Election of popular vote loser proves necessity of abolishing Electoral College
For the second time in just 16 years, the new President is actually the loser of the national popular vote (click on “Popular Vote”). This is the fifth time this has happened in U.S. history; the last time it happened prior to 2000 was in 1888. As children, we were all taught to believe in democracy and majority (or as we later learned, sometimes just plurality) rule. But with the way that rural and low-population states are overrepresented in the Senate and, hence, the Electoral College, the United States has persistent problems in achieving democratic outcomes in presidential elections and in passing legislation (the overrepresentation of small states in the Senate is amplified by the use of the filibuster).
As I write this (Nov. 9 at 3:53 EST), Hillary Clinton presently has a 219,000 vote lead, according to CNN (see link above). Yet she has lost the Presidency because low-population states are overrepresented in the Electoral College. How do we avoid such affronts to democracy in the future?
The best, and most straightforward way to do this would be to abolish the Electoral College entirely. This would make it impossible to repeat this travesty again.However, the Amendment process is a difficult one, requiring 2/3 majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, and approval by 3/4 of the states.
There is an alternative, though it might not be permanent. This is called the National Popular Vote bill, which would take the form of an interstate compact that would come into effect when it was ratified by states wielding at least 270 electoral votes. The concept behind the bill is simple: The states which are members of the compact pledge to award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote (50 states plus the District of Columbia), rather than the winner of the popular vote in their own state. This would ensure that the popular vote winner also won the Electoral College. However, this solution might not be permanent, if one or more of the signees passed legislation withdrawing from the compact.
At present, states comprising 61% of the needed 270 electoral votes have signed on to the agreement. This is made up of ten states plus the District of Columbia, with 165 electoral votes. A quick glance at the list shows the biggest potential problem: Every one of them voted for Secretary Clinton last night (although it should be noted that the Republican-majority New York State Senate voted in favor of the bill 57-4). Although there is some bipartisan support for the bill, Republicans in other states could decide that keeping the Electoral College is a partisan advantage, making it impossible to get enough states to sign on.
And yet, one of these (or something with equivalent effect) solutions is needed. American democracy is being degraded by our inability to elect as President the candidate with the most votes. It has now happened in two of the last five Presidential elections, and continues to be a threat for the foreseeable future.
Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.
As obvious a solution as the popular vote bill is, it will never pass.
To do so will require small states to give up their power.
Not gonna happen.
Just like the idea that two senators a state is the most undemocratic thing in our system and needs to be changed will never happen.
It is written in Constitutional stone.
Stick with the Electoral College. Judge Posner 7th District had stated good reasons to keep it.
I’m not sure that more direct election is what is needed for this country’s political health. I can’t say that any of the steps towards popular suffrage were individually bad, but maybe walking back things like direct election of senators would be useful for re-establishing a balance between state and federal controls and removing some of the financial pressures on elected officials. Four year house terms probably also good…
1) Certainty of Outcome
A dispute over the outcome of an Electoral College vote is possible—it happened in 2000—but it’s less likely than a dispute over the popular vote. The reason is that the winning candidate’s share of the Electoral College invariably exceeds his share of the popular vote. In last week’s election, for example, Obama received 61.7 percent of the electoral vote compared to only 51.3 percent of the popular votes cast for him and Romney. (I ignore the scattering of votes not counted for either candidate.) Because almost all states award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, even a very slight plurality in a state creates a landslide electoral-vote victory in that state. A tie in the nationwide electoral vote is possible because the total number of votes—538—is an even number, but it is highly unlikely.*
Of course a tie in the number of popular votes in a national election in which tens of millions of votes are cast is even more unlikely. But if the difference in the popular vote is small, then if the winner of the popular vote were deemed the winner of the presidential election, candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount in any state (plus the District of Columbia) in which they thought the recount would give them more additional votes than their opponent. The lawyers would go to work in state after state to have the votes recounted, and the result would be debilitating uncertainty, delay, and conflict—look at the turmoil that a dispute limited to one state, Florida, engendered in 2000.*
2) Everyone’s President
The Electoral College requires a presidential candidate to have transregional appeal. No region (South, Northeast, etc.) has enough electoral votes to elect a president. So a solid regional favorite, such as Romney was in the South, has no incentive to campaign heavily in those states, for he gains no electoral votes by increasing his plurality in states that he knows he will win. This is a desirable result because a candidate with only regional appeal is unlikely to be a successful president. The residents of the other regions are likely to feel disfranchised—to feel that their votes do not count, that the new president will have no regard for their interests, that he really isn’t their president.
