for the presidency.
I'm challenging that stipulation. According to current polls and trends, Pennsylvania is likely to flip Republican in the next election cycle, so why are they supporting this measure?
What I'm really challenging is Quiddity's assertion that:
Republicans are looking to move away from "modern democracy" - which strives for proportional representation
The truth appears to be the opposite. Republicans are looking to move away from a winner-take-all system, in a state that they are likely to win, towards a system that appears to produce an outcome that is virtually identical to proportional representation.
They are proposing a system in which they will probably receive fewer votes than they would under the current system. If they were truly motivated by a thirst for power, why would they do that?
There's some resistance to this proposal, from PA Republicans
The Allentown Morning Call reports that some of the state’s Republican members of Congress in swing districts could in fact be endangered by the proposal.
A major reason? As things stand now in presidential elections, Democrats focus their get-out-the-vote efforts heavily in the urban stronghold of Philadelphia. But if the state’s presidential race changed from s one-person/one-vote system to one-district/one-vote, the impact of large numbers of Democratic voters in Philadelphia would become much less potent — and thus Dem GOTV energies would likely swift to suburban swing districts.
“I’m probably a little reluctant to be supportive of it…on political grounds,” Rep. Charlie Dent told the paper.
Another Republican from a swing district, Rep. Jim Gerlach, is on the fence for now. “I’d like to learn a little more about why they think that’s a good idea for the commonwealth,” Gerlach told the paper. “We’re going to talk about it as a delegation this week to get some sense of our members, what we think the pros and cons of that might be.”
It's amusing to see people justify these arguments with appeals to "fairness". And just how fair is the Electoral College? Madison documents that it was formed as a compromise to the South, enabling southern states to use the 2/3 compromise and thereby to have significant control over the federal government. The electoral system was gingerly discussed after Bush lost the popular vote to Gore in 2000. You either value one person one vote or you finesse around it by revering the Electoral College, whose existence is connected directly to slavery.
What in my view would be fair is to not count by district in presidential elections at all. Even if the Electoral College was kept (which in itself creates bias), votes should be counted per state and all states should have to follow the same standards. Either all have winner-takes-all or all have proportional distribution of the electoral votes to the candidates (which I would prefer). Anything else is a direct inviation to rigging.
The purpose of the electoral college is not fairness. The purpose is to try and bias the Presidential selection process toward those who would make good Presidents. The Federal Constitution only requires that Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors. It does not require that those electors be popularly elected. If you read Madison's Debates Concerning the Method of Selecting the Executive, the debate begins with the proposal that the President be chosen by an election of the people, but the objections are strong, and the discussion moves to other methods. I get the feeling, reading all this, that the decision was remarkably difficult. I think that the passage that Anonymous refers to, in mentioning slavery is:
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to fewest objections.
The problem was more general than slavery, having to do with property requirements for sufferage, but even so, just because the Constitution contains workarounds around the problem of slavery doesn't mean that those workarounds are wrong or superfluous. They serve multiple purposes. Just because the electoral college happened to resolve the problem of disenfranchisement of slave states in the selection of the President doesn't taint it. It was intended to get around a lot of other bad problems caused by other systems. It was proposed that the President be appointed by the legislature. The intent of the electoral college was largely to prevent the capture of the Presidential selection process by corrupt interests. In their view, the states would each appoint distinguished and trusted individuals as electors, then the nation would trust this newly constituted electoral college to do their work, select a President, then go home. Once again, the purpose was not to create "fairness" in selecting the President. It was to bias the process towards selecting an individual best fit for the responsibility of the position.
Of course, in practice, the electoral college turned out to be nothing like that. States held elections, and electors were tied to specific candidates.
