WHAT’S WITH THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE? WHAT’S THE POINT?

Los Angeles County is bigger in population than at least 40 entire states. Not only does it have a huge population — more than 10 million and counting — but it is physically bigger than the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Probably physically larger than a few other states, too — like Rhode Island and Delaware and maybe others. In California, they can (and do) keep making counties and cities bigger and bigger as the population swells. Other places have a thing called “city and county limits,” but California doesn’t. In California, there are no limits.

Because L.A. County is enormous, many people figure that the Electoral College is a scam. This presumption is that to have a full democracy, the only thing that should matter in a national election is the national vote. If the only criteria for winning are the volume of votes, you would have something like a “pure democracy.” U.S. isn’t a pure democracy. We are a Constitutional Republic which has a lot of similarities to a democracy, but pure raw votes are not the only things that matter. In point of fact, very few countries are purely democratic. I can’t think of any such country right now, but surely there are a few. I would guess that such countries are small with a homogenous population without huge cities. In most parliamentary countries, you are not voting for individuals unless they are running on their own and not as a member of a major party. Most of the time, you’re voting for a party platform. Even though an unpopular government can be brought down and replaced by a different (but not necessarily better) one via a new election, you aren’t necessarily connected to a particular representative, though this varies country by country. It can be difficult to figure out who really represents you since you didn’t vote for a specific person but for a party who then divvies up the seats based on the total vote. We’ve got the electoral college; they have something else, but in neither case does total vote necessarily determine the winner. If we think party politics is nuts in this country, trust me, it’s wacko most other places too.

In the U.S., we believe in bigger is better. Take away the Electoral College and the largest, most densely populated areas would always rule the country. If, as we do, you live in a small town, your vote probably won’t count at all. I’m not sure it counts now, so there might not be that much of a difference in the end — but in theory, there’s a difference.

Would turning the running of the nation over to only the densely populated cities be a good or bad thing? Maybe there’s no perfect answer especially not in a country this large. I’m pretty sure that people in Wyoming have different interests and needs than Los Angeles or New York. Of course, what you think is right probably depends on whether you like who won and whether or not you think they will address your issues.

I understand people who live in big cities will definitely feel they get cheated by the electoral college because it’s intended as a field-leveling tool. It’s not democratic and it’s not supposed to be. But, in the U.S., our motto has always been “bigger is better.” Whether it’s businesses, cities, schools or whatever — we like’em big. More always wins while less doesn’t count.

The problem is, I think I should count too, no matter how big Los Angeles County is.

The electoral college is not a scam, but it has become an electoral weapon. It was intended to level the voting between rural (originally, that meant slave owning) states and the industrial cities in the north. After slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws continued to suppress non-white voters and the electoral college became a way for the dominant party to mess around with the distribution of electors. They are (in theory, but never in reality) distributed based on population which is based on a neutral count of the population. It has been grossly mismanaged and misused and I don’t think it will ever be better. I also don’t think we’ll ever get rid of it. It’s part of the constitution. It’s not a law the Supreme Court can knock down. We would have to have a constitutional amendment to be passed by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate — or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. This seems highly unlikely. It was ALWAYS unlikely, but probably even more unlikely today than ever before. And assuming we actually got the electoral college eliminated, we would then need a massive overhaul of voting.

Given that we’re going to have an electoral college, like it or not, if we want to be a “Constitutional Republic,” we need a better way to count votes. We also need more votes from more people in more places. We need a fully voting population of at least 60% because otherwise, how can we claim that most people are represented when most people don’t vote? Can we do what they do in Australia and make it illegal to NOT vote?

The point of having an Electoral College was to prevent Los Angeles, New York, and Texas from overwhelming Worcester County and all of New England from Connecticut to Maine. In rural areas, we beg for scraps. If only big cities run everything, will anyone notice we’re here? Would anyone care we’re here? I’m not sure anyone cares now, so are rural areas officially obsolete? We don’t even make it into the weather reports.

I don’t blame everyone for wanting to get rid of the Electoral College, but you have to wonder if the place you live would fit into a world where only heavily populated states have a say in what gets done and where. It might make elections simpler, but it wouldn’t make governing better. Doesn’t all of this make you want to blow up the whole government and start over? No matter what you do, somehow, you know it won’t work.