3) Swing States
The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes induces the candidates—as we saw in last week’s election—to focus their campaign efforts on the toss-up states; that follows directly from the candidates’ lack of inducement to campaign in states they are sure to win. Voters in toss-up states are more likely to pay close attention to the campaign—to really listen to the competing candidates—knowing that they are going to decide the election. They are likely to be the most thoughtful voters, on average (and for the further reason that they will have received the most information and attention from the candidates), and the most thoughtful voters should be the ones to decide the election.
4) Big States
The Electoral College restores some of the weight in the political balance that large states (by population) lose by virtue of the mal-apportionment of the Senate decreed in the Constitution. This may seem paradoxical, given that electoral votes are weighted in favor of less populous states. Wyoming, the least populous state, contains only about one-sixth of 1 percent of the U.S. population, but its three electors (of whom two are awarded only because Wyoming has two senators like every other state) give it slightly more than one-half of 1 percent of total electoral votes. But winner-take-all makes a slight increase in the popular vote have a much bigger electoral-vote payoff in a large state than in a small one. The popular vote was very close in Florida; nevertheless Obama, who won that vote, got 29 electoral votes. A victory by the same margin in Wyoming would net the winner only 3 electoral votes. So, other things being equal, a large state gets more attention from presidential candidates in a campaign than a small states does. And since presidents and senators are often presidential candidates, large states are likely to get additional consideration in appropriations and appointments from presidents and senators before as well as during campaigns, offsetting to some extent the effects of the malapportioned Senate on the political influence of less populous states.
5) Avoid Run-Off Elections
The Electoral College avoids the problem of elections in which no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. For example, Nixon in 1968 and Clinton in 1992 both had only a 43 percent plurality of the popular votes, while winning a majority in the Electoral College (301 and 370 electoral votes, respectively). There is pressure for run-off elections when no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast; that pressure, which would greatly complicate the presidential election process, is reduced by the Electoral College, which invariably produces a clear winner.
Against these reasons to retain the Electoral College the argument that it is undemocratic falls flat. No form of representative democracy, as distinct from direct democracy, is or aspires to be perfectly democratic. Certainly not our federal government. In the entire executive and judicial branches, only two officials are elected—the president and vice president. All the rest are appointed—federal Article III judges for life.
It can be argued that the Electoral College method of selecting the president may turn off potential voters for a candidate who has no hope of carrying their state—Democrats in Texas, for example, or Republicans in California. Knowing their vote will have no effect, they have less incentive to pay attention to the campaign than they would have if the president were picked by popular vote, for then the state of a voter’s residence would be irrelevant to the weight of his vote. But of course no voter’s vote swings a national election, and in spite of that, about one-half the eligible American population did vote in last week’s election. Voters in presidential elections are people who want to express a political preference rather than people who think that a single vote may decide an election. Even in one-sided states, there are plenty of votes in favor of the candidate who is sure not to carry the state. So I doubt that the Electoral College has much of a turn-off effect. And if it does, that is outweighed by the reasons for retaining this seemingly archaic institution.
Judge Richard Posner 7th District http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2012/11/defending_the_electoral_college.html “Defending the Electoral College”
This is the most coherent statement on the Electoral College I have found to date coming from one of the better COA judges I have read case study on in the past.
Any system that exists that could possibly result in a winner taking 30% of the popular vote is insane.
How many times has it happened like that with popular vote winners losing? You have bigger issues to fix like states gerrymandering districts to send more reps to The House. 5 times in over 200 years: Jackson, Tilden, Cleveland, Gore, and Clinton. As Posner says the balance between smaller states and bigger states in population is the Electoral College.Trump has a plurality on nut jobs in all states.
won the popular vote but lost the election http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/presidential-election-facts
If that is the problem, then you should just add a popular vote threshold as a criteria to the electoral college process, a candidate can only be selected by the electoral college as the president if they have also obtained 40% of the popular vote or something. If not, then it has to be ratified by the senate (for instance).
The whole reason for the Electoral College is for State’s sovereignty and independence…this is a confederation of republics, don’t forget.
The Presidency was never intended by the founders to be left up the masses to decide.. it was the States …i.e. political power of State Legislative bodies, e.g. the ruling class who were to decide by their selection of Electors.
State Senators were as you should recall from knowledge of our history, appointed by State Legislators,
The only federal popular elections were for State representatives to the House. The ruling class was scared to death of populism running the gov’t. The Senators being appointed by the State elites and Electors as well, was by design to prevent populism from re-makng the system into a democratic one in the technical (e.g. popular) sense.
