A National Popular Vote Amendment


gabriel conroy

Gabriel Conroy [pseudonym] is an ex-graduate student. He is happily married with no children and has about a million nieces and nephews. The views expressed by Gabriel are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his spouse or employer.

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183 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:


    I think this is much ado about nothing. EC reform always comes up after a close races and the EC going one way and the popular vote another. Then it dies down. If this had come up during the boring years, I’d give it more credence. But of course, no one would be paying much attention to it then would they.

    Regardless, I’ll take the position of “no, what we have is good enough”. If only because it’s another poke in the eye to the loosing side, which richly deserves it for their smug self assurance that they were the anointed ones.Report

    • I mostly agree with the “what we have is good enough,” if only because it takes too much effort for what is likely to have minimal effect. It would be a big mistake for the Dem’s to keep saying, “but we won the popular vote!” especially because they (and I) would have been happy if Clinton had won the EC but lost the popular vote.

      Still, if there is going to be a reform, I imagine it would work along lines similar to what I’ve argued for here. In short, I’d vote for it, but I wouldn’t campaign for it.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        But as you say, it doesn’t entirely solve the problem. Nor have I seen a good case for why this is a problem in need of fixing.Report

        • Well, it does create a role for a national popular vote. If that is indeed the problem–or “a” problem–then this amendment solves it. In a way. I guess I do think the absence of a role for the popular national vote is a problem in itself in addition to (actually, I believe instead of) the other “problem” of not having presidents elected wholly by popular vote. I’m resistant to that idea.

          On the other hand, I agree with you that the problem as I conceive it is different from the problem as others here and in the US conceive it. Under most of the schemes I list above for selecting the “at large” delegates, Clinton would have still lost the election.

          I also agree with you that if it is a “problem,” it’s not necessarily one that needs fixing, or that needs the time and effort necessary to fix it.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

          Depending on how you define “problem” I suppose you could pick the president by having the Supreme Court or the top military brass simply appoint a citizen President without causing a problem. That’s sort of a philosophical question.

          I’m more curious about the problem the EC is “supposed” to solve and how well it appears to solve it. Because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t appear to solve the problems people claim to think it’s there to solve. So we’ve eschewed using the simple solution in favor of a more complex mechanism, but it’s not clear what it gets us.Report

          • Avatar Dan says:

            Well, it was designed to protect slavery, and until the election of 1860 it fulfilled its mission quite well.

            Since then it is simply a relic and creates all the wrong incentives for states.

            For example, I live in New York, a reliably blue state. We have 29 electoral votes. We have a winner-take-all scheme for awarding them, just like most states. If one and only one person voted in NY state in 2016, one of the candidates was still going to get the full 29 electoral votes. This could happen every four years. Thus there is no incentive for NY state to take any steps to make voting easier. And indeed we are one of the worst in terms of registration; we have no early voting; and since we are blue-ish on the state level also, no one cares.

            Another stupid effect of the EC is that non-swing states are ignored. As much as I love not dealing with 18 months of campaigning, honestly neither candidate ever gives a damn about NY. The dem can always be sure we will support them, so they owe us nothing. The repub always can be sure we will not support them, so we’re not worth wooing. Contrast that with, say, Florida.

            Now in a simple popular vote system (completely eliminating the EC) every single voter in every single state counts. Every local interest counts. No one counts more than anyone else.

            I predict that if there were a national popular vote, voting would immediately become a holiday in a lot of states. Registration would be easy. All kinds of easy mechanisms for voting would be created.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw says:

              “Well, it was designed to protect slavery, and until the election of 1860 it fulfilled its mission quite well.”

              No, it was not. That’s a vile interpretation perpetrated by Justice Taney and his ilk. Slavery was accommodated in its then-present status and limited, with the expectation that it would die out.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                and then the Louisiana Purchase happened and the cotton gin was invented and the original intent of (some of) the Founding Fathers was overtaken by circumstances.

                (I also think that you’re overstating your case. The slave states wanted a weak federal government and they wanted control of it. The Electoral College system coupled with the 3/5ths rule were critical components of the structure of the Constitution for the slave states.)Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw says:

                There is nothing about the electoral college system that was designed to protect slavery. In particular, it was the small states that consistently sought greater representation of state interests, as opposed to popular voting. The small states, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland, were concerned with state equality. The large states, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts supported popular sovereignty. They did not vote on the basis of degree of slaveholding because the Constitution did not authorize the national government to impede slavery within states that authorize it.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                That’s not correct historically.

                The EC is sort of a three-step thing: The elite of the 1780s didn’t want direct popular voting nor did they think it was practical in what was, even then, a gigantic country. So step one was deciding that the president would be chosen by some indirect process.

                Step two is weighting that presidential vote based on the combined representation of Congress (Senators plus reps).

                Step three is, those congressional reps are based on slavery (the 3/5ths clause).

                And that’s how the EC produced a pro-slavery government, more or less, until 1860. The (free) population of the north quickly became much larger than the (free) population of the middle and deep south. it wasn’t magic that nevertheless gave us pro-slavery government. it was designed that way.

                Again, bottom line, there’s no justification for it today and a direct, popular vote is fair and feasible.

                “popular sovreignity” has nothing to do with this issue. That’s a term that refers to the 1850s notion that residents of a territory should be able to vote on whether they’d allow slavery,Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                We had a pro slavery government until 1860 because the leadership of all the poltical parties that were arrayed against the Jefferson-Jackson continuum from 1796 to 1856 were objectively terrible, and one of those parties was an incoherent mess of ideological contradictions, the morality of slavery included.

                Edit- and on the flip side, an actual ‘pro slavery’ government doesn’t pass the Northwest Ordinance as written.Report

              • Avatar gregiank says:

                Well slavery was a contentious issue that the pols sought to avoid dealing with at all costs. Hence the compromises. They had no way of squaring the circle so they kicked the can down the road until it exploded on them. The slave states were intent on growing and felt that if they didn’t they would be crushed.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                The Northwest Ordinance passed before the Constitution was written.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw says:

                You said the electoral college system was “designed to protect slavery,” which is demonstrably false just from looking at how states voted on the various plans. States voted on the various plans without any relationship to the percentage of the population enslaved. South Carolina and Virginia, the two states with the largest slave populations, agreed on little.

                If you are saying the effect of this was pro-slavery, it depends:

                1) I don’t see how the indirect process entailed by the electoral college matters at all.

                2) Including Senate seats in apportioning electoral votes has only mattered in a few elections. If electoral votes were apportioned simply by seats in the House:

                1796 Jefferson defeats Adams
                1876 Samuel Tilden defeats Rutherford Hayes
                1916 Charles Hughes defeats Woodrow Wilson
                2000 Gore defeats Bush

                Recalculating the Electoral College

                Jefferson defeating Adams a term earlier is probably a pretty significant change, but its hard to construe that as something which would have weakened the slave power.

                3) I think its fostering an anachronism to ignore the original purpose of the 3/5ths clause as resolving taxation issues, but it would certainly make a difference if slaves were treated as property and not counted for apportionment purposes. But that would be accepting the pro-slavery argument and creating a federal right of property in slaves that the Founders rejected. What is your preferred number for how slaves are counted?Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                I think the slaveowning motherfuckers should have been taken seriously. They claimed slaves were property. Fine, then they should have counted for nothing in apportioning representation.

                This would do nothing to create a federal right to own slaves.

                However, it would have been a terrific incentive to end slavery, because then the reapportionment would increase.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                Yes and No. You are right that there was an expectation that slavery was going to die out on its own in 1789. Certainly the trend looked right – the northern states were in the process of ending it already, and there was no obvious reason why that would not gradually continue in the south.

                As Francis said below, everything changed around 1800, with new land available, the cotton gin, etc. I am absolutely convinced that slavery was MORE entrenched in 1860 than in 1800 and the folks who think slavery would still have ended gradually are wrong (not that you made this claim).

                However, if you really believe there is no connection between slavery and how we elect presidents, why do you think the 3/5ths clause existed and why did we ever have an EC? There’s no other logical explanation.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw says:

                I do not understand what connection you think there is between slavery and how Presidents are elected. We have various plans, speeches and voting patterns from the Convention that repeatedly show large vs. small state disputes.

                The 3/5ths clause originally derived from the American Revolution, when the colonies agreed to provide requisitions to the Continental Army in proportion to their population, with slaves counting as three-fifths of a person. The treatment of slaves for taxing purposes continued as a hotly debated issue under the Articles of Confederation, with large slave-holding states arguing that slaves are property that should be exempt from a head count and the others arguing that they are fully persons. Required unanimity was not reached, but most states agreed with a three-fifths compromise, with New York and New Hampshire rejecting it in preference for a full head count.

                The 3/5ths formula was introduced at the Constitutional Convention by Morris of Pennsylvania with the proviso that the federal formula would be applied to be both direct taxation and allocating popular votes to the states. Proved fairly uncontroversial given what had already been argued. People who had argued that slaves are people, not property, were not persuasively going to argue in another context that they are property, not people. The Constitution does not recognize a federal property right in slavery.

                In any event, the 3/5ths clause is history and doesn’t have anything to do with electoral college reform.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                So you think it was accidental that most presidents before 1860 were slave owners?

                1793: Southern slave states had 47 of the 105 members of the House but should have had 33, had seats been assigned solely on “free” population.

                1812: Slave states had 76 out of 143 instead of 59 they were entitled to.

                1833: 98 out of 240 instead of 73.