Does the Electoral College need overhauling? Yup. It isn’t a scam. It is, however, a big mess that needs repairing. It was not supposed to be a political football for either party. Like so many other parts of our government, it is being used for purposes for which it was never intended. Kind of like the Senate and maybe, the Supreme Court. And the presidency. Mind you, I don’t have answers. Mostly, I’ve got questions. The only thing I can say for sure is that we have an electoral college and the odds of seeing it removed from the constitution approaches zero on a close order.

Maybe we should use the old “beauty contest” recipe for the next election? Every politician has to have a talent, like they had in Miss America. You know. Make them do a tap dance. Have them sing an aria or play the trombone. Absolutely write an essay about how you intend to fix the world. Definitely include the evening gown contest. Make those old white dudes stagger around on 3-inch heels. We deserve to see that.

I’m okay if they skip the bathing suit contest. I don’t think my heart would survive the experience.



Categories: American history, city, Government, politicians, Politics, Urban Landscape, Voting

Tags: , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. Is the Electoral an Ivy League College?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And therein lies the rub.., and why many people fail to vote. They feel their vote means nothing since, in spite of same, the EC will prevail in the end. I don’t see where there is a real solution to overhauling the EC, as 1. The GOP will find a way to end-run it nullifying any good purpose that may have been intended. In terms of population, our country was a much smaller place, and many of those states, mentioned, were territories. Thank goodness it is only effective for national elections where popular vote is, definitely, seriously needed. It doesn’t mean that, only, the big states will control national issues, but the majority of the nation’s population no matter where they are. You can’t tell folks where to live, but you can make their votes count.

    Like

    • Make no mistake — the Dems have worked over the EC too. It has swung both ways over the years. Recently it has been the GOP, but in my mother’s lifetime, it was the FDR Democrats.

      But essentially, we need MORE voters everywhere to make this a meaningful and fair race and I don’t want to hear any more crap about how it “isn’t worth it.” If Trump hasn’t proved that it most assuredly it IS worth it, I give up. If we don’t vote, we are doomed.

      Moreover, had HC listened to her OWN people, she COULD have won. She made the lethal decision to not bother to go to any state she thought was “in the bag,” blowing the one and only rule of politics: ask voters to vote for you. That’s the bottom line. All the places she DIDN’T go? She lost. Had she given them a visit — and everyone warned her that she really needed to go there including Obama and Bill — the husband — and she refused to listen.

      Trump didn’t ONLY win. HILLARY lost.

      Worse, had more people voted and had she listened and been just a little less snooty and overly sure of who was going to vote for her, she could personally have averted this catastrophe.

      Like

  3. Okay. I stand corrected. I actually forgot that a lot of it had to do with preserving the power of the south and its slaves. But it IS a leveling device and I don’t think it was ever supposed to be “democratic.” In fact, it’s pretty much anti-democratic in concept and in reality.

    I did not remember (probably because I haven’t been reading American history lately — I’ve been heavily into Medieval England recently) that the EC was a way to balance out the essential unfairness of the slave-owning south and the industrial north. It does give small population states at least a piece of the action, sort of like the Senate (okay, not THIS Senate but in theory the Senate) is supposed to do by giving each state TWO senators no matter what their population.

    And you are right. Because I really DO know that and the hangovers from slavery are clearly still alive and well in the U.S.A. Living as I do with a brown husband and a wild mix of ethnicities among cousins (we make up quite the diverse family group), I sometimes want very badly to forget that we are not the typical American family — though there really are a lot of us in the cities from DC through Boston … though not so much in rural places. In this town, I’m the ONLY Jew and Garry is the ONLY man of color. Not to mention he is the only person here who ever worked in TV (though we do have our own FBI agent).

    So you are right. But to be fair, I was trying to not make this as long as I can make these pieces. I know my limit for reading on my monitor tops out at about 1000 words. But you are absolutely right and I know better.

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  4. Thank you. You explained that very well! I get how it works now. I tried reading up on it but it didn’t make sense, not until I read this!