States can at will decide how Electors shall be selected and therefore how they shall be required to vote. All it takes are state legislators to change their rules… and deal with their voters later. They don’t have to use the winner take all Electors votes … Maine and Nebraska use their own system for example..
It wasn’t even until Jackson’s time that most states had reduced the requirement that adult male voters didn’t all have to be landed property owners.. there were still some restrictions on male qualifications to vote however.
And how much longer was it until females got the right to vote? And then for Jim Crow to be over-ridden by the 1964 Civil Rights act.. the first time the feds were give the power to enforce states to comply with voter rights
So the constitution hasn’t been changed yet to take State Sovereignty out of the picture yet and form a “nation of one” .. it’s still a confederation of independent republics.
I mean look at how legislative districts are defined… each state defines their own boundaries for each district. if it were a single nation, the legislative districts would have nothing to do with state boundaries and wouldn’t be defined by state legislators or their designated committees… States would be an anachronism.
Even President-elect Trump called the electoral college “a disaster for democracy.” On that I can heartily agree. His tweet is still there and needs to be RT’d with the hashtag #NoMandate
It elected him though. Lets not screw with something which has worked well for a couple of hundred years. A candidate today must have regional appeal and also a national appeal. He must campaign in other regions to build popularity. Posner stated it well.
Broken record , the candidate I wanted lost so blame the system. Don’t blame her for being so awful she couldn’t beat Donald Trump .
If she won you would be defending the electoral college .
Quite the steaming pile there, K.T.!
Many people in non-swing states just don’t bother voting. Калифорния, in particular, has “open primaries,” and the top two candidates go on to the general election. In many districts, that meant two democrats were running. Why would a republican bother to vote? Many democrats just don’t vote in states such as Wyoming.
So the whole “popular vote” argument is a red herring.
“[It’s] still a confederation of independent republics.”
It stopped being that with the 17th Amendment.
Popular vote would allow 10-12 cities control the whole country’s political make up. Since cities are the current Democratic enclaves, it is normal for Dems to want the popular vote to control the whole country’s political make up.
As I already pointed out the presidential elective process is clearly becoming a rural (producers) versus urban (users), this election emphasized the split. The demonstrations in the Dem enclaves last night is another troubling pattern. The users/Dem enclaves and the several commenters here are coddled and do not understand they are absolutely reliant on those rural producers.
If the rural producers were to stop due to nature/or will for a few months their protests would have meaning, but be extremely short lived.
This election was a reaction to the treatment so often shown these rural (fill in the names so often used here), and was actually a good thing versus them using their actual power, peacefully. And, yes, their active protest too would be short lived.
This class warfare and centralized Govt control so often espoused/practiced by the Dems is a very dangerous game, when the power is and always has resided in the hands of the producers. The group they denigrate, but so desperately want to control.
The claims of Trump being a fascist is as ridiculous as leftist Dems lying about NOT believing in socialist/communist being benign. What else does centralized Govt control entail, and where’s history on its implementation?
There’s no telling what would have happened with the popular vote if those were the rules by which the candidates were campaigning. Trump didn’t spend campaign resources in CA, NY, NJ and Clinton didn’t spend resources in TX, LA, MS, as under the electoral college system it wouldn’t have been rational for them to do so.
This producers v. users theme is amusing. The “producers” in the countryside are, of course, large commercial organizations typically located in urban areas and not the inhabitants of the small towns. Most of the labor in the agricultural segment is immigrant labor and the light industry folds up its tent and moves from town to town as the local advantages appear and disappear or finally shrugs and heads for Mexico or across the Pacific. Maybe that’s not what you mean by “producers”. If not, please explain.
This rural/uban, producer/user thing is as horrifying stupid as MM Climate Change deniers.
JackD claims: ” The “producers” in the countryside are, of course, large commercial organizations typically located in urban areas and not the inhabitants of the small towns.” What a piece of pig tripe. Ignorance, is the only reason why would anyone think that? How many urban groceries advertise about buying locally?
You two epitomize the ignorance of and arrogance against these hard working rural voters. Your party just lost to those voting “producers”, which you ignorantly claim are made up of: ” Most of the labor in the agricultural segment is immigrant labor…”, and their votes are depicted as “horrifying stupid “.
Let me further explain why JackD’s comment: ” Most of the labor in the agricultural segment is immigrant labor…” is ignorant. It’s absolutely true because we are a country of immigrants, so non-immigrant labor is extremely rare. But that is not what Jack meant. He appeared to be thinking rural labor is made up of seasonal/industrial migrants. He also seems to think that most rural businesses are owned and operated by urban corporations.
That is not true of the key producer industry, farming. Most farms are still family owned and operated. Even large industry’s factories are supplied by a myriad of small independent suppliers/producers. Look at the auto industry.