                Recall these numbers drive the weighting of the EC. If you lived in a free state in those days would you feel your vote was less important than those in slave states? Because you’d be correct. Just as today when a citizen in California has about one-third the EC power as a voter in Wyoming.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Dan: So you think it was accidental that most presidents before 1860 were slave owners?

                Most of the Presidents before 1860 were rich, and how you got rich before the industrial revolution, was to own the means of production in agriculture, where in the first half of the 19th century, the labor was either tenant farmers (e.g. France), peasants (e.g. Russia), or slaves (e.g. the US)Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                Nonsense, New York, Philadelphia and Boston were full of rich merchants. And those were three very populous states even back then.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Yeah, like anyone would ever elect as President some guy from New York who got rich wheeling and dealing.Report

      • Avatar Lyle says:

        Of course the Dems said this with respect to the Supreme Court decision in 2000 also. That Gore lost in the supreme court. Went away in 2004.Report

        • Avatar oldgulph says:

          The National Popular Vote bill was approved this year by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
          Since 2006, the bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, Democratic, Republican and purple states with 261 electoral votes, including one house in Arizona (11), Arkansas (6), Maine (4), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Mexico (5), North Carolina (15), and Oklahoma (7), and both houses in Colorado (9).
          The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most national popular votes and majority of Electoral College votes.


    • Avatar Mo says:

      Just because something only comes up when flaws in a system become apparent does not mean that the issue is not legitimate. Frequently, that’s the only time issues get discussed because when things work out ok, there’s nothing spurring a change in the status quo. The decision-making process at NASA didn’t come under tight scrutiny until after the Challenger disaster, does that mean that it wasn’t worth looking at because it only came up after a failure in the system?Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        “Just because something only comes up when flaws in a system become apparent does not mean that the issue is not legitimate.”

        True. I’d have a lot more confidence in the motives of the people who are proponents of changes if they were not on the recent loosing side, because it’s usually the loosing guy who starts whining about how things need to get fixed..and that fix usually would have resulted in their guy winning if it had been effect in the last election.Report

        • Avatar Dan says:

          Good sentiment but, it is an obvious logical fallacy for anyone to claim that a change in the system would have resulted in their candidate winning. Even the child-idiot Trump knew this when he said that, had the election been a direct popular-vote contest, both candidates would have run different campaigns.

          No one can know how that would have played out.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            One thing I’m really curious about is how much “campaigning” actually affects the outcome of the election at all. Absent the ability to do real side-by-side tests, we’ll never know, but I can’t help but wonder whether how much campaign money is just wasted on what amounts to superstitious belief about things that win elections.Report

            • Avatar Dan says:

              At the local level, campaigning matters a lot.

              At the national level, we just had a great experiment that proved that ….well, something……I suspect political wonks will be thinking this one over for a while.Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

                Right. At the local level, it’s 90% name recognition. In a local election, it’s possible for 100% of what people hear about you to be derived from campaign materials. For people like Trump and Clinton, it seems like media coverage and general buzz is really important, but yard signs and TV ads might not have any meaningful effect at all.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            “No one can know how that would have played out.”

            No they can’t, but people don’t usually advocate for something that doesn’t give them an advantage. And since the “reform the ec” always comes up on those rare times when it deviates from the popular vote, I’m pretty cool with doing nothing…..it’s already pretty rare…folks can just deal.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko says:

              How frequently would the EC have to diverge from the popular vote for you to consider it a problem?Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                Just once when it goes against his preferred candidateReport

              • Avatar Damon says:

                @j_a @don-zeko

                “Just once when it goes against his preferred candidate” Well, if by “preferred” you mean disliked less, then I guess I “preferred” Trump, but I didn’t vote for him so that’s not really relevant.

                “How frequently would the EC have to diverge from the popular vote for you to consider it a problem?” Some quick googling says that this has happened FOUR times, twice in this century. That’s 4 times over 43 Presidents. That’s 9%. CLEARLY this is a crisis! So how many? How about we talk about it again when it hits 1/3?Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                For something as important as electing a president a 9% failure rate is downright awful.

                Also its happened 2 of the last 5 times, suggesting modern American political conditions are particularly vulnerable to this flaw.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:


                Given the similarity of the presidents policies in the 20th century I’m not sure it’s mattered much. And that 2 in 5 could just be a statistical fluke. Let’s give it another 50 years and see. I’ll be conveniently dead so I’ll give even less of a damn then.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Heaven forbid that we give a damn how our country is governed.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                If you think the country is a car speeding off a cliff and your choices are 1) keep the same speed and no change in direction or 2) speed up and don’t change direction, you might just decide to just enjoy the ride and focus on other things.Report

        • Avatar oldgulph says:

          Newt Gingrich summarized his support for the National Popular Vote bill by saying: “No one should become president of the United States without speaking to the needs and hopes of Americans in all 50 states. … America would be better served with a presidential election process that treated citizens across the country equally. The National Popular Vote bill accomplishes this in a manner consistent with the Constitution and with our fundamental democratic principles.”

          Trump, November 13, 2016, 60 Minutes
          “ I would rather see it, where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes, and somebody else gets 90 million votes, and you win. There’s a reason for doing this. Because it brings all the states into play.”

          In 2012, the night Mitt Romney lost, Donald Trump tweeted.
          “The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. . . . The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”

          Recent and past presidential candidates who supported direct election of the President in the form of a constitutional amendment, before the National Popular Vote bill was introduced: George H.W. Bush (R-TX-1969), Jimmy Carter (D-GA-1977), Hillary Clinton (D-NY-2001), Bob Dole (R-KS-1969), Michael Dukakis (D-MA), Gerald Ford (R-MI-1969), and Richard Nixon (R-CA-1969).

          Recent and past presidential candidates with a public record of support, before November 2016, for the National Popular Vote bill that would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate with the most national popular votes: Congressmen John Anderson (R, I –ILL), and Bob Barr (Libertarian- GA), Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN), Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee (R-I-D, -RI), Governor and former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean (D–VT), U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R–GA), Senator and Vice President Al Gore (D-TN), Ralph Nader, Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD), Jill Stein (Green), Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Senator Fred Thompson (R–TN).Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      If only because it’s another poke in the eye to the loosing side, which richly deserves it for their smug self assurance that they were the anointed ones.

      I’d argue that while it’s getting more popular every election cycle, spite-driven policy is probably not the best way to run a country with the world’s reserve currency and largest collection of nuclear weapons.Report

      • Avatar Brent F says:

        I’m sympathetic to the argument that the Clinton camp deserved what they got due to hubris and stupidity.

        I’m unsympathetic that the people who voted for Clinton deserved what they got. They are legitmately the majority vote and the electoral college has always been a broken and stupid system. The principles invoked in its favour are generally specious and poorly thought out and the American electorate deserves better.Report

        • Avatar Dan says:

          Golly, Trump’s lead in the three closest states is down below 80,000 now.Report

        • Avatar Koz says:

          Why are you not sympathetic? It seems to me that the Clinton voters were substantially motivated against the cultural integration of the United States and Trump supporters specifically.

          You can say what you’d like about the EC, it seems to me that this particular election is the strongest argument in favor of it.Report

          • Avatar Don Zeko says:

            So the argument for the EC is that Trump is good, Clinton is bad, and it allowed Trump to win? Is there a better argument here that I’m not getting?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              This isn’t Koz point, but it seems relevant that Trump spent the last week of the general campaigning in rustbelt states (Clinton didn’t) and that he didn’t campaign in Cali and the left coast generally (since ECwise those were outa reach).

              I happen to agree with Trump that if the P were PV and not EC he would C’d in more states than he did. And likely still woulda won. (Since H didn’t C in the RB.)

              Add: Well, “woulda won” is too strong. The scenario is so counterfactual that strong intuitions escape me.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Given how little Clinton’s vaunted ground game advantage accomplished in the end, I don’t see any reason to be confident that changing the location of Trump’s campaign stops would have been enough to overcome a 2.5+ million vote margin. I’d maybe buy the argument if this were a Bush v. Gore margin, but 2.5 million is a lot of votes.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That’s a fair assessment. Trump obvs knew that the Trumpbelt was in play to a much greater extent than HRC’s campaign did. Given that – which may be something we shouldn’t give – it seems to me Trump had a better sense of the mood of the electorate than Hillary did, which suggests to me that in a PV election he woulda changed his tactics. Maybe not enough to overcome 2 million votes tho. It’s hard to say.

                Add: I should say that I actually don’t have any problem with the EC. Or at least any problems sufficient to get rid of it. (Maybe switch to proportionality if states want that?)Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              No. It’s just pushback against the idea that we should be engineering the algorithm for who gets to be President being something that would have selected Hillary. It seems to be that motivation is just wrong root and branch.

              Leaving aside Hillary and The Donald, but just simply based on the design of the United States and the motivations of the respective groups of voters (and of course the actual results of the election) we should be rooting for a Trump win from a process point of view.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That last point I get. Totally. (Unless the Wisc recount shows shenanigans. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Of course people are paying attention to the EC right after it produced an outcome they don’t like; that’s how any push to make any procedural change ever happens. Seems to me there’s a pretty powerful argument that an EC-PV split is bad: we live in a democratic society that is mostly organized around the idea that the people that get the most votes should win elections. We make one person, one vote a constitutionally enshrined principle with regard to state and congressional elections; so the EC and the Senate are outliers. They need some compelling justification for why we depart from our general principles.

