I'm happy that Barack Obama won the election. I think it's time to stir things up a bit.

What really bothers me is that fact that we still don't have equal voting in this country. We certainly have the technology to share vote counts quickly and efficiently, so who not just do that? Why screw around with an electoral college anymore?

It seems disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst to call Obama's victory a "landslide" when the actual percentages of the popular vote (the only vote that should count) were so close. Yet the large difference in electoral vote counts is supposed to make us believe that something very different happened. And the media was more than happy to play along with that deception (what a surprise, huh?).

It should not be possible to lose by having more votes than your opponent, but it is. Why does nobody seem to care? (See: electoral college, specifically this.)

Of all the countries that have tried to copy our model of democracy in the last 200 years or so, can you name a single one that adopted the electoral college as a piece of their political infrastructure?

I'd love to have my vote count as much as everyone in all the other states.

Why is that so hard?

Posted by jzawodn at November 13, 2008 07:18 AM

Reader Comments
# jbullfrog said:

Strictly looking at the electoral college, I wouldn't really call this election a "landslide" (media likes to exaggerate). 1984 on the other hand *was* an electoral college landslide:

Note: pop vote was roughly 60/40.

on November 13, 2008 07:49 AM
# Joe Grossberg said:

I hear what you're saying, but I think you're missing a key point: it's about federalism, not fraud.

When the United States was formed and the Constitution written, they wanted to compromise between states' rights and pure democracy.

The electoral college, and institutions like it, are a compromise. "The Great Compromise", in fact: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Compromise

Also, would you suggest we get also amend the fact that the citizens of Wyoming have two senators for 0.5 million people, while California has the same number representing almost 37 million?

on November 13, 2008 08:01 AM
# Jason Berberich said:

You're right - we shouldn't have to deal with the situation of having a split popular vote/electoral college vote. It's not good for the incoming President, and it's not good for the country.

However, there's a good case to be made [http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/10/why-we-need-but-need-to-reform-the-electoral-college/] that getting rid of the Electoral College would be a Very Bad Thing:

"Without the winner-take-all provision of the Electoral College, America would have a multiple-party system, since there would be less reason to support one of the two major party’s candidates. Since the President is the only nationally elected official, it is the prize of the winning the presidency that keeps the two parties from splitting first into regional parties and then into ideological or interest-based parties. It is likely that, without a two-party system at the presidential level, the country would break down to its constituent interest groups. There would be a women’s party, an environmental party, a business party, a men’s party, a Southern party, and on and on. The United States would become ungovernable. The American political landscape would begin to resemble Italy’s where there have been 52 governments – or executives – since World War II. "

James Pontuso, the author of that article linked to above, instead suggests reforming the Electoral College system so that the winner of the popular vote is automatically awarded an extra 11 Electoral College votes. This would be enough to ensure that the winner of the popular vote also won the Electoral College.

on November 13, 2008 08:03 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I'm okay with the senate/house split, actually. I'm not quite sure why... Hmm.

Perhaps I should be pissed about that too.

on November 13, 2008 08:07 AM
# Michael Stum said:

Well, tampering with the Election Procedure is something that should not be taken lightly, especially with such a low voter turnout of only 60%.

But even though as a foreigner (albeit one from a rather undemocratic country) I don't really understand everything about the USA, I agree that Popular Vote should possibly be used in the future, once voter turnout is stable at a meaningful level.

on November 13, 2008 08:32 AM
# Stefan said:


No voting system is very good as the above video shows.

on November 13, 2008 08:41 AM
# TravisD said:

No citation, but one argument against the Popular Vote Only scheme is that it would basically reduce the campaign trail down to approximately 10-12 metropolitan areas. Not sure of this works or not, but basically the less populous states - like Wyoming - wouldn't be worth the campaign dollars.

on November 13, 2008 08:44 AM
# Tim said:

You are right that the electoral college may seem like an odd system. One of the biggest benefits that I see is that it forces a more balanced message from the candidates. Cities tend to vote Democrat and rural areas Republican; certain states tend to vote heavily one way or the other (often based on the balance of rural and urban populations). Because receiving 100% of the vote in a state is no better than receiving 51%, this forces the candidates to broaden their audience more than they otherwise would.

on November 13, 2008 08:47 AM
# Justin said:

This blog post is a good 8 years too late. And I love how you characterize Obama's victory as "stirring things up a bit" when in fact he has the formidable task of governing a country that has been driven to the brink of one of the worst economic disasters of all time. Obama's victory is indeed a victory and there is absolutely nothing disingenuous about it. He won both the popular vote as well as the electoral vote, no lie about that. If your feelings were hurt then let me say to you as was said to me 8 years ago ... God Bless America.

on November 13, 2008 08:55 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


But why is that a good thing?

on November 13, 2008 09:07 AM
# Craig Hughes said:

Fundamentally, it comes down to the Great Compromise of the constitutional convention, and whether its principles still apply today. Actually, from a political-philosophical perspective, there are some other elements of Madisonian thought which apply as well (Madison actually despised the Great Compromise during the convention, fighting it bitterly again and again. Once the convention ended, while writing his parts of the Federalist Papers, he carefully avoided discussing the concept of small states getting bonus voting rights since he hated it so much, but deeply wanted the constitution to be approved).