What I think has Jack confused is that much of the processing and market industries are large corporation owned, but still supplied by local labor. Good examples are the seafood, meat, and farming industries, where the raw products are family owned locally produced, and MAY be processed closer to their urban markets by larg(er) corporations. Think in terms of the dairy and lumber industries.
Both Jack and especially EM showed arrogance and ridiculed huge swaths of the rural populace. Those are the folks that swung this election.
You misunderstand. I am not ridiculing the rural population. I am disputing that it controls production. Agribusiness, in general is controlled by large corporations. Family farms do not control the majority of agriculture. They have been selling out to large consolidators for many decades and the ones that remain frequently despair of their children leaving and being uninterested in farming.
I do not dispute that the rural white vote decided this election. It did so by having large numbers of rural voters turn out when they usually do not and by Democratic voters, particularly in swing states have have low turnouts.
Nor do I dispute that the concerns of rural white voters, insofar as they are not sheer bigotry, need to be addressed. How to do that is open to debate. It is highly unlikely that their exploitation by their employers, as I described above, is going to stop, particularly as long as states and communities continue to cannibalize each others’ potential sources of jobs.
Jack, please do just a little research: “Family Farms are the Focus of New Agriculture Census Data
97 Percent of All U.S. Farms are Family-Owned, USDA Reports
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2015 –…” http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdamediafb?contentid=2015/03/0066.xml&printable=true
USDA’s — 97% does not support your contention ” Family farms do not control the majority of agriculture. ” Perhaps your confusion is from reports that confuse the terms, as you did on immigrants, of the changing tax structure of family farms: ” Even though 90 percent of all farms are still owned by families or individuals, more and more farms are becoming “corporations.”” https://realtruth.org/articles/100607-006-family.html Agribusinesses. Indeed much consolidation of small to larger farms has been going on for generations.
I called your contention ignorant because you continue to claim: ” I am disputing that it family owned farms) controls production. ” If not those family owned farm businesses who produces most agricultural products?
Large corporations exist on the middle and back ends of the agriculture supply chains. Where do processors, corporate meat packers, sea food processors, etc get those products to supply to you folks in the urban-center “user” set?
As you point out, those large consolidated farms have become corporations, privately held but corporations and very substantial ones nonetheless. Many very large corporations of all kinds are privately held and family owned. So, as you assert, family farms persist but those are not the farms traditionally called family farms.
As to your larger point, the assertion that only the farms are producers, I am sure that you are aware of the interdependence of farms and industrial interests. They do not manufacture their own equipment, agricultural research, the consumer goods and luxury goods they want and need nor most of the chemicals they use nor do they produce their own customers without whom they would have noone to sell to and the general amenities of developed civilzations. I think your economic weapon argument falls quite flat.
– “88 percent of all U.S. farms are small family farms” providing “58 percent of all direct farm sales to consumers (again small family farms).
– “64 percent of all vegetable sales and 66 percent of all dairy sales come from the 3 percent of farms that are large or very large family farms.”
– “18 percent of principal operators on family farms in the U.S. started within the last 10 years.”
http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdamediafb?contentid=2015/03/0066.xml&printable=true also . . .
“97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations.”
here is an example of large industry driving out small farmers or ranchers. “the meatpacking industry is controlled by 4 majors having >80% of the business. Meat Packers could demand lower prices per pound to provide to Walmart, etc. A small ranch of 20 to 49 head may have a cost of ~$1600/head as compared to ranch of 500 or more with a cost of ~$400/head. The larger the ranch and herd is, the more the spread of Labor and infrastructure cost.” http://angrybearblog.strategydemo.com/2016/03/why-the-refuge-protestors-may-have-been-right.html
If I understand what you are saying Jack, I think you are mostly correct.
JackD now claims: “As to your larger point, the assertion that only the farms are producers,…” Let me try to put this discussion back into context of the article, abolishing Electoral College. Such an action screams only the population centers matter, and their wishes surmount those of the non-population centers. That is a ludicrous position.
This position is popular to the losing Dems because those voters in the non-population centers exercised their muscular voting strength. Abolishing the electoral college, c/would force these producers to exercise their even more muscular supply power to stop/alter elections dominated by the population centers. In one word this proposal sets up conditions for a real revolution. Is that what you folks really want? The actual power resides one only one side.