The electoral college method of choosing the President turns out to have some compelling advantages that make me reluctant to support the idea of changing it. Most notable was the Bush/Gore election. Remember all of the chaos of Florida. If we had a popular election, and the popular vote came out within a handful of votes, then the situation would be chaos. Unlike in 2000, when only the votes in Florida had to be scrutinized and recounted, under a popular vote system, every vote in the country would have to be recounted, because any error anywhere could turn the election. In practice this would mean bags of ballots being "found" in Wisconsin, for instance, butterfly ballots in Texas, hanging chads in California, and on and on. Numbers would be changing all over the country, and opportunity for vote fraud would be rampant. Now that I've had time to consider it, I think that the fatal flaw of the Pennsylvania plan is that it opens the doors to little "Floridas" in every Congressional district. Every district with a close vote total would go to a recount, because an electoral vote would be at stake. There is no perfect method. Too little granularity leads to disenfranchisement. To much granularity leads to chaos. So you need a system somewhere in the middle -- that produces a definitive result. Generally speaking, the electoral college does that job well. Under most circumstances, it produces a lopsided electoral college vote total that coincides with the popular vote. I don't want a situation where there could be a dozen or more electoral votes up for grabs in random districts all around the country, because those districts had extremely close votes. Every election would be like the 2000 election, with lawyers, recounts, judges, and long delays. I think that the current system works well enough and contains enough of the desirable elements of decisiveness and medium granularity that there is no real reason to change it. This is Constitutional Republic of States, not a democracy, and things are complicated for a reason. The complications are there for a reason, and not just as a vestige of slavery. I don't think that the proposal is a good idea.
Jms, I still think you would agree that the same (basic) standards should apply everywhere, not one in each place that just favors the party currently in power there.
jms blithered, "This is Constitutional Republic of States, not a democracy, and things are complicated for a reason."
jms wrote, "Republicans are looking to move away from a winner-take-all system, in a state that they are likely to win, towards a system that appears to produce an outcome that is virtually identical to proportional representation."
LOL. Are you really that stupid? The Republicans of course will never change the system if they really think they have a chance of carrying the popular vote in the state under consideration, your reading of press accounts of their plans and intentions aside.
For those that think the GOP action in Pennsylvania has anything to do with principle (apart from: 'everything that helps us'), just look at Nebraska. There they want to replace the system they want to introduce in Pennsylvania with winner-takes-all because Obama won 1 (in words: one) Electoral Vote there by winning one district.
> Jms, I still think you would agree that the
> same (basic) standards should apply everywhere,
> not one in each place that just favors the
> party currently in power there.
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors ...
The authority to appoint electors is assigned to the states, to do with as they wish. The founders rejected a single standard. Different methods have different advantages and disadvantages.
Having a winner-take-all system in a state maximizes the importance of that state in the election. It also takes gerrymandering out of the electoral equation, which is appealing.
Splitting the delegates might be more satisfying to the people, because then each district would get a delegate who represents the dominant party of that district, and proportional representation would be approximated. There's a certain sense of fairness in dividing up a pie instead of fighting for the entire pie. Instead of focusing only on swing states, candidates would have to focus on swing districts, which would be scattered all over country. This might be an improvement over the current situation where candidates only campaign in swing states, and ignore solid party states.
I think that there are merits to each method. The framers couldn't make up their mind either. The framers left it up to the states, and I don't really approve of "improving" the Constitution unless something proves really obviously severely broken, and I don't think that this rises to that level. I tend to give the framers the benefit of the doubt in Constitutional details. If they explicitly threw the decision into "laboratory of democracy" territory, and it's not causing a major problem, then I'm inclined to leave it there.
Anyway, the proposal is probably dead in the water now that some of the local Republicans have realized the double-edged nature of the proposal, so it's probably unlikely to happen anyhow.
The basic premise of the news report -- that the 2012 Presidential election might be a close, down-to-the-wire contest separated only by Pennsylvania -- seems to me to be wishful thinking, barring some huge sea-change in President Obama's handling of the office. The election isn't going to be decided by this issue.
Anon#1: Yes, they made things deliberately complicated. Why is that self-evidently funny? Simplicity and uniformity is not always a virtue. A dictatorship is very simple. A system of divided and interlocking legislative, executive, judicial and state powers is complex, but it's our best protection against dictatorship.
Anon#2: > jms wrote, "Republicans are looking to
> move away from a winner-take-all system ... I meant the Republicans making this proposal, not all Republicans.