Madison believed that the reason that the United States' republican democracy could be successful was due to a few things:

1. Being a republic rather than a democracy would provide a stabilizing influence to some degree, where a direct democracy would end up leading to such crappy measures being enacted as "A man shalt not marry another man". The debate over "democracy" vs "republic" in political units larger than "village" had by Madison's time already long been decided in favor of "republic", with democracies rapidly becoming paralyzed and non-functional.

2. Balance is everything. Long-term survival in a giant republic depends critically on no single faction being able to dominate, so that majorities cannot enslave or control minorities. A dominant thread in his arguments in favor of the form of our constitution, before, during, and after the convention, was the principle that if you fold lots of diverse interests together, and give them roughly equal voting power, they will never be able to form cohesive alliances amongst themselves for long enough to deal away the minorities' rights.

This latter principle, I would suggest, continues to apply today. If the "red states" heavily over-represented per capita, then the coasts would rapidly gang up against them and pass "all sort of crazy laws", which would not probably be healthy for the long-term stability and cohesion of the United States. Yes, the system is not perfect by any means, but I think it still continues to be less bad than any of the alternatives.

PS the "remember me" button on comments clearly does jack shit, cos I need to re-enter all my info every time I comment...

on November 13, 2008 10:23 AM
# Craig Hughes said:

Oh one other amusing comment on the US presidential electoral system. Not only does the plurality winner in the popular vote not necessarily win the presidency (as in 1876, 1888, and 2000), but the winner of the plurality of votes in the *Electoral College* is not necessarily elected president either (as in 1824 where John Quincy Adams had fewer popular votes *and* fewer electors than Andrew Jackson, yet was elected President).

on November 13, 2008 10:29 AM
# BCS said:

As other have said, the Electoral collage was never intended to be a popular vote. They could have used one of those from the get go but chose not to. I'm not an expert on the reason but they had them. If you want to argue the point, go look up their reasons and argue that.

on November 13, 2008 10:48 AM
# Jonno Downes said:

"Of all the countries that have tried to copy our model of democracy in the last 200 years or so, can you name a single one that adopted the electoral college as a piece of their political infrastructure?"

In 1901, Australia became a nation as a federation of states, in the same way the USA is a federation of states. We don't have a direct equivalent of a president, the closest we have is a Prime Minister, and what you call electoral colleges, we call electorates, but the principle is basically the same.

And yes, it has happened (at both the state and national level) that someone can lose the popular vote and still win the election. In fact there was a premier of queensland ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joh_Bjelke-Petersen ) who was notorious for ensuring the boundaries of electorates where drawn to maximise the number of electorates his party would win with a limited number of supporters ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bjelkemander )

on November 13, 2008 04:03 PM
# susan said:

What the U.S. Constitution says is "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote, and only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state's electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). Since then, as a result of changes in state laws, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states.

The "normal process" of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.

on November 13, 2008 05:39 PM
# susan said:

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill is currently endorsed by 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

on November 13, 2008 05:42 PM
# Sam Yates said:

It's funny, but people always want to seem to "fix" this when at a federal/US constitutional level when the problem is easily addressable at the state level. Just work on having your state use a proportional elector system. It's perfectly within their rights. Frankly I think it would make the elections a lot more interesting in CA and NY if one side didn't already start with 80+ electoral votes "in the bag".

on November 13, 2008 08:25 PM
# Rob Steele said:

It's so hard because it would be too rational. You're used to dealing with machines and you've forgotten how messy people are. Too rational is a bad thing.

on November 13, 2008 10:22 PM
# Robert said:

Jeremy, your vote already counts and by being in the state you live in, California, your vote actually counts more than mine, Missouri, due to the Electoral College.

Popular votes will not be a cure all either. Voter fraud would further shred the legitimacy of the popular vote... how many daffy ducks and tucan sams get to vote anyway?

What we have now is a good compromise and it has worked well in our 200+ years of existence. Why tinker with it unless we have an absolute foolproof way of electing a President? Which we know will never happen. So, we are left with our system and it works.

All in all, the Democrats have certain states locked in no matter what they say - California, New York, and Illinois. That is 107 "guaranteed" Electoral College votes. Almost 40% of the necessary votes to become President by winning 3 states. Does that seem fair? No, but until a better system comes along, we will live with what works.

on November 14, 2008 07:38 AM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Robert, to determine the value of your vote relative to someone living in another state, divide your population by the number of Electoral Votes in your respect states.

