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How 2012 Helps Prospects for Reforming the Electoral College

by: Inoljt

Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 02:55:19 AM EST

By: inoljt,

The electoral college is one of the lingering undemocratic parts of American politics. Unlike almost every other country in the world, America elects its presidents not via the popular vote but rather via a strange system of "electoral votes" distributed by states. The good news is that this system generally reflects the popular will. The bad news is that it occasionally fails, as last happened in 2000.

More below.

Inoljt :: How 2012 Helps Prospects for Reforming the Electoral College
Since then there has been a push to reform the electoral college so that all states cast their electoral votes for the winners of the popular vote. Currently half the states needed to implement the reform have signed on.

The reform is mostly pushed by Democrats. This is because in 2000 the popular vote winner but electoral college loser was the Democratic candidate. As long electoral college reform was only pushed by Democrats, it was likely to fail. It is almost impossible to get enough states to sign on with complete Republican opposition.

In 2012, however, something quite interesting happened. The electoral college helped Obama quite a bit. For the final months of the campaign Obama was often behind in the national polls but still leading in the state Ohio. It was seen as a very conceivable possibility that Obama would lose the popular vote but win the electoral college and remain president because of Ohio. Even after the first presidential debate, Romney led in the popular vote but never in the electoral college.

It should be noted that these polls were wrong; they underestimated Obama nationally and put Ohio as more Democratic than a lot of states (Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia) which ended up more favorable to Obama. But the perception, based on these flawed polls, was what mattered.

So a lot of Republicans got to see the electoral college really hurting them during the most important campaign of all.

Moreover, the electoral college actually has leaned Democratic for three elections in a row. In 2004 John Kerry was 118,601 votes away in Ohio from becoming president while losing the popular vote. In 2008 John McCain would have had to win the popular vote by 1.7% to win Colorado and become president. In 2012 the votes are still being counted, but it's very certain that Obama could have lost the popular vote and still remained president.

This is good news for electoral college reform. Hopefully Republicans will not forget how polls showed them leading the popular vote but still behind in the electoral college during October 2012. Republicans now are aware that the electoral college hurts them. It would be in their self-interest to shift to a popular vote.

There are several blue or purple states in which the state Republican Party is fairly strong and has prevented electoral college reform. The hope is that in a few of these states some Republicans will now support a popular vote. It is also possible that Republicans by themselves will enact popular vote bills on their own initiative. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, for instance, has publicly made supportive statements on a popular vote.

But a popularly elected president looks closer than ever. As long as it was only a Democratic initiative, it didn't look like the popular vote would be enacted. Now, hopefully, some Republicans will also see that the popular vote is both something that helps a Republican presidential candidate and the right thing to do.

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Except it's not the right thing to do
And they won't.  

I really don't get the problem with the Electoral College
How is it any worse than the US Senate? The small states get representation on the basis of being a state, and not just the weight of their population. After all, we are a Republican union of states.  

Baker '14
R, MA-3


42 Male Republican, Maryland Heights, MO (MO-2). Previously lived in both Memphis and Nashville.

[ Parent ]
Hell no
In a country with 300m+ this could be a disaster for several reasons.

1. If it's close, how do you recount? Re-re-re count?

2. Election rules are mostly done by states. That includes recounts, voter id, registration, machines, filings, etc. This may change with popular vote because it now creates different rules for the same election directly. Courts will step in.

MI-08 - Chairman - Livingston County Republican Party Since 2013 - Opinions are my own and not that of LCRP.  

I'd quibble with the statement...
"Unlike almost every other country in the world..."  Many countries that have Presidents don't exactly have great electoral systems either.  Saddam, Ghaddafi, Mubarak, etc...
And other Democracies, with multiple party coalitions, deals, and gerrymandered districts, aren't always expressing the will of the people in their Heads of State either.  So while the EC may not be perfect, I'm not willing to say it's behind "almost every other country"

Yeah, that sentence surprised me as well
Parliamentary systems like Canada, the UK, and Germany elect their head of government district-by-district.

[ Parent ]
Alright, I'll take your point.
America does not elect its president by popular vote - a system followed by countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Egypt.

[ Parent ]
while my mind jumped to the BS Presidents first...
...I really was thinking more of the Heads of State in other Democracies where it's not a popular vote that elects them.  