                So as I see it, Clinton got a lot more votes. She got a bigger margin than many presidents that won without complaint, and yet she’s not going to be President. Why is this fair? What purpose does this serve? And why on earth should there be a presumption that a process that seats Trump, who got 2.5+ million fewer votes, is a good one? I just don’t understand what principle you are appealing to.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Seems to me there’s a pretty powerful argument that an EC-PV split is bad:…..

                I don’t see any legitimate argument for this at all.

                The United States are well, the United States, and there’s no way the design of which is compatible with the President as the national popular vote winner.

                And besides which, there’s a bunch of prudential and logistical arguments against that which are typically ignored by those who advance your argument.Report

              • Imagine how much she’d have won by if the GOP hadn’t been doing its best to suppress her voters.Report

        • Avatar oldgulph says:

          , The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

          All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.


      • Avatar Damon says:

        ” best way to run a country with the world’s reserve currency and largest collection of nuclear weapons.”

        I’m willing to change these facts.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Regardless, I’ll take the position of “no, what we have is good enough”. If only because it’s another poke in the eye to the loosing side, which richly deserves it for their smug self assurance that they were the anointed ones.

      This is a very strange way to make decisions. It’s comparable to sitting down in a restaurant and when the waiter asks for you order you look around, find the person you dislike the most and say, “I’ll have whatever he really hates.”

      It’s an absurd way to make a dinner order and an even more absurd way to make political/policy decisions.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        You live your life how you want. I’ll do the same.Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          Exactly. You are free to make decisions in any manner that you please and I am free to criticize poor decision-making heuristics.

          I don’t expect to change your mind, but pointing it out may sway others.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Yeah..good luck with that.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal says:

            I’m probably with you on the decision making herestics.

            Looking at this in narrower terms, I’m ok with a eye poke to one of the two factions trying to make their social construct the dominate for four years. That policy just wouldn’t rub me the wrong way.

            I think this is somewhat of a nothingburger as they say in these parts. It is a rare occurrence. What I would say is low voter turnout could be a problem. How are we even calling this thing legitimate government where nearly half the people aren’t engaged? What does that say about the system? Does it fit the population when nearly half doesn’t use it on a repeated basis?Report

    • Avatar oldgulph says:

      In Gallup polls since they started asking in 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 (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states) (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).

      Support for a national popular vote for President is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in every state surveyed recently. In the 41 red, blue, and purple states surveyed, overall support has been in the 67-81% range – in rural states, in small states, in Southern and border states, in big states, and in other states polled.

      Most Americans don’t ultimately care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that no matter where they live, even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it is wrong that the candidate with the most popular votes can lose. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

      There have been hundreds of unsuccessful proposed amendments to modify or abolish the Electoral College – more than any other subject of Constitutional reform.
      To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population.

      Instead, pragmatically, he National Popular Vote bill was approved this year by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
      Since 2006, the bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, Democratic, Republican and purple states with 261 electoral votes, including one house in Arizona (11), Arkansas (6), Maine (4), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Mexico (5), North Carolina (15), and Oklahoma (7), and both houses in Colorado (9).
      The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most national popular votes and majority of Electoral College votes.


  2. (Note: I reformatted this post slightly, but the content is the same.)Report

  3. Avatar J_A says:

    But one of my priors is that when we’re talking about structural reforms, single-point reforms, like adding a popular vote element to the existing system, is better than an overhaul, such as eliminating the EC and starting from scratch.

    Without getting into the proposal, I just want to point out that the easiest single point reform is not something that complicates the EC. The simplest single-point reform is eliminate the Electoral College and count every vote in the nation the same.Report

    • Hmmmmmm…..maybe? My first response was to say that abolishing the EC and replacing it with a national popular vote is a two-point reform because we’d not only have to abolish the EC but also create some sort of way to count popular votes nationally (would it be run by the feds or by the states? who certifies the results?).

      My second response is to say, well, we’d have to take similar things into consideration for selecting the “at large” electors.

      Maybe I shouldn’t focus so much on “single point reform” versus “more complicated overhaul” and focus more on how radical the reform itself is. (I.e., radical in the sense of how much it’s a departure from what we have, not in the sense of it being necessarily good or bad, although I really do believe that a straight up national vote in the US will bring bad complications that we haven’t foreseen yet, or that I haven’t foreseen….maybe others have.)Report

    • Avatar Dan says:

      Exactly. That’s both the Right Thing To Do and a simple, fair proposal that people can rally behind.Report

      • I actually have reservations about a straight up popular vote for president. I seem to be in the minority, but I’m just nervous about what type of people we’d elect and what type of candidates we’d get. That’s probably an unconvincing point to make now, of all times, but I’m scared of the unknowns.

        As for whether people can or will actually rally behind it, maybe “people” will, but not in a way that will encourage 2/3 of each house of Congress to vote the amendment or 3/4 of the state legislators to adopt it.Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko says:

          In what way does the EC encourage better candidates than a hypothetical popular vote would?Report

          • To answer your question directly (“in what way….”), one of my guesses is it would have to do with the process for getting on the ballot. Would it be a national ballot or would one still have to get on each state’s ballot or would there be some national ballot? Another guess is that voters’ calculations–on who to vote for or whether to vote at all–would be different.

            I admit that neither of those means that the person selected would necessarily be worse on average than whom the EC selects, and of course 2016 demonstrates the EC can make a very poor selection indeed. But I’m just uncertain enough about what would happen with an NPV, that I prefer the broken system we got to the broken system we don’t, or if we’re going to reform that system, I prefer a broken system much closer to the one we got than a broken system much more different.

            I should add that my trepidation about a straight-up NPV is a mild one. It wouldn’t by itself be the death of the republic. If it ever is proposed, I’d probably vote against it (assuming I be somehow in a position to vote on it), but I wouldn’t spend too much effort campaigning against it.Report

          • Avatar J_A says:

            I agree that @gabriel-conroy ‘s last argument (better candidates) is strange.

            The current fitness test for a candidate is something like “who can win OH, FL, NC, PA and not lose VI and MI?”. That doesn’t make him a better president, nor more attuned to the actual culture of the majority of Americans.Report

    • Avatar oldgulph says:

      There have been hundreds of unsuccessful proposed amendments to modify or abolish the Electoral College – more than any other subject of Constitutional reform.
      To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population.

      Instead, pragmatically, The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

      All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.


  4. (I have to go to work, but I’ll try to read and respond to any further comments this evening.)Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I’m fine with getting rid of electoral college. Since it looks like, at this point, It Has One Job, and it’s going to fail at that, I’m actively in favor of getting rid of it.

    I’m agnostic on most replacements, except I’m absolutely set against just a straight up FPTP single round popular vote. The only other big population country that does that as far as I can tell is Mexico, and again, the result has been the Government of Mexico.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      Yeah, if there’s good enough reason to do away with the EC, there’s good enough reason to break the 2-party FPTP stranglehold on the Executive.

      Let’s push all the chips in for direct representative government and see how excited the parties are for that.Report

  6. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Thanks for this, Gabriel. A few thoughts…

    The EC hasn’t functioned as originally intended for quite some time. The original intent was for the EC to be a deliberative body that would be selected and meet (sorta, in each state capital, not in a single mass assembly) to decide one question. Now it’s basically just a weird, roundabout, way of tallying the votes for President. The point here being that it seems to me that the justificatory burden should be on those arguing for the status quo at least as much as those wanting to change.

    President and Vice are the only national level elected offices in our entire governance structure. As such, it only seems natural that they be elected by a national popular vote. Federalism is adequately accounted for via the Senate while more provincial interests are represented in the House. If this kind of exaggerated federalism was really that great of an idea it’s curious that none of the states have adopted a similar scheme to select their governors.

    Back when the 2000 debacleelection was fresh I set up a spreadsheet to explore how the result would have changed under various scenarios for reforming the EC. Basically, I looked at various ways to proportionally allocate the EC votes. FWIW, it rarely changes the outcome.

    But any such analysis is worse than speculative. If you change the system, you necessarily change the way candidates campaign and possibly even how parties select candidates. You’re quickly into “butterfly in China” territory. Let’s say the EC still worked the way it was originally intended. Would Clinton win? I dunno, but I’m pretty certain Trump wouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that some other Republican couldn’t/wouldn’t have. Too many fuzzy variables.

    In the end, any decision to dump or reform the way we select our President should be based on principles of governance rather than seeking or avoiding a particular outcome.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The EC was a compromise solution because the Constitutional Convention could not agree onout how to elect the President. According to a recentSlate article, Madison thought it would result in the Presidential election getting thrown to the House every time.Report

    • I don’t have much to disagree with on your comment, Road Scholar, except I’m a bit less bullish than you seem to be about the natural justness of a national popular vote (if I’m reading you aright). I certainly agree with your last two paragraphs.Report

  7. Avatar J_A says:

    The Electoral College reflects the underlying concept that the States, and not the People, are the constituents and the sovereigns of the USA. As such, the EC is working as intended.

    For a lot of reasons (most good, in my opinion, but my opinion about the states is well known in this forum) we have mostly abandoned this “compact of states” concept, and have become more and more a single country. The EC is, perhaps, just the point where the tension between what the Constitution assumes we are and what we actually became is more visible.

    It would be wise, I think, to align the old Ought with the current Is. But I’m not optimisticReport

    • Avatar Mo says:

      What say do the states have in the EC? The EC as currently constructed as if the People are the constituents, with different weights based on geography.Report

      • Avatar J_A says:

        The states determine ne how the electors are elected.

        There’s no Constitutional requirement -that I can recall- that a state (or fifty) could not say “The Governor decides who this state’s electors will vote for in the EC”.