    Like

  5. How about requiring the electors in each state to vote, as a group, proportional to the popular vote in their state, rather than winner takes all? If one candidates wins the state 60% to 40% and the state has 10 electoral votes, the candidate who got 60% of the popular vote gets 6 electoral votes, instead of all ten.

    Like

    • I think if you did that and there were third or fourth party candidates most elections would wind up with no one getting s majority and the House of Representatives would chose the president. I think that would be good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anything would be better than the way it works today.

        Like

      • That is very parliamentarian and having lived in a parliamentary government, what this usually means is that no gets the win and everyone has to make deals with other candidates to form a majority. Which can get very ugly. If you think we make compromises, you should see what demeaning mess parliamentary governments go through to create a majority.

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  6. In my opinion, if we went to elect the president by popular vote there would have to be a runoff between the top two candidates. We have tag here in Georgia for all our elected offices. I don’t think winning by a plurality of thirty-five or forty percent is a good system.

    The Senate is similar to the electoral college. Not democratic or fair.

    Changing our system would require a major overhaul of the constitution. The founders made amending the constitution extremely difficult. I don’t see any major changes in the way we run the country.

    I do think there will continue to be complaints and people wanting to change.

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  7. I happen to think you can be too big to the point that no one is listening to the little guys.
    Leslie

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  8. While Sean Munger raises good points, he mistakes the key issue – yes, it WAS about leveling the playing field – regardless of topic.

    I’ve struggled with the issue of whether or not the EC is obsolete, having moved from suburban Wakefield, MA, to very urban Silicon Valley, CA, and have to agree with Marilyn that it’s still very relevant to otherwise marginalized voters.

    What really bothers me on this topic is that otherwise interesting and strong Candidates for 2020 also want to banish the electoral college. And no one has a string reason why, except to point to their dislike of the last election results and its orange toddler “winner”.

    While we no longer have an election system plagued by the limits of 1787 – wide distances to cross when tallying election results manually, which took weeks – we do have an electoral system largely limited to two overblown and bloated political parties who no longer appear to respond to the will of any the people.

    Just a reminder, Corporations and their interests are NOT people.

    Because so many people are disinterested in voting (less than 50% turnout and participation is a blow to the value of democracy), and because so many individuals concentrate on how to get voters to feel their vote doesn’t count (and that’s even before the current Russian hacking scandal), we’ve got folks advocation for sedition as a way to make progress.

    Last night’s speech by Individual No 1 left me ill, he had so many dog whistle words in his re-election campaign. “They” vs, “us”; “they tried to take away your dignity and your destiny, but we’ll never let them do that”; I’m still digesting all his rhetoric against his expressed wish to never leave office, and his Greg Stillman-like power to blind the people to his innate corruptness is nauseating.

    I don’t agree that taking away the electoral college is the answer, but I have zero ideas about what might work to unite the country against a rabble-rousing hate-monger. Certainly Biden and a bunch of geriatric has-beens aren’t working as any kind of answer to our incumbent demi-god’s challenges.

    Just color me worried, Marilyn. It serves no purpose, but that’s where I’ve lived for the last 3-4 years, and it’s not boding well for reasonable solution sourcing.

    Like

    • I’m not seeing an answer either … not even the germ of an idea and that’s more than a little scary. I usually have some idea of something that might work, even if no one is ever going to do it. I’m not sure that our government is salvageable unless suddenly, most Americans decide they should vote and there’s someone worthy of their vote. I’m not overwhelmed by our potential candidates, but I think some of them have potential. I’m not a big Sanders fan, but I wasn’t last time around either. I’m very fond of Elizabeth Warren, but I don’t think she stands any chance of winning because she’s another one of those intelligent, collegiate northerners who the rest of the country love to hate.

      I don’t know what could work. Getting rid of PACs and getting corporate money out of politics — neither of which is going to happen because all the candidates are on the dole. Making the election cycle much shorter. New parties that really ARE different, more human and less corporate. But I don’t know.

      All I know for sure is that I hate what is going on and I feel betrayed.

      Like

  9. I can’t discuss the Electoral College but I understand the problem of the states that have megacities with big populations dominating the smaller ones because we have that here too. I guess most countries have that problem to some extent. It’s probably not as extreme here but it is an issue.

    Like

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