Given 55 EVs and a population of 36,553,215, an individual's vote in California has a relative value of 1.50465561 × 10^(-6)

Given Missouri's 11 EVs and a population of 5,842,713, and individual's vote for President has a relative value of 1.88268703 × 10^(-6)

Some quick math shows that your vote in Missouri is ~%25 more powerful than Jeremy's in California. (11/5,842,713)/(55/36,553,215) = 1.2512

In fact, Californian's have the lowest individual say in the Electoral College. In general, the smaller your state's population, the more your individual vote counts. Montana, the Dakotas, Alaska...those are some places with disproportionate power. California is at the bottom, and it's not even close.

on November 14, 2008 08:04 AM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Oops, should read, divide your EVs by your population.

on November 14, 2008 08:27 AM
# Robert said:

Dan, I understand your reasoning and I'm very understanding of the math facts but in reality, a single vote that tips California's Electoral Vote count in favor of 1 party is much more powerful than 1 vote tipping Missouri's Electoral Vote count in favor of one.

It's all relative, it just depends on if you are looking strictly at math and percentages or the actual effect a single vote can impact the election.

1 vote in California could bring 55 EV's, 1 vote in Missouri, only 11.

on November 14, 2008 08:56 AM
# anonymous said:

Surprised nobody has mentioned this yet:


Basically, they are trying to get states to pledge to select their electors based on the national popular vote once the compact comes into effect, which will only happen when enough states join this compact to create a majority of electoral votes (270 or more). Until that point, they will choose electors in the same old way.

on November 14, 2008 01:19 PM
# Hannah said:

The reason so many people want to abolish the electoral college is because they don't understand how it works and why it is so beneficial.

Here is how it works. We have two Houses of congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Every state gets the same number of representatives in the Senate, while the number of representatives allotted to each state in the House is based on population. When passing the laws, the states needed a voice because of the varying issues and concerns of the differing populations and geographical regions. Yet, the will of the people at large was considered to important to overlook.

The result was an ingenious compromise between the two sectors that gave each a voice, and it was really the most fair way of making laws for the good of the entire nation. Now, when the Founders were trying to decide how the President should be elected, they ran into the same issues and concerns that they had encountered while creating the Congress, namely, that the small states feared their needs and interests would be overlooked, and the big states were concerned that the will of the majority would be ignored.

The founders did consider a general popular vote for the Presidency, but rejected that idea for two reasons:

1. The interests of the large states would take such precedence that the needs of the sparsely populated states would be ignored or trampled upon

2. The Presidential election would turn into a geographical affair, with the heavily populated sections of the country electing President after President and the candidates never bothering to visit places like Montana and Alaska, but instead spending all their time in New York and California. With that kind of regional domination, national unity - the key to national prosperity - would be next to impossible. If you know the history, that's exactly why West Virginia separated from Virginia.

So, here's how it works: each state has a number of electoral votes that equals their combined representatives int the U.S. Senate and House. In that way, the states have a voice but the majority has more.

In a nutshell, here is why we need to keep it.

1. It prevents the larger states from riding roughshod over the smaller ones (the larger/smaller comparison being based on population, not size)

2. It gives the smaller groups a voice without completely overriding the will of the majority

3. It preserves the balance of power between geographical regions

Here's a great article that explains things in more depth:

"(1) Because a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes from across the nation, a candidate cannot become president without a significant widespread voter base. In fact, as has happened in three previous elections, the distribution of voter support may actually take precedence over the quantity of voter support. Therefore, the electoral college ensures a broad national consensus for a candidate that subsequently will allow him to govern once he takes office.

(2) Since the electoral college operates on a State-by-State basis, this not only enhances the status of minorities by affording them a greater proportional influence within a smaller block of voters at the State level but it also ensures a geographically diverse population which makes regional domination, or domination of urban over suburban or rural areas, virtually impossible. In fact, since no one region of the country has 270 electoral votes, there is an incentive for a candidate to form coalitions of States and regions rather than to accentuate regional differences.

(3) The electoral college system prioritizes the most important factors in selecting a president. If a candidate receives a substantial majority of the popular vote, then that candidate is almost certain to receive enough electoral votes to be president. However, if the popular vote is extremely close, then the candidate with the best distribution of popular votes will be elected. And if the country is so divided that no one candidate obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes, then the U. S. House of Representatives — the body closest to the people and which must face them in every election — will then choose the president. "

In closing, here is a quote from John Taylor, an officer during the American Revolution and a U. S. Senator under Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson:

"Two principles sustain our Constitution: one a majority of the people, the other a majority of the States; the first was necessary to preserve the liberty or sovereignty of the people; the last, to preserve the liberty or sovereignty of the States. But both are founded in the principle of majority; and the effort of the Constitution is to preserve this principle in relation both to the people and the States, so that neither species of sovereignty or independence should be able to destroy the other."