        The number of electors is a concession towards larger states, because even then it was clear Virginia and Rhode Island weren’t the same,Report

        • Avatar Mo says:

          Just because a state could just say, “The Governor decides who this state’s electors will vote for in the EC,” doesn’t mean that there’s a chance in hell that it would ever happen. I [em]could[/em] be dating a supermodel, but it’s not likely*. So for all intents and purposes the EC is currently constructed as if the People are the constituents.

          * Though I would say that is more likely than a state deciding that the governor decides who gets all of a state’s EVsReport

          • Avatar Dan says:

            The people ARE the constituents, and JA’s statement otherwise is simply incorrect.

            But….until the civil war, South Carolina, for example, had no popular vote at all for presidents. The state government chose the electors. SC was widely considered the least democratic (small ‘d’) in the Union at the time.

            It is no coincidence that SC had the largest proportion of its population held in slavery and was the first to try to secede from the USA.Report

            • I do wonder if a state went back to the old, pre-Civil War SC system if the courts would overturn it. On the one hand, I’d think they wouldn’t because that part of the constitution hasn’t changed and SC did it. On the other hand, times change and court decisions sometimes change with them.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                I don’t know what basis anyone would have for stopping a state from doing that. The Constitution guarantees every state ‘representative form of government’, and a system of appointing electors that did not involve a popular vote would not necessarily violate that idea.Report

              • I certainly couldn’t name what basis, either. But I think it at least a wagerable proposition that a scotus might do so.

                ETA: just to be clear, I admit it would be a stretch and more unlikely than likely. I could just see it happening.Report

        • Avatar Lyle says:

          Actually worked nearly that way until Jackson. The state legislatures elected their electors with no popular voting at all. Only after Jackson did popular election of electors come in (and is still with us today, you are actually voting for electors pledged to the candidates not the candidates today.)Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

        The states choose the electors, so they have all the say.

        If we want to continue to consider ourselves a democracy, we should look into fixes. The electoral college is a vestigial remain of a very different method of selecting a president (each state legislature chooses the electors, and the electors confer and select a president). I see some virtues in this system (it was designed precisely to prevent selection of a president by popular vote in order to prevent a demagogue), but the hybrid system we have now is totally nonsensical.

        Seeing as how two of the three most recent presidents gained office without the benefit of a popular majority, and an (arguable) demagogue managed to achieve office anyway, this is clearly a system that is not working. And the perverse incentives created by this hybrid has resulted in a political system that concentrates all of its resources on seven or eight out of fifty states, meaning that it severely distorts our political conversation (and policies).

        A constitutional amendment to create popular vote elections is not in the cards for the foreseeable future, because one of our two political parties is structurally advantaged by the miscount. There is, however, a extra-constitutional means of achieving the popular vote that is already in the works, and completely achievable: The National Popular Vote bill.

        It is a compact among states to pledge all of their delegates to the winner of the national popular vote. 11 states have already enacted this bill (comprising 165 electoral college votes). If enough states join this pact to constitute an absolute majority of the electoral college (i.e. 105 more electors), we will have achieved a national popular presidential election.

        This is much more achievable than a constitutional amendment, and is easier to unwind, should it not prove to work out well.Report

        • I do wonder what would happen if enough states signed onto the compact and the “wrong” (in some state legislatures’ estimation) candidate won the popular vote. Would we see a quick exit from the compact in time to swing that state’s electoral votes one way or another? That sounds like it wouldn’t fly…..but I could see it happening and being a difficult thing to challenge.

          On the other hand, it would work better than my plan, if the goal is to have a straight up national popular vote. But that’s not my goal, or at least not necessarily my goal.Report

        • Avatar Lyle says:

          It is not clear that you could get 3/4 of the states to ratify an amendment to abolish the electoral college also. If you do the math a vote in WY is worth a lot more in terms of percentage of an electoral vote than a vote in Ca. If you did go for a national popular vote the campaigns would happen in the 10 biggest population states only, and a lot of the rest would be ignored.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            That’s true, but it implies that the EC solves that problem. If the problem we’re trying to solve is, “A minority of states get all the attention,” then the EC doesn’t solve it. It really just moves it to a different set of states. If the problem is that there’s something inherently wrong with the attention going to “big” states instead states randomly chosen by historical and demographic accident, the EC does solve that handily.Report

    • Avatar Dan says:

      But the states are absolutely not the constituents and sovereigns of the USA. That question was put to rest by the SCOTUS post-civil war when they ruled that the constitution is NOT a compact of states and therefore there is no right of secession. The atoms that make up the US are the people, not the states.

      By the way, that’s why the US constitution says “We the people….” not “We the people of the confederate states, each state acting in its sovereign and independent character….” like the slave-rebellion constitution did.

      The EC reflects absolutely nothing except protection for slavery. The rest was a smokescreen. We abolished slavery. Let’s abolish the EC.Report

      • I imagine Dave could have something to say about this and the thought process that went into pre-Civil War sovereignty-thinking. But we could tweak J_A’s point a bit and say regardless of what the intentions were, the practice was, at least pre-Civil War and among some issues, like presidential elections when slavery was hotly contested, to act as if the states were part of a compact. Even so, I’m still not sure I agree with J_A, but I find his point stronger than it seems at first blush.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:


          The Civil War changed the Constitution in two major ways, de facto, by establishing the superiority of the Federal government over the states and, as pointed out by @dan , doing away with the compact of states, and de jure through the 14th Amendment, which really created the concept of citizen of the United States, instead of citizen of one of the states.

          We cannot (we should not) apply our post CW/14th constitutional understanding to what the original intent of some of the provisions of the Constitution were.

          Today, the concept of being a citizen of X state is almost obsolete. I’m a citizen of Texas because I live in Texas by accident of a job. I was a citizen of Florida before. All it took to change my “citizenship” was to pack my furniture.

          The former senator from Massachusetts, the honorable Scott Brown wanted to be a senator more than he cared about being a citizen of Massachusetts so he moved to NH to compete for the post of senator from New Hampshire. And few people saw anything strange in going state shopping for the chance of political office (see Clinton, H. and Cheney, Liz).

          And Dick Cheney gives you a better example. The Constitution forbids that the President and Vicepresident are citizens from the same state (to avoid the executive’s loyalty to their state impinge on other states). Bush and Cheney were both citizens of Texas (Cheney lived in Houston). Cheney filed a form stating that his WY vacation house was his home and presto, he’s a citizen of WY and the constitutional forms are preserved. Of course, he didn’t move away from Houston because he was still the CEO of Halliburton.

          The Constitution assumed that being the citizen of a state was a big thing, and that you became a citizen of the US by being a citizen of one of the states. That understanding is gone. You are born as or naturalize into a US citizen. The concept of state citizenship as something different from how you vote for President is meaningless today.Report

          • I mostly agree with that, with a couple quibbles. I believe that the immigration act of 1790 made some reference to national citizenship without reference to state citizenship–which in my opinion doesn’t disprove your point at all about state citizenship being more important. And I’m not convinced that the theory behind the constitution was a state-compact theory, or if it was, it was inconsistently. But this is pretty far out of my league when it comes to knowledge of US history.Report

          • Avatar Dan says:

            Your post is again wildly inaccurate.

            The original Constitution says, in language that is as explicit as possible, that it is the supreme law of the land. It also says that if there is conflict between state and federal law the federal law prevails. That’s all in the original….nothing to do with any amendments or wars.

            The concept of power levels was solved by defining domains of power such that some things are federal and some are left to states or the people. That’s the 10th amendment. But there is nothing there that remotely denies the supreme power of the federal gov’t.

            Second, this “compact of the states” notion is nonsense. That wasn’t *changed* by the civil war. The civil war merely confirmed what was always true.

            Citizenship is undefined in the constitution prior to the 14th amendment.Report

            • The original Constitution says, in language that is as explicit as possible, that it is the supreme law of the land. It also says that if there is conflict between state and federal law the federal law prevails….But there is nothing there that remotely denies the supreme power of the federal gov’t.

              That comment is correct, but that last sentence needs an added qualifier: “But there is nothing that remotely denies the supreme power of the federal gov’t when that gov’t is using one of its properly delegated powers.”Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                That’s an extremely important qualifier, given that, at the origin, the idea was to delegate as little as possible

                Hence the vast amounts of Federal legislation that require an interstate commerce connection. (*)

                (*) of course, currently the volume of interstate commerce dwarves anything the Founders might have imagined. I wonder if, had they known almost everything touched interstate commerce, they would have added that clause.Report

              • I think they would have added something like it, because a free-trade zone (to use an anachronistic term) was high on the list of what the movers and shakers behind the constitution wanted, or so I understand.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                The changes between the founding and now are so profound that I don’t think we can mind read with any accuracy. If anything, the founders would probably be horrified by all sorts of things in modern society, especially Jefferson.Report

              • Yeah, that’s true enough.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                Correct; fair enough.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    My plan is just to eliminate both the Apportionment Act of 1911 and the Permanent Apportionment act of 1929.

    While I’d prefer to go back to 1789 levels of representation, I’d be down with saying that the least populous state in the union (Wyoming) has one representative and we round up for additional representatives. (So if Wyoming has 585,000 people, a theoretical state with 600,000 people would have two representatives.)

    And just give one electoral vote for each representative and each senator (*FOR*, not *TO*).

    Added bonus: eliminate gerrymandering.

    Additional added bonus: no need for Constitutional Amendment.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar says:

      Added bonus: eliminate gerrymandering.