[ Parent ]
I don't think there will be any reform
Republicans worry that there is more untapped potential on the Democratic side (and they're probably right, since RV rather than LV polls skew Democratic, and all adults polls do even more so).

If Democrats conducted voter registration drives in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Hispanic parts of Texas, none of which they need to compete in now, it would give them a huge advantage.  Republicans would register more voters too, but not to the same extent.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.

I'm ambivalent
This is ironic, considering that I posted a diary promoting National Popular Vote before the election. However, based on comments in that diary, I realized what a huge problem it would present in the event of a close election. A nationwide recount would be a total nightmare, the incentive to engage in massive voter fraud would be greatly amplified, and how can you have fifty different standards if each vote truly counts equally? So, how do you federalize, nationalize, or standardize election procedures?

All that said, I still think it's the right thing to do on principle, even though it would benefit Republicans, and notwithstanding archaic 18th century rationales for keeping the Electoral College. I just think it would have to be well-thought in advance and needs to happen through a constitutional amendment, if it's to happen at all.

In any event, 2012 was probably the best chance to get momentum rolling for the foreseeable future. By the time Republicans come to the widespread realization that the 2000 election was an accident, and that the Electoral College is a disadvantage for the GOP, Democrats will have come to the same widespread realization, and that'll be the end of that.

Democrat, NC-11

More Likely the GOP will simply push to allocate by CD
As in Pennsylvania. By doing it selectively the system can be gamed.

Its a bad idea, will undermine the legitimacy on which government depends, and in the end lead to the Latin Americanization of US politics and a likely Hugo Chavez figure, but in the short-run its all gain and no loss.

27 NH-01/London/MA-07

Centrist Foreign Policy Realist - Tory in the UK, RINO locally

[ Parent ]
If that happens
It will last precisely as long as the GOP keeps control of the US House. So, yes, it will be a short-term gain.

Democrat, NC-11

[ Parent ]
I'm not sure
Ie. I think you would need a federal Democratic trifecta to undo it.

The bigger problem is with legitimacy. The worst development in US politics over the last three decades has been a conclusion drawn by politicians that the US system is so exceptional that it can be abused ad infitum without any of the sort of consequences that would occur in any other nation or society throughout history. The US debt is partially a result of that, but this policy is another.

The basic assumption is that the US system is so sturdy it can be treated as a sports game, where patronage, not policy, is what is at stake, and therefore the system can be manipulated in favor of one party or another with the only consequence being an advantage for that particular group apparatchiks.

The problem of course is that this is not the case. People actually care about government and issues. They are willing to accept government they disagree with, but only because they accept the system. The reason Bush was accepted after 2000 was because most Democrats accepted that he won fairly, and to the extent their were process issues they believed they were random. Had the Florida state government deliberately mandated the butterfly ballot, and mandated it only in Palm Beach county the reaction would have been different.

The problem with this policy is it is not only introducing a bias and corruption into the system. The corruption and bias it is introducing is systematic. It is no longer the electoral college, or the Republican party, or even the Supreme Court which is behaving unfairly but the whole system of government itself.

The worst thing that can ever be done by a party is to actually rig the electoral system. Because once it does so, the opposition no longer feels obligated to honor its results. Future opposition Presidents feel no obligation to honor Laws passed and signed by "illegitimate" predecessors or obey the rules of judges appointed by them. You end up with a situation where an opposition victory means either a revolution or a coup.

Which is the situation most Latin American states have stumbled into over the last century.

This sort of proposal is based on the assumption that if you create the conditions present in Argentina in the 1930s or Venezuela in the 1990s, you won't end up with anything resembling the same result.

27 NH-01/London/MA-07

Centrist Foreign Policy Realist - Tory in the UK, RINO locally

[ Parent ]
Yes, you would need a trifecta. My guess is that'll be 2022.

I seriously doubt the movement will get very far. Allocation by congressional district won't happen in any of the relevant states, because the U.S. Reps don't want their elections nationalized. The proportional allocation plan proposed in Pennsylvania would've shifted 8 electoral votes to Romney. It's debatable whether this could be replicated in states like Florida, Ohio, and Michigan where you have some variation of citizen-initiated veto. Where else is it plausible besides Wisconsin and perhaps Virginia?

