Talk:United States Electoral College

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When the system was set up, wasn't it created to rig the system against the secessionist southern states so that their individual votes carried less weight? Or did I imagine that?--Bobbing up 05:56, 19 November 2007 (EST)

Now when I read up on it I find people making the opposite case - that it was set up to protect slavery. Could somebody who understand the issue expand on it? AS a non-USAn I'd be most interested.--Bobbing up 06:09, 19 November 2007 (EST)
Doesn't the system date all the way back to 1789, making both theories pretty unlikely? As far as I recall, it's a result of a compromise between those who wanted a President elected by public vote and those who wanted him to be appointed by Congress. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 07:30, 19 November 2007 (EST)
I guess. Looking a bit more around the net there seem to be some axes being ground over the issue. :-) --Bobbing up 14:52, 19 November 2007 (EST)

If there was a slavery issue, then it would likely have arisen because they wanted to limit the power of the slave states. Remember, the slave owners wanted to count the slaves as people for the purpose of representation. The EC limits the power of population numbers, which would have blunted the power of the slave states.

What is up with trash talking coal miners? They are a large group in the country who's life blood depends on their job field. Insulting them by claiming they're stamping their feet and crying about losing the jobs that pay for their homes, food, and lives, reeks of elitism — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

winner take all[edit]

We should add some info if it's not there about the "winner take all" approach to a state's EC reps. There is a bill right now in CA trying to make their EC reps proportionate (probably by congressional district), to dilute their predictably large contribution to the Democratic candidate. humanUser talk:Human 15:15, 19 November 2007 (EST)

Two states, Maine and Nebraska, are "winner take all" by Congressional district, with the states "Senate" votes going to the overall winner. Researcher 07:18, 20 November 2007 (EST)
Hmmm, wait - isn't that because they only have one representative? The same could be claimed of several other states (VT, eg, and the rest of the northwest empty rectangle states). Though I guess you mean they do it by statute, not by default? humanUser talk:Human 13:43, 20 November 2007 (EST)
Actually, no, they each have multiple representatives--Maine has 2 and Nebraska has (I believe) 4. Researcher 14:52, 20 November 2007 (EST)
Gee, I should have, um "researched" that before shooting off my mouth! Now, if only all the states would switch to that system at the same time! humanUser talk:Human 17:18, 20 November 2007 (EST)
Well, that wouldn't do anything to lessen the over-counting of rural/small state voters, because it wouldn't change how the electors are apportioned. Moreover, you would need two states to agree to switch at the same time, because as long as only one state is targeted for such a switch (like California, or theoretically Texas) it instead just looks like a way for one side to game the system at the expense of the other. Unfortunately, the federal government can't just do away with the system without a Constitutional amendment, which would have to be ratified by 3/4 of the states. Researcher 17:25, 20 November 2007 (EST)

<- I once analyzed the 2000 and 2002 (or 02 and 04?) Senate membership by population. As I recall, at one point the GOP had about 55 out of the 100 members - but the Dem. senators actually represented something like 60% of the population. And, likewise, in 00 and 04, Bush won a lot of land but not a lot of people (though he still did break the 50% mark in 04). humanUser talk:Human 14:58, 21 November 2007 (EST)

Sounds about right, unfortunately. Even the house is *slightly* skewed in that way, though, since Wyoming and other states that only have one member still have a smaller voter:representative ratio. Researcher 15:03, 21 November 2007 (EST)

2004 Numbers:

  • DEM pop: 148,026,027 REP pop: 144,765,157 IND pop: 310,697 (ok, that's 50.4% dem, not adding in the I)
  • D senators: 44 R senators: 55 I senators: 1

(in split states I gave each senator half the population)


humanUser talk:Human 15:02, 21 November 2007 (EST)

Origins of the System[edit]

The system was set up because it was considered highly unlikely that random farmer Bob in Georgia would know someone from Massachusetts well enough to know whether to vote for him or not, mass media being in its infancy in the late 1700s. Instead, however, he would know the important people in Georgia enough to know who he trusted to cast his vote for him. Therefore, originally, Bob would vote