      I’m not sure how your proposal would eliminate gerrymandering. Reduce it, perhaps, make it more difficult, but not eliminate it.

      If you really want to eliminate gerrymandering you do the following:

      1. Double (or triple, to get an odd number) of Representatives BUT keep the same number of districts. So each distrust has two reps.

      2. Each voter can cast a ballot for exactly one candidate.

      The normal method for gerrymandering, of constructing a large number of 55/45 districts in your favor and packing your opponents into a couple of 80/20 districts, simply wouldn’t work. Those 55/45 districts would all end up split.

      There’s probably still a way to game this that I haven’t thought of but it would be a hell of a lot harder for much less advantage.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The more representatives the better. I like this too.

        But I also think that shackling ourselves to an apportionment law made in 1929 is what is causing a lot of our problems.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      See, @jaybird, you and I agree sometimes. I mean, I don’t think it’d get rid of gerrymandering or fix the EC problem, but I do think there should be more Congresspeople.Report

    • I learn something new everyday. I knew that somehow, some time, it so happened that the apportionment of representatives was fixed. But I didn’t know it was with those two acts, which I hadn’t heard of.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    We still don’t have the final popular vote total. Even now. Tomorrow’s December.

    Are we trying as hard as we can? (Shouldn’t we be?) Would we have better ways to count if we made the result hinge on the NPV at FPTP plus one vote (if that’s the aim here)?

    To your proposal: why the half-measure toward elimination? Just blind Burkeanism? It seems like you’re just inviting true mass confusion. If we want NPV and want to do it via Amendment anyway, I mean, let’s just decide to do it. Or not. At least that way (and, yes, there would be a major counting issue with NPV) we’ll know what we’ve got – similarly now, when we do get EC/PV splits, it’s via a system that we understand, that doesn’t seem to toss it into mismatch seemingly randomly. As I think this would.Report

    • Avatar InMD says:

      I dont want to speak for the OP but I think the half measure is because political plausibility is being factored in. I think that adds value to any proposal on reform of the EC. Otherwise it’d just be raging against the existing system.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      If we wanted to count the votes in a few hours, we could. It’s all just counting things, and we did split the atom and put a man on the moon. It’s just a question of whether we want to spend the money to do it and how important it is that we do so. I assume that if we had a nationwide popular vote, states would improve their counting procedures and infrastructure to avoid being the straggler that holds up the final tally.

      I was reading that in California, they’re still hand copying damaged mail-in ballots (e.g. ballots that have coffee stains on them). Nonsense like that would have to be eliminated. A simple rule that says, “Don’t mutilate your ballot. The machine counts what the machine counts, so fill it out properly and keep it clean,” along with a tune up of the machines so they’re fairly robust against minor pollution would eliminate that problem entirely. We’re definitely nowhere near fully optimized, even for a paper based system.Report

      • That’s probably true, but I can imagine scenarios where this phenomenon

        states would improve their counting procedures and infrastructure to avoid being the straggler that holds up the final tally.

        might invert so that a state might want to be the last one in so as to increase its importance and make it seem like a kingmaker. I’m kind of thinking out loud here.Report

    • Avatar Dan says:

      And yet we can move billions of dollars through international markets with satisfactory security in seconds, and we do it every day.

      Hmm, it’s almost like no one really wants voting to be efficient, secure or easy. .Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        My ATM gives me a receipt, and pushes more decisions through the network a day than comes through in voting — and people are REALLY intolerant of mistakes.

        My ballot should be able to do the same, at the very least.

        (My current ideal method is electronic voting in person with receipts + random audits. I could be persuaded by online voting, if the signature and audit methods are open source. I want every hacker in the country failing to find fault before it goes live.)Report

        • Avatar Dan says:

          I agree completely.

          There’s no real reason we cannot do this. It’s purely a political question. If we wanted secure electronic voting, with a nationwide direct-popular-vote, we could do it with existing tech.

          Those who do not trust that – I assume you are also not using a bank.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Well, it’s not that I trust the tech — I know the tech exists. I don’t trust the implementation, because for some reason quite a few implementations avoid any method of actual auditing that isn’t “trust us” (ie, run the query again and output the count).

            That’s not auditing.

            Voting is significant enough that there should be a third party audit — we have poll watchers and joint counts for a reason, and the fact that it’s “electronic” doesn’t do away with those very good reasons.

            Technically speaking, you could get rid of my concerns by simply…printing a human readable receipt that gets stored, which the voter must glance over (stick if behind glass for all I care) and then hit a button to validate. Audit, oh, 1% of precincts chosen at random by hand (using said receipts).

            Done. Voter gets to see a permanent record of their vote, the vote can be audited by third parties, and the requirements for regular, random audits both discourage shenanigans AND increase confidence in the results.

            If you want to do evoting, look to the banks — they have systems designed from the bottom up to be incredibly audit-friendly and log everything. For all the tales of hackers “erasing their tracks” you can’t really do that from a bank’s transactional database. Social engineer passwords, sure, but alter electronic records and not have a deep audit find it?

            Put in a national system. Require the end design and implementation to be opened to the public, for national inspection. (Same for patches, updates, changes). Require the logs to be open to anyone via FIOA (yes, that does require some thought to protect the secret ballot. it’s not impossible and if it’s more difficult add in some restrictions to availability — but frankly any vote protection group or media outlet should be able to get the records, hire a forensic company to analyze it, and determine if there was any futzing with it). Require anyone to be able to check their own voting records via the internet.

            Heck, not only set up a national e-voting system, but let states, cities, counties, school districts, whatever — be able to set up their own elections via the federal systems for a nominal (possibly by size of the electorate) fee. Run a school board election? Easy peasy. Pay the feds 500 bucks to set up a ballot, a voting period, and submit the voter lists. Notify the public. (Heck, let voters register to be notified via email when elections they can vote in come up).

            None of this is magic, or pie in the sky stuff. Bank’s do 90% of what you want already, and with trillions of dollars at stake. The expertise and hardware exist.

            We can do far, far better than we do. More secure, more convenient, more flexible. And not with moon shots, but by taking known solutions and applying them.Report

    • It’s largely what InMD says about plausibility.

      But (and I didn’t really discuss this in the OP) it’s also Burkeanism. If it were plausible to abolish the EC and have a straight up national popular vote, I’d be against it, or at least be fearful of the consequences. I don’t think it would be the death of us all, but I’m fearful that it would be a bad thing.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Well, in this case you can actually look back and see “How many times would this have changed the election” — 5, I believe. 2 in the last twenty years.

        So we’re talking pretty infrequent results shifts.

        Of course, people would change how they campaign — but I’m not sure how it can be worse than national campaigns that, effectively, target a handful of effectively random states.

        Should a national result swing on Florida or PA alone? Should we be tailoring national policy to what, the voters of 10 states? A President who, by and large, will spend his first term with an eye towards “How will this place to a fraction of the country in specific” rather than the nation as a whole?

        The states already have Congressional Reps (especially in the Senate!) to look after their individual interests.

        I’m frankly not seeing a lot of downside here, even if there’d never been an EC/popular vote split at all. It seems the EC creates incentives against the actual goals of the office, rather than for it.Report

        • Well, in this case you can actually look back and see “How many times would this have changed the election” — 5, I believe. 2 in the last twenty years.

          We don’t know that. The elections would have probably worked differently, and maybe different people would have gotten on the ballot.

          Should a national result swing on Florida or PA alone? Should we be tailoring national policy to what, the voters of 10 states? A President who, by and large, will spend his first term with an eye towards “How will this place to a fraction of the country in specific” rather than the nation as a whole?

          My answer to those questions is no.

          I’m frankly not seeing a lot of downside here, even if there’d never been an EC/popular vote split at all. It seems the EC creates incentives against the actual goals of the office, rather than for it.

          That (and the rest of your comment) is a fair counterpoint to my “Burkeanism” here. Still, I’m just reluctant to endorse the change and while I’m having a lot of difficulty articulating my fears, I’m just not prepared to endorse so fundamental a change as a shift a straight up NPV.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    My pitch is that the electoral votes based on House representatives is divided proportionally based on state vote totals and then the electoral votes based on the Senate (i.e., two per state) go to the overall state winner.

    So California has 55 votes, 53 of which are based on House representation.

    Clinton won 62% of the vote. She gets 33 votes.
    Trump won 33% of the vote. He gets 17 votes.
    Johnson won 3% of the vote. He gets 2 votes.
    Stein won 2% of the vote. She gets 1 vote.
    (There is some rounding in there that I did a bit hastily. My gut says that we’d want to round in favor of the winner to give a little bit more weight to winning the state. But that can be haggled out.)
    Clinton then gets an additional 2 votes for having won the state, giving her a total of 35 votes from California.


    • Avatar J_A says:

      Of course you can do this on a state by state basis, but it won’t happen (at least in the big states) because CA doing it without TX doing it at the same time (or viceversa) means you just gave EC votes to the other team.

      And you cannot do it via Federal Legislation because of the Constitution. You would need a Constitutional Amendment. Might as well go for the Popular Vote.

      The compact is much more reasonable, and I have some hope for it, though Red states would probably be reluctant to join, because the EC/PV breakdown has an inherent bias.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      I think this works well for a big state, but will run into problems when states only have three or four or five EV’s. Depending upon the rules for rounding fractions, either enormous margins are required to get any additional EV’s or small differences in vote total will be rounded up to large EV margins.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        But by definition they are small states.

