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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Electoral College

I saw this issue mentioned on Gerry Nutter's Blog.  I commented here.

Then I read the report by Reporter Matt Murphy, here.  This line got my attention and caused me to put something down on my own blog:
Supporters, however, point out that Massachusetts voters would gain clout because their votes would be just as important as those of people in Ohio, Florida or Pennsylvania.
How do they figure that?  Look at the breakout of Electoral College votes.

We in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have 12 electoral votes  On the other hand, Ohio has 27 electoral votes, Florida 20, and Pennsylvania 21.  Four states, California (55), Texas (34), New York (31) and Florida (27) provide 27% of the votes needed to win.  So, we here in the Commonwealth are going to be even with number four Florida?  It will only get worse in a popular election.

One could argue that by eliminating the Electoral College, or making it no longer relevant, the vote of one person in the Commonwealth is the same as one vote in Florida, but that was pretty much the same as before.  The question is, are there enough votes up here to attract the attention of the candidates.  Under the current system, and with the current political divides in the nation, the Electoral College encourages candidates to go a little further afield in the hunt for voters.  Given today's situation, Florida is going to draw more attention than Massachusetts.  Florida can be in play and has 27 votes and Massachusetts is likely not in play and has only 12 votes.

The current system means that smaller states have some modicum of clout.  Every state gets at least three (3) electoral votes.  If we go for a national popular vote the number of smaller states perpetually frozen out will increase, as their popular vote total will be proportionately smaller than their electoral vote.  Today the New England states are 12.6% of the vote needed to win.  The same as Texas.  Frankly, I think we need to keep the Electoral College, which gives smaller states a little more clout, because that 12.6% will get smaller if we go with strictly the population and the popular vote.

The current system has its flaws, but we know how it works.  We have no idea of about the long term impact of a different system.  There are enough moving parts as it is.  I don't wish to see more at this time.  And for those who bring up the 2000 election, remember that if we had had a popular vote election it would have changed how the candidates campaigned, and thus might have changed the outcome, and might well have changed who the candidates were, thus potentially changing the outcome.

If people want to really clean up the election messiness they should work to eliminate what are essentially open primaries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  I would be happy to go as far as having the state and the cities step out of the primary election business, leaving it to the parties to find a way to nominate candidates (and letting independents get on the ballot by collecting enough signatures).

Regards  —  Cliff

  Likely to go to 11 after the current US Census is done.


Alex said...

The problem is that what actually happens for our 12 Electoral College votes in Massachusetts is that the Democrat assumes he gets them (he will), and the Republican assumes it is a lost cause (it probably is). Thus, neither has the slightest incentive to campaign here at all, AND the 45% or so of Mass residents who vote Republican have literally no say in the outcome of the election. In the NPV system, those Republican votes would matter, Democratic votes would matter too since the candidate can no longer count on winning the majority of MA but needs to genuinely convince as high a % of voters as possible to stick with him.

At the end of the day, Presidential campaigns go after every vote they can- that's why Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania alone got 57% of the candidate visits and 54% of their ad spending in the 2008 election. National Popular Vote evens the playing field and takes power back from that artificially important minority of swing states.

Anonymous said...

The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states. Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

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 state-by-state 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, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

Anonymous said...

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, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota -- 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 30 state legislative chambers, in 20 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


Anonymous said...

The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically "radioactive" in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current presidential election system.

The National Popular Vote bill has been approved by eight state legislative chambers in the 13 smallest states, including one house in Delaware and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

Most of the medium-small states (with five or six electoral votes) are similarly non-competitive in presidential elections (and therefore similarly disadvantaged). In fact, of the 22 medium-smallest states (those with three, four, five, or six electoral votes), only New Hampshire (with four electoral votes), New Mexico (five electoral votes), and Nevada (five electoral votes) have been battleground states in recent elections.