I ignored your “traditional farm” argument as it doesn’t exist today, but the family farm still does. I also ignored you argument about “… the interdependence of farms and industrial interests.” It too would not matter nor be needed for the period when supply/production was reduced or worse stopped.
oh, well, i defended CoRev’s point about “producers” in an earlier thread, but I need to say i live in the heart of producer country and what i see here is an amazing arrogance and ignorance… i want these people’s needs and wants to be considered. i don’t want them running the country.
nor do i want the inner city politicians running the country.
or wall street and the big banks.
or people who think the electoral college is what loses them elections.
if, let us say, it had been Bernie who was elected by the electoral college while losing the popular vote to big-machine politicians, we would all be big fans of the electoral college, and remember that it was created to help balance urban interests with rural interests, because it was felt that you can’t run a country solely on the opinions of city folk. (and yes I know that’s not quite true… the other reason was that the slave owning south needed something to balance the population advantage of the north, but now that we have gotten rid of slavery, the urban-rural balancing act still remains at least arguably important.
none of which means i want a country run by Trump or CoRev. I’d just like the people on my side to stop shooting at the first thing they see after they lose an election. there are better… at least more probable.. analyses elsewhere on this very blog.
@Warren, Democrats in California also have less incentive to vote when there are two Democratic candidates in the final election. You have not shown that more Republicans stay home than Democrats. There simply are not a lot of Republicans in California, which is why the Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the legislature.
@ m.jed, it would be equally rational for Clinton to have spent more resources in CA, NY, etc., and for Trump to spend in TX, WY, etc. They will both need all the votes they can get everywhere.
@run75441, I don’t find Posner’s argument persuasive. Recounts in multiple states are not going to bring government to a halt. Clinton certainly had transregional appeal, winning 40%, 45% or better in many states she lost. Trump couldn’t even get 1/3 of the vote in California. “Most thoughtful voters” violates one person, one vote. Big states will get even more attention without the Electoral College, as they should under one person, one vote. We’ve never had runoffs for President before; there is no need to do so with the popular vote being decisive.
and maybe we should abolish third parties. after all it was Ralph Nader who lost us the 2000 election wasn’t it?
if it had been another anti-establishment person and not Trump who got the small state votes, then we would thank god for the electoral college
… which is part of the “checks and balances” that makes democracy work.
fortunately no one will notice what we say here, or on Daily Kos, or on all the other mindless knee jerk opinion sources that want to win elections without actually doing the work.
The Ralph nader in 2000 meme is bullshit . This year I’ve already heard enough Stein-Shaming of progressives leading up to this to last me a life time. If Stein had received more votes they would be blaming her this time , the Clinton fans and pundits are as dishonest as their candidate when it comes to blaming everyone else.
it is not at all obvious to me that you understand that i was rejecting the “ralph nader meme” for the same reasons i am rejecting the “electoral college meme.”
the trouble for me in this, is that i find myself on the side of people who can say “the clinton fans are as dishonest as their candidate.”
if you think Trump and his fans are honest you are deceived, and probably deceived at a level beyond redemption and are one of those voters who make the other side desperate to find a “meme” that would defeat you.
trouble is, man does not live by memes alone.
or shouldn’t anyway.
I’m not saying that going forward they would still not spend resources there. What I’m saying is that the rules of engagement were known going into this and all prior elections and thus concluding that the will of the people was somehow violated because the popular vote didn’t align with the EC is concluding facts not in evidence. No one knows what the popular vote outcome would have been if the rules were different.
I think you make a valid point. but i think the more important point, at least as far as the electoral college is concerned, is that it does not matter who wins the “popular” vote. the electoral college was created as a “check and balance” against the popular vote because the founders understood the perils of simple democracy.
we may assume that rural people have a different view of things than city people. a view that may be just as important for running the country, but in any case deserves to be respected out of common decency.
that said, it is also the case that “rural” people are at least as subject to demagoguery as city people… and at a lower price. so while i am willing to consider their views, i wonder if they are willing to consider mine.
i do think the rulers… wherever they come from… do lose track of, and do not care about the effect of their policies on “little” people, but i doubt if they even realize that, since they pay people to tell them the lies that make them feel better even as they fool the people.
and the wonder of it is that after they lie to the people long enough the people will take care of hurting the “other” people, for patriotic reasons.
I completely agree with your view on the EC and agree that your point is more important than mine. That said, like this original post, there have been many pieces in the aftermath of the 2016 election from authors closer to your general political affiliation than mine regarding the archaic and undemocratic nature of the EC, failing to recognize or actively choosing to ignore your point, preferring to use the popular vote totals as their preferred metric in declaring what the people chose.
thanks. like i keep trying to say, i think the more thoughtful of us could figure something out if we stopped yelling at each other.
the tough part might be how much taxes and regulation does a country need. i am probably closer to you on that than you think, unless your answer is “none, never, no way.”