        If you win Montana 51-49… you get 3. If you win 80-20… you get 3. That’s what we have now so the system still favors winning states, it just mitigates the effect of winner-takes-all in large states with small margins.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Even a state with 5…

          51-49 gets you 4-1.

          80-20 gets you… either 4-1 or 5-0. We probably want the latter there? So always round up?

          4 EVs go 3-1 close and 4-0 landslide.Report

          • Avatar Don Zeko says:

            Well my concern is that if one candidate gets a 55-45 win in a few of big states, but loses 45-55 in a pile of small states with a similar total population, then that candidate will lose badly for no obvious reason.Report

    • I kind of like that idea. It might be what Jane the actuary was talking about (although I confess I read it a couple of times and am not sure I understood it).Report

  11. Avatar Matty says:

    One suggestion. Write any such amendment to include “this shall take effect at the first election after the president at the time of ratification has left office”. That at least slightly reduces the urge to support or oppose based on the benefits to your guy rather than the merits of the proposal.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      If you’re trying to figure out how to get the amendment passed, you may as well give up. Your proposal will not work as long as the following things are true:

      1) Each party has roughly half of the votes on whether to change.
      2) Changing it requires substantially more than half of the votes.
      3) The current system in place provides a structural advantage to one party (i.e. when it overrules the popular vote, it consistently favors one party over the other).

      As far as I can see, all three are true and very unlikely to change any time soon.

      I see these discussions as interesting in a, “Would this be better if we could get it passed” sort of way, but not really as anything practical, because the calculus for making the change is pretty straightforward. Nobody will give up a structural advantage if they get nothing in exchange.Report

      • Avatar Dan says:

        Normally I would completely agree with you.

        But here’s the thing: Donald fucking Trump is about to become president. Things could (probably will) get seriously fucked up in ways we’ve never seen before. That could create the political environment in which we could get this done.

        I acknowledge it’s still a long shot. But in 1861 no one thought we were seriously going to get rid of slavery in 4 years. And I’ll wager very few people 20 years ago (hell, 15 years ago) thought same-sex marriage would be legal.Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

          As long as 30 state legislatures are under unified Republican control (ratification of a constitutional amendment requires ratification by 3/4 of the nation’s state legislatures), ain’t nothing going to happen.Report

          • Avatar Lyle says:

            Well you could try the other method for ratification the elected convention method, which was used for the repeal of Prohibition. Each state would hold a convention of folks directly elected in some form of districts, and the state would ratify if 50% +1 of the delegates approved the amendment. (See the Constitution for details)Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

          I suppose it all depends on the timeline. Parties change and their relative strengths and weaknesses change, so their incentives to stick with one system won’t be the same over time. But as long as the Republican party is more rural than urban and the Democrats are more urban than rural, the EC will give the Republicans a built in advantage that they won’t unilaterally give up. There’s no reason for that correlation to last forever, though.

          If the rural/urban party divide remains the same forever, we just happen to be in a weird place right now. The urban populations grow faster than the rural ones, so every election will have more urban voters voting D, skewing the popular vote more and more toward the Democrats. We’re in a brief window where the EC can overcome that advantage, but at some point a big state or two will flip because the urban/rural growth patterns within states are subject to those same forces, so the EC will suddenly throw a ton more weight behind the more urban party, flipping the dynamic hard.

          So basically, my guess is that this popular vote / EC divergence thing is not going to be permanent, and unless the majority of people get *really* upset about it fairly soon, changes in politics or demographics will make it a mostly moot point again.Report

          • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

            Since the substantial majority of EC electors correspond to seats in the House of Representatives, today’s highly-gerrymandered state substantially favors the Republicans.

            This is, of course, something that could change after every census, but for the last 20-ish years, district-drawing has rewarded Republicans with 40 – 60 extra electors / legislators than they would otherwise have.Report

            • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

              True, the numbers correspond, but electors are apportioned statewide, so there’s no way to gerrymander that unless they change state laws to distribute votes by congressional district or something like that. Given enough reweighting from rural to urban (a trend that I don’t see changing any time soon), you will eventually see one of two things:

              1) States with majority Republican house reps but Democratic governors/senators/EC results, since you can’t gerrymander state borders.
              2) A realignment of the parties such that the rural/urban split becomes less stark.

              At least, that should be true in states where a large percentage of the population is in an urban metro area. But most states without that feature also have a small number of EC votes because the way a state gets a large population is to have a large urban metro area in it.Report

    • That’s what we did with the term limitations for president amendment. And Truman might have run yet again, if he hadn’t been trailing Kefauver.Report

  12. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Honestly, my impression of most discussions of how to re-jig the electoral college system, including this one, is that they’re setting “move the hinge point of the hamster’s teeter totter two inches to the left” against “switch from a zippo to an electric element to light the fuse on the bottle rocket”.

    The concept of getting rid of the whole Rube Goldberg device and just walking over to the toaster, is dismissed out of hand because reasons.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      All proposed EC changes are made “because reasons”. If we’re serious about changing it, we should state why, and what we hope to accomplish by changing it. Once we come to an agreement on those things, they’ll probably point in the direction of an acceptable and reasonable change.Report

    • I admit that in the OP I’ve been mostly vague on the “because reasons” aspect of the EC, but I am concerned that a straight up national popular vote might be a bad thing. I’m not sure how much worse it could be than the 2016 result got, but I’m just reluctant to go whole hog.

      From the practical standpoint, any constitutional amendment reform of the EC will likely resemble the plan I offer inasmuch as some role for weighing state representation will be included. I’m not referring to the compact idea or Jaybird’s idea of increasing the number of representatives….those are different animals. And of course, as someone said above, maybe things will change so much in so short a number of years that my prediction about what’s likely to happen will be proven false.Report

  13. Avatar Kim says:

    Comment in mod.Report

  14. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    Gabriel, I don’t have much preferences one way or another about the EC, but your post was clear, well structured, and a good read.Report

  15. Avatar b-psycho says:

    The amount of power that is granted to the winner is itself a problem. It’s why when there’s some form of discrepancy between different standards people prefer for “winning” the half that “lost” hits the roof.Report

  16. Avatar James K says:

    As I understand it, the Electoral College was a compromise between a popularly-elected President and one elected by the legislature. It seems to me that all the proposals to reform it move toward the wrong end of that original disagreement.

    The aspect of your constitutional structure that bothers me the most is the large and ever-growing power of the President. The rise of the administrative state has lead to the Executive assuming a lot of the Legislature’s powers, and whenever the legislature is divided the President seems to be able to assert a right to act unilaterally, thereby further expanding Presidential power. The fact the President is the only nationally elected office appears to be part of the reason why the President can get away with asserting power over the Legislature (Woodrow Wilson argued this explicitly).

    So my proposal is to eliminate Presidential elections entirely. Instead the President would be elected by a special joint session of the House and the Senate every 4 years. A special provision would be need to be made for Washington DC, but then there are already special provisions made for Washington DC.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      That might make sense if the House and Senate were elected in a more popular fashion.

      Instead you have fixed representation in one (so that California, with a population many, many, many times larger than South Dakota has exactly the same representation) and the other is both well behind in size (to fit the Founder’s original design) and so gerrymandered that last I checked, the minority party routinely wins considerably more votes during election.

      So you’d have the President chosen by Congress, which — at least at the moment — is so skewed that you’d end up selecting the President with Congressmen who represent a distinct minority?

      I mean if “minority rule” is your goal, bravo. You’d achieve it.

      You want to do that, you need to fix the House so that if the party running the House is the one that actually got the most voters to vote for it. The Senate’s even worse — frankly, I wouldn’t bother using them at all. I’m pretty sure you can get 50 votes in the Senate with no more with States that represent maybe a third of the US’ population.

      Not to mention it’s pretty nonsensical. It’s not 1780, the US doesn’t work that way anymore, and if we’re going to change the way we do things we should bring them in line with the way the US is working, not pretend it’s 1780 again.

      What you’re suggesting is like trying to fix a modern airplane the by replacing the wings with canvas. I mean that’s how the Wright brothers did it, so clearly it’ll work better than that fancy aluminium alloy.Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        There’s nothing unusual or archaic about having the legislature appoint the chief executive – all the other Anglosphere countries do it, as well as Germany, which shows that it’s workable in a modern federal state.

        In terms of the specifics of your legislature, I see your point. I suggested joint Senate and Representatives more for the sake of continuity than anything else. I could see the merits of just having the lower house elect the President, after all the Senate has other ways of checking the President via its Advice and Consent role.

        The gerrymandering problem with the House of Representatives needs to be solved regardless. While we’re talking about fantasy constitutional amendments, my proposal would be to mandate an algorithm that assigns districts according to these criteria:
        1) Districts must be contiguous.
        2) The Districts of a state must cover the entire state.
        3) Districts within a state must have as close to equal population as possible.
        4) Districts must be as compact as possible (I’d define this as minimising the ratio of perimeter to area, but I’d run that by someone who knows more about geometry than I do).Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          There’s nothing unusual or archaic about having the legislature appoint the chief executive – all the other Anglosphere countries do it, as well as Germany, which shows that it’s workable in a modern federal state.

          They were designed that way, or at least have had ample time to adapt and evolve to fit it.

          Right now, you’d be switching horses midstream and have a worse result.

          There’s nothing wrong, in theory — or in practice in parliamentary systems — of doing it that way. But we don’t HAVE a parliamentary system, and trying to kludge one onto what we do have would be replacing a 747’s wing with a plan wing from 1910. Things are going to go poorly, because neither were designed to work together.