Even if all three states had it in place, it would not have changed the outcome of any election since 1876.

Democrat, NC-11

[ Parent ]
Why do you make a prediction 10 years in advance that the Democrats will have a trifecta in 2022? That seems very bold, and I'd like to hear your reasoning, if you don't mind.

[ Parent ]
1) Hillary will win in 2016, and win reelection in 2020.

2) The 2012 Senate class was 23D-10R. The Dems gained 2 seats. The 2014 Senate class will be 20D-13R. The 2016 Senate class will be 10D-24R. Even if the GOP manages to net the 6 seats needed for control in 2014, they are almost sure to lose control in 2016. If the GOP manages to take it back in 2018 or 2020, the Dems will probably retake it in 2022 (when the class of 2016 rolls back around).

3) The House will be redistricted for the 2022 elections. It is both far less likely that the GOP will dominate the process as it did in the 2010 round; and, for a range of reasons, far more difficult to produce maps gerrymandered in favor of the GOP to the same degree, regardless.

Democrat, NC-11

[ Parent ]
It would however ensure that Pennsylvania won't have $28 million spent on it during the next presidential campaign.

Democrat, NC-11

[ Parent ]
If Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin all had the system proposed by Pileggi, Obama still would've won with 290 electoral votes. Romney would've gained 13 in Florida, 8 in Pennsylvania, 7 in Ohio, 6 in Michigan, 5 in Virginia, and 3 in Wisconsin, for a total of 42 additional electoral votes.

It's worth noting that if a Republican is going to win the presidency then Florida and (almost surely) Ohio will be going GOP in any event, in which case this is far more likely to harm the Republicans if it spreads to all the states where it's plausible. GWB would've lost in 2000.

Democrat, NC-11

[ Parent ]
Not even just recounts
A huge problem is that the West Coast messes everything up with its wide-spread vote-by-mail system.  What happens if the Republican is up 300,000 votes nationwide with 2 million ballots left to count on the West coast?  Because they won't bew finished for a few weeks, during whichpoint we'll have Florida '00 in every state in the US.  Talk about nightmare scenarios.  Every state will have their voting laws scrutinized like nothing, and there will be even more widespread accusations of fraud.

23, Libertarian Republican CA-18
Liberals dream things that never were and ask why not.  Conservatives shout back "Because it won't work"

[ Parent ]
to be fair
if California were a swing state, we'd have the same issue.  It's a big problem with vote by mail in general.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.

[ Parent ]
Ah True
It might be a good idea to set a mail by date of a week before the election (but say they can't be opened until election night).  Require any ballots after that to be delivered in person to the county clerk's office (or wherever).

It's the best solution I can think of at least.

23, Libertarian Republican CA-18
Liberals dream things that never were and ask why not.  Conservatives shout back "Because it won't work"

[ Parent ]
yeah, that would make more sense
Although I don't like the idea of the government encouraging people to vote early when a scandal may occur prior to the election but after one has voted.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.

[ Parent ]
I'm not very comfortable with significant election-changing events happening a week before the election in the first place.  Imagine if 9/11 happened 3 days before a general election

23, Libertarian Republican CA-18
Liberals dream things that never were and ask why not.  Conservatives shout back "Because it won't work"

[ Parent ]
yeah, it's certainly not ideal
the less time you have to process it, the less rational your vote will be.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.

[ Parent ]
we could just eliminate vote by mail entirely...

[ Parent ]
You're only ambivalent because the electoral college benefits Democrats now. ;)
[ Parent ]
I'm not ambivalent about getting rid of the Electoral College. I'm ambivalent about how to get rid of the Electoral College. I no longer think something like National Popular Vote is the way to go, especially since there's nothing that would prevent a legislature from repealing their state's NPV act on  the eve of the election if it looked as if it would benefit the candidate they favored.

As I said before, the Electoral College has favored Democrats from the moment they nailed down California. Gore winning the popular vote but losing the electoral vote was the lower-probability outcome in 2000. I realized it then, but I've always supported ditching the Electoral College since the very first day I understood what it was, and that didn't change because of 2000 or 2012.

Democrat, NC-11

[ Parent ]

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