There is no way that would please everybody, but the electoral college system comes the closest to fairly taking everyone's interests into consideration and giving everyone a voice while still democratic in nature. And if you want to eliminate the electoral college, then according to consistency you need to push for the elimination of our Congressional structure and have the states send representatives based on population solely. The same principles are the basis of both our Congressional system and the electoral college.

on November 22, 2008 08:00 AM
# Dr. Shane Sheibani said:

I believe your absolutely right about the electoral college.
I think it should be done away with , and the very idea burned.
I not only think it is unneeded but very unfair when the person running for president can loose because of the damned thing and still have more votes. It's like it erases the true will of the people.
As for the other countries adopting one, why would they?
one quick look and it can be seen right through it (along with the Fed, the IRS, war for profit, members of secret societies running the country, etc. but I won't get into that here)

on November 28, 2008 05:22 PM
# Andrew Goodman said:

In a parliamentary system, we do not vote for the head of state. Instead, national elections deem the governing party (or parties, in the case of a coalition) that which won the most electoral districts or seats.

In Canada, we vote for our Member of Parliament (much like a House of Representatives candidate). The leader of the winning party (it gets more complicated in a minority government) is Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is not elected by a direct vote, but rather, indirectly by having his party win a majority of seats (or more complicated reasons in a minority government).

All of this by way of saying that popular vote does not determine a single-person executive leader in many political systems around the world.

Most democracies are forms of mixed government or multicameral systems that attempt to balance a variety of interests (largely regional) and contend with the conventions that have arisen in the form of established groupings known as political parties.

Region, of course, is only one form of representation and it tends to be a bit of a distortion. What's "democracy" anyway? Surely popular vote to elect a president would be horrible if, say, that president were a dictator once elected, minus checks and balances.

One radical proposal -- jumping off the idea that region is a strange way to organize ourselves when many other interests should be represented in government -- was put forward by John Burnheim, a scholar who wrote a book called Is Democracy Possible? Burnheim proposed, for argument's sake, a parliamentary system called "statistical democracy" that would end up with representatives (chosen from nominee lists) for a variety of "statistical" groups according to race, age, sex, religion, sexual orientation, and other politically significant groupings. Probably not the answer, but it goes to show that we will be debating democracy and institutional design endlessly... and it is healthy that we debate it. Most systems are deeply flawed, but is there a perfect system?

on November 28, 2008 06:48 PM
# Mel said:

As a couple of others have alluded, it is because we're a group of states, not one single "state".

Anyway, we're a union of these separate states, so there isn't one "single" presidential election, there are 50, separate elections.

You win the popular in a state and you get either all the electoral votes, or a proportion ... as prescribed by that state.

Then the President is elected, literally, when the electoral college votes.

As to the Senate thing. The Senate was never intended to represent "people", rather, they represented the states themselves.

House representatives represented the people, so were apportioned accordingly, and the Senate represented, literally, the States ... and at 2 per state, were apportioned accordingly as well.

Under the original intent, "Wyoming having 2 Senators per 0.5 million people" should never have mattered, because they weren't supposed to represent people.

That was so that all were represented at the Federal level.

House - The People
Senate - The States
President - The Union

The original design was actually pretty good, but it's been bastardized over the years into what we have now.

on December 1, 2008 08:49 AM
# Mike Couture said:

Wow! And I was having good thoughts regarding your philosophy in general until you commented on Obama(nation), BIG mistake. How can ANYONE trust a person who thinks it's above "his" paygrade to make a decision when asked about "abortion"? He just removed all doubt about being a jelly fish when he could have at least had a "backbone" and answered yea or nay? I could have respect for any answer other than the one he gave.

How's John Franke doing these days, is he retired? We were in VAW-78 LOTS of years ago.


on December 4, 2008 09:46 PM
# Robert 'Groby' Blum said:

Hm, as far as I recall, Germany has a system quite similar to the electoral college. First, parliament is elected by giving two votes - one, voting for your districts candidate, and two, voting for the party you want to support country-wide.

That second half of votes is then used to assign half of the seats of parliament according to percentages - and the delegates are chosen by the party, not you. That takes away at least some of the chance of mob rule you would get with pure majority votes.

Then, parliament selects a chancellor. That's pretty close to the electoral college system - your voice does not count directly towards the election. (There are other issues with the party-votes, one that the assignment happens on a per state base. I'm simplifying ;)

So far, it has achieved decent results. I'd think that the inclusion of "direct" candidates prevents a pure two-party system as we're seeing in the U.S. (Then again, it's more prone to splintering. We currently have 5 major blocks, making the whole majority business a tricky thing.)

(Just since you asked if other countries have an EC. I'm still trying to figure out if I hate or like the EC system in general, and as-is)

on December 15, 2008 02:48 PM
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