          As to the House: Your algorithm doesn’t factor in the fact that, due the failure to expand the number of US reps, you still have rather large disparities in district population between states. Which is hardly equal representation. Right now, the US has a Congress that’s elected partly by population, but also partly by acreage.

          You’re still trying to take a system 200+ years (and one civil war) down the line, and kludge it back to a pseudo 1780’s setup. It’s not gonna work well. The original system wasn’t designed for what we have now, and your fix is more in keeping with the original system, and the reason we DON’T use the exact original system is because things have changed rather drastically — some through SCOTUS, some through amendment, and some through civil war.

          If you want an executive chosen by a parliament, like a Prime Minister, you’re gonna have to re-do Congress and how it’s members are chosen anyways. Or else you’re just going to magnify the minority rule problem we’ve run into more than once.

          A FPTP system with some members chosen by unchangeable districts (Senators), others chosen by population (but whose population is subject to gerrymandering by a layer of government totally unattached to the federal one), which also has a fixed district size (the State) that guaruntees it one vote even if it’s population would be lost in another State’s districts….

          That’s just not gonna work. Pragmatically or politically.Report

          • Avatar James K says:


            They were designed that way, or at least have had ample time to adapt and evolve to fit it.

            Any government that exists for any length of time had a constitutional framework that is kludge piled atop kludge. This is true even of the US government, as change resistant as it is. Changing how how Senators are appointed and the introduction of the 14th Amendment both made major changes to the Federal government and its role in the the constitutional framework, but would you argue that they shouldn’t have happened because they clashed with the original design of the US government?

            As to the House: Your algorithm doesn’t factor in the fact that, due the failure to expand the number of US reps, you still have rather large disparities in district population between states. Which is hardly equal representation. Right now, the US has a Congress that’s elected partly by population, but also partly by acreage.

            I downloaded population data from the US Census bureau, and while I can see how this could be a problem in theory, it doesn’t look like it’s a problem in practice. The least populous state is Wyoming. It has 1 congressional seat, but if it were given a number of seats directly proportional to is population it would get 0.80 seats instead. A variance of 0.2 out of 435 just isn’t large enough to alter the outcomes of elections to any reasonable degree. The only states with a variance larger than rounding error are Minnesota, Rhode Island and Texas, which each have slightly more than half a seat more than they should have. Any minority bias in your electoral system is coming either from the 2 bonus Electoral College votes per state, or intra-state gerrymandering.

            You’re still trying to take a system 200+ years (and one civil war) down the line, and kludge it back to a pseudo 1780’s setup.

            I don’t want to roll your government back, I want to roll it sideways. Your government has never worked the way I’m proposing it work but plenty of modern countries, which have all of the same modern Apparatus of State that your has, do work this way, and in my opinion work significantly better than yours does.

            Indeed the modern states that work most like yours are concentrated in South America. They tend to have this unfortunate history of their government getting gridlocked until public dissatisfaction leads to the election of a populist strongman who destroys the last vestiges of the checks on Presidential power and effectively becomes a dictator.

            But don’t worry, I’m sure you guys would never elect someone like that to the Presidency.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              Intra-state gerrymandering is pretty awful (if you’re bored, look at some of the pretty pictures of Texas districts. It’s like abstract art).

              However, you’re still suggesting we switch our executive to a parliamentary system (elected by the majority of the Legislative branch) without the corresponding changes to the Legislative branches that make this work.

              Furthermore, you’re proposing it in a system with high levels of gerrymandering and a bias towards acreage over population (Senate).

              If you were going to redo Congress and the Executive, especially if you move to proportional representation, you’d have a case here.

              It’s a bad fit with FPTP setup, especially ours.Report

              • Avatar James K says:


                I feel like we’re going in circles here. Let me back up a little.

                As I understand it you have four major objections to my proposal:
                1) Including the Senate in electing Presidents continues the distortion of Presidential elections in favour of smaller states.
                2) The gerrymandering that is rife in the House of Representatives would further distort the election results.
                3) States are not allocated seats in the House of Representatives in proper proportion to their size (because small sates must receive 1 seat no matter how small they are).
                4) Some aspects of your electoral system are incompatible with a Parliamentary system. You note First Past the Post elections specifically, but I’m not sure if there is anything else, apart from what is mentioned above.

                My responses:
                1) Let’s drop the Senate from my proposal – The amended proposal is for just the House of Representatives to elect the President. The real problem I’m trying to solve here is out-of-control Presidential Power, so either way works for me.
                2) The algorithmic approach I outlined in a previous comment should solve the gerrymandering problem.
                3) As I noted above, this seems more of a problem in theory than a problem in practice.
                4) There is a persistent myth among Americans that parliamentary democracy and proportional representation are related, to the point where I’ve heard Americans refer to proportional representation as a “parliamentary system”. The United Kingdom uses First Past the Post and has done so for centuries. New Zealand only adopted proportional representation 20 years ago, meaning it was using First Past the Post for about 80 years while functioning as a fully autonomous legislature. The relationship between parliamentary democracy and proportional representation is incidental – the countries that have it are just less change-averse than the US and so are more easily able to incorporate modern innovations into their electoral systems. I am in favour of proportional representation, but its not essential to a parliamentary democracy/Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                There’s a far simpler solution to out-of-control Presidential power (in fact, your solution won’t fix that problem).

                It’s for Congress to take back the powers it has delegated to the White House, but that requires a functional Congress.

                Which ties into why your solution won’t work — the dysfunction regarding the imperial Presidency isn’t in the White House, but Congress.

                I simply don’t see how your solution fixes the imperial Presidency at all. In fact, it seems more likely to deliver unified government (one party controlling the legislative and the executive branches) than the system we have now, at the cost of making the office less representative and answerable to the people of the nation.

                (First past the post systems devolve to two stable parties. There are exceptions, but they don’t last. Britain included. If you’re gonna have a parliament and a prime minister, you might as well encourage multiple parties and make coalition governments a possibility)Report

              • Avatar James K says:


                It’s for Congress to take back the powers it has delegated to the White House, but that requires a functional Congress.

                Why is it, do you think that the President has been able to usurp so much of the legislature’s power? Politicians are ultimately constrained by what they can get away with – not just legally, but what the public will tolerate. My theory is that as the President is the only nationally-elected politician they have a sense of national legitimacy that other politicians lack. I offer the following points as evidence:
                1) As the US moved away from smoke-filled back rooms toward public primaries, your Presidents have become more effective as usurping legislative powers.
                2) This is the exact theory of legitimacy that Woodrow Wilson used to argue that the President should have more power.

                My plan here is that by making the President a creature of the political establishment again, you will have Presidents who are machine-oriented politicians who are more interested in keeping the system working than scoring rhetorical points – Presidents who are deeply boring, but competent.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Why is it, do you think that the President has been able to usurp so much of the legislature’s power?

                Highly partisan deadlock combined with a pass-the-buck mentality.

                You can add in things like some of the changes to Congress since, oh, around 1994 that removed a great deal of Congress’ own ability to adjudicate facts and policies, the removal of one of the party’s basic seniority system — Congress lobotomized itself to a large degree.

                But mostly it’s politically, ideologically, and intellectually easier for at least one party to hand the President those decisions.

                (The two year terms probably don’t help.)

                But that’s the problem, though — the President hasn’t seized power. Congress willingly gave it up, and not because the President twisted arms or blackmailed or was even that charming.Report

              • Those certainly contribute especially in the last 20 years or so. But the process of “usurpation” (to use a perhaps too charged word) began (probably) with TR and sped up considerably and more distressingly with the national security state after WWII.

                You’re right that the Congress gave up the power, in part by refusing to exercise it. But I’d place the point of surrendering power earlier, with the establishment of commissions with quasi-legislative and quasi-executive abilities (the Fed, the FTC) along with the passage of laws that vested a lot of discretion in the executive branch.

                Finally, I’d say that the growth in population and managing/corralling technology would have required some centralization of power regardless. I don’t think it had to take the form it has taken, either in degree or in kind. But something was if not inevitable, at least highly determined.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                This. Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 created the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first of many independent regulatory agencies. My regulatory policy prof called it the beginning of the fourth branch of government — the permanent rule-writing bureaucracy.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                “You say ‘bureaucracy’, I say ‘technocracy’. Let’s call the whole thing off.”

                A recent discussion with Mike Hansbury, Dave Regio and others, about the expansion of federal power as it relates to the Constitution has certainly piqued my interest in these issues. Eg, in that thread (I think) @jaybird suggested that we our current problems might be resolved by taking the 10th Amendment (and the BoR) seriously this time around. If so, then gun-rights folks need to be OK with SSM and trans-bathroom laws (and vice versa, so on to the next disagreement). But what those discussions (amongst lots and lots of others) have specifically shown to ME is that our political, economic, and cultural disputes will not and cannot be resolved by a better application of constitutional principles. Those (meaning the principles) are merely cudgels used to beat opponents about the head and shoulders.

                Our only way outa this is either (relatively 🙂 peaceful cultural/political accommodation, or as Jaybird likes to say, divorce, war or both.Report

              • You’re right. I’d forgotten about the ICC.Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                Empirically, FPTP systems do not necessarily devolve into 2 party systems. There was a very good research article on the subject recently. FPTP systems are frequently 2 party dominant, but don’t necessarily remain so and evolve into many different states.

                America is pretty much the only electoral system where Durverger’s law appears ironclad. Elsewhere its only a tendancy that is counterbalanced with other political factors.Report

              • @james-k

                James’s system doesn’t strike me as parliamentary. To me, a key feature of a parliamentary system is that the executive is responsible to the legislative. James’s system, at least to the extent he’s described it, doesn’t vest that responsibility. Once the president is chosen by the Congress, the president serves out her term. (If I’m misreading you, James, please let me know.)