Because so few of the 22 small and medium-small states are closely divided battleground states in presidential elections, the current system actually shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states. The New York Times reported early in 2008 (May 11, 2008) that both major political parties were already in agreement that there would be at most 14 battleground states in 2008 (involving only 166 of the 538 electoral votes). In other words, three-quarters of the states were ignored under the current system in the 2008 election. Michigan (17 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), and Florida (27) contain over half of the electoral votes that mattered in 2008 (85 of the 166 electoral votes). There were only three battleground states among the 22 small and medium-small states (i.e., New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada). These three states contain only 14 of the 166 electoral votes. Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.

Anonymous said...

The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

The political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely agree on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five "red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six "blue" states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
* Texas (62% Republican),
* New York (59% Democratic),
* Georgia (58% Republican),
* North Carolina (56% Republican),
* Illinois (55% Democratic),
* California (55% Democratic), and
* New Jersey (53% Democratic).

In addition, the margins generated by the nation's largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
* Texas -- 1,691,267 Republican
* New York -- 1,192,436 Democratic
* Georgia -- 544,634 Republican
* North Carolina -- 426,778 Republican
* Illinois -- 513,342 Democratic
* California -- 1,023,560 Democratic
* New Jersey -- 211,826 Democratic

To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004 -- larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004.

Anonymous said...

A survey of 800 Massachusetts voters conducted on May 23–24, 2010 showed 72% overall support for the idea that the President of the United States should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.

Voters were asked

“How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current electoral college system?”

By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote was 86% among Democrats, 54% among Republicans, and 68% among others. By gender, support was 85% among women and 60% among men. By age, support was 85% among 18-29 year olds, 75% among 30-45 year olds, 69% among 46-65 year olds, and 72% for those older than 65.

C R Krieger said...

Back about 1153 yesterday there was a discussion of the "medium-smallest states" and included those with 3 electoral votes.  You can't get any lower than 3.  I am assuming that that is medium to smallest states.

Given that apparently Gerry Nutter got the same deluge of EMails from Anonymous, and given that the comments came in such a short period of time, I am thinking that this is preplanned material sent to those who venture an opinion on the topic of the Electoral College.

What is not suggested and what I would support, would be to go like Maine and not be a winner take all state.  Are our legislators totally incapable of that?  Has the issue even crossed their minds?  Is this just an idea bad for the Democratic Party and its overwhelming control of Beacon Hill?

As I noted before, changing the way we vote opens up the process to hitherto unknown forces.  You ask yourself, what could possibly go wrong?  How about the Federal Government feeling it should add rules to how we do our elections, to include our nominating of delegates to the Presidential Nominating Conventions?

I guess wishing to stick with what works fairly well, rather than step out into the political unknown, marks me as a conservative.

Regards  —  Cliff

ncrossland said...

But only works well because we declare it to be working well. That has nothing to do with validity, reliability, or any other objective measures of effectiveness. All the EC does is project the whims and fancies of appointed EC delegates in each state, often failing to reflect the wishes of the popular vote.

In the US, we should cling to the one man, one vote principle...and the EC gives an opt out for that, giving a favored few unequal powers in exchange for what???

Importantly, as in MA, the party out of power is encouraged if not forced to go through the motions without any hope of success, which, over time, has a disasterous chilling effect on maintaining organizational life. Why bother if it is "common knowledge" that in MA, the BIG elections always go to the Dems with a little help from the EC.

My theory is that NPV would open a heretofor unknown chapter in American politics, one that frankly has politicians quite frightened as they would, under an NPV system, be truly accountable to the voting public, and thus, have impact on Presidential elections.....and that is what the whole EC thing is all about...whether or not anyone wants to admit it. "Proportionality" is nothing more than a red herring.

toto said...

The congressional district method of awarding electoral votes (currently used in Maine and Nebraska) would not help make every vote matter. In NC, for example, there are only 4 of the 13 congressional districts that would be close enough to get any attention from presidential candidates. A smaller fraction of the country's population lives in competitive congressional districts (about 12%) than in the current battleground states (about 30%) that now get overwhelming attention , while two-thirds of the states are ignored Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

C R Krieger said...

When even Neal Crossland crosses over you know you have an uphill battle to keep the status quo.

Regards  —  Cliff