                On Morat’s point, I don’t find that James’s plan really solves the problem, except perhaps by taking some of the demagoguery out of the picture.Report

              • Avatar James K says:


                Good point, the legislature needs a method of removing a President who is proving a problem. I suggest borrowing Germany’s Constructive Vote of No Confidence rule – basically, the House of Representatives would be able to remove a President by voting in another person to take over the Presidency.

                Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this would fix everything, but I do hope it would help arrest the slide toward the President becoming an elected King.Report

              • Thanks for chiming in. I know too little (read: nothing) about Germany’s system to comment.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Again, I’m gonna say: It’s not gonna happen, because you’re handing the ‘solution’ to the same people that created the problem: Congress.

                That’s not getting into a ton of unintended consequences. That’s just stating the fact that Congress, by and large, has been unwilling to assert it’s own power — in fact, it’s been eager to shove quite a few problems onto the Courts and the Executive.

                Congress is dysfunctional. And some of that might actually come from the weird way in which we elect both chambers, coupled with the divergence from equal representation. (Which, by the way, started in what — 1910? That’s when we fixed the size of the House?)Report

  17. Avatar joke says:

    The electoral college, and the Senate, protects the interests of people living in less populated regions against the tyranny of the majority. It is a fact that people in different regions will have different interests. For example, people in coastal regions would tend to be happier when federal dollars go to build infrastructure in their states (e.g. improvements to harbors, and so on), despite those investments being at the expense of forgoing investment in other states.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      You’re certainly right that the EC and the Senate serve the interests of the residents of smaller states, which on net tend to be more rural and less coastal. What I’m not clear on is why their interests are more important than the rest of the country.Report

      • Avatar joke says:

        For the same reason that the Ninth Circuit ruled against Proposition 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and the same reason that the Supreme Court dismantled segregation in in Brown v. Board of Education: to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

        Majority rule with respect for minority rights is integral to democratic government, and I can’t imagine our union enduring without it. Why would sparsely populated states wish to remain in a union where their needs are not respected, but their resources were leeched away from them by a resource-hungry majority?Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko says:

          There’s a pretty big distinction between institutional structures that make it difficult for any majority to take advantage of the minority (the bill of rights, the 14th amendment, separation of powers, etc.) and institutional structures that pick a group of voters and give them a bigger voice in the process. There’s nothing inherent about the inland rural states that make them a vulnerable minority*.

          *and given the state of federal agricultural policy, I find the idea that they’re a persecuted minority to be something of a farce.Report

          • Avatar joke says:

            Who said they were a persecuted minority? Not me. I said that the electoral college, among other institutions, makes such repression unlikely to occur.

            And what rights would you grant states such as Wyoming that would protect it from the tyranny of majoritarian rule?

            (the nothing inherent bit doesn’t make sense; minorities are vulnerable, as if by definition.)Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko says:

              Well, not to put to fine a point on it, Trump is quite likely gearing up to beat up on some minorities that happen to live predominantly in coastal cities. The EC isn’t doing a thing to prevent that from happening, it’s facilitating it. Which is what I’m trying to get at.

              Making the votes of certain classes of people count for more doesn’t prevent the tyranny of the majority, it changes which coalitions of groups gain power and which minority groups are at risk. What protects from the tyranny of the majority are institutional structures that make it more difficult for the majority-controlled government to wield power against any discrete group. A system that selects some groups a priori and grants them more political power on a theory that they are likely to be a vulnerable minority is a dumb way to solve this problem.Report

              • I think Joke’s point is that the particular type of persecution he’s talking about isn’t likely–or is less likely–under an EC system. None of that obviates your important point that other types of persecution/oppression are possible and may be aggravated by an EC system.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                I’d point out that, given the popular vote/EC split and the fact that several times in reason history you’ve had the party with the most votes get fewer seats in the House (and possibly the Senate, but I’m not 100% on that), we seem to have created a system of minority rule.

                I mean you have to be a pretty big minority, but it’s still a rather weird result to see a pretty solid GOP House that represents fewer votes than the minority party.

                Much less a President.

                Maybe it’s a good system in the long run, but it’s a bit of a whack at one of the more fundamental things Americans tell themselves about how government’s supposed to work. (Which starts with: He who gets the most votes, wins)Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Honestly, I think Joke’s point is a category error. if you look at Mississippi in 1960, you see just an incredibly toxic and entrenched form of tyranny of the majority. The solution to that was not to give Black citizens twice as many votes so that they’d start winning elections.Report

              • It’s quite possible I misread Joke’s point. I interpreted him/her as saying that the EC (or more accurately, the system of allocating representation to which the apportionment of EC votes is related) preserves smaller, less populous states from dominance and “oppression” by larger, more populous states. I further interpreted Joke to be saying that the EC system works toward that end.

                I did not interpret him/her to be saying that large states “oppressing” smaller states is the only possible–or even the most harmful–way that oppression happens. In other words, your example of Mississippi kind of proves Joke’s point. Mississippi and its fellow traveling states had disproportionate power and wielded that power for a very long time against the “oppression” of other states and the feds dismantling Jim Crow.

                Now, there are at least two more points that need addressing. First is your point that we didn’t try to solve the Jim Crow problem by giving blacks’ votes greater weight than whites’ votes. That’s true and doing so (probably?) would’ve been a bad idea.

                Second, in what I wrote above about small states vs. larger states, I assumed a definition of “state” and state interest that on closer inspection falls apart. When we talk about the “interests” of Mississippi in 1960, I was leaving an important question unanswered. I was implying that Mississippi’s “interest” was coterminus with the state government’s interest in autonomy, which in turn served the interests of and was constituted by the dictates of white supremacy. But that state’s black citizens are also the state and they have interest, too.

                All that is to say that I recognize some of the conceptual problems with what I took to be Joke’s point, but that if we make certain assumptions, the EC does work in the way he/she claims it does.

                Whether that’s a good thing is a different question. I’d say that your example of Mississippi provides evidence that it’s not.Report

              • Avatar Dan says:

                Very well said.Report

    • Avatar Dan says:

      “the tyranny of the majority.”

      Also known as “the majority”.Report

  18. The Republicans have won the EC while losing the PV in two of the past five elections. [1] Imagine how enthusiastic they’ll be to change the system that keeps giving them undeserved victories.

    1. Also in 1976 and 1888.Report

  19. Avatar Will H. says:

    . . . because I would really like for Chicago to vote, and say “To hell with Downstate!”

    Which they do anyway, but this would make it official.

    Why would people in non-urban core areas want to vote anyway?Report

  20. Avatar DavidTC says:

    Hey, if we’re rewriting *everything*, how about my idea:

    Stop basing the electoral college on *population*, and start basing it on *number of votes cast*. I.e., every state still gets 2 electors plus 435 divided up, but the 435 is divided up *after* the vote, based on the number of actually cast ballots.(1)

    And divide the House up that way, too, based off the previous presidential election number votes. Yes, this might mean redistricting every four years. Whatever. They’re just lucky I didn’t base it off previous House election and make them do it every two years.

    Hey, look. I just completely got rid of almost all voter suppression. Suppressing voters is a really good way to shoot your own state in the foot. And watch all those voter registration drives…oh, nevermind those, wait, the states just started automatically registering everyone, *and* made election day a holiday. Holy crap, look at that.

    In fact, we’d probably also need to add a clause saying the franchise cannot be extended to anyone under 18(2), and it can’t be extended to non-citizens. (Although, as I’ve said before, I’d like to see that second thing…in fact, I’m basically apathetic about that first thing too.)

    1) I’m not sure if it should be the number of total ballots, or the number of total ballots that had a valid, counted vote for president. Technically, the latter makes more sense, but the first is much much easier, so let’s just do that. Also, this means parties will need to select a few extra electors that might not get used, so maybe list them in order and the first X get used, whatever.

    2) I’m not actually sure why legally emancipated minors cannot vote *currently* in any state I know of. That seems a weird oversight.Report

  21. Avatar DavidTC says:

    BTW, a lot of people here talking about redoing the entire system have failed to notice that altering representation in the *Senate* is not possible with a normal amendment.

    The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution…which…shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States…; Provided…that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

    *All* states have to agree, or at least all states that would have their representation…altered. (I almost wrote ‘reduced’, but, technically, you are deprived of *equal Suffrage* by being given a *larger* Suffrage, if one of those states wants to make an issue of it.)

    Of course, there are a few ways around this. The rule stops people from changing the composition of the Senate, but it doesn’t mean that the Senate legally has to have an *purpose*. (Just look at what the British are doing with *their* upper house.) A normal amendment could make the US government essentially unicameral by letting the House+president pass legislation with no Senate input. Or we could add *another* house, technically making things tricameral, call it ‘Senate 2.0’, and then move every Senate function to that, leaving the Senate with nothing. Then, either way, we could set the amount of representation of each state in the original Senate to ‘none’, freeing up a lot of space. (Can’t complain, zero Senators for every state is clearly ‘equal’.)

    (I recommend that we allow 9 people from each state into the Senate, who can be appointed and altered at any time. Their purpose? A continual baseball tournament on the National Mall. Not only would this *literally* make baseball the national pasttime, but it would make the designated hitter unconstitutional. EDIT: Obviously, we’d want to get rid of the direct election of Senators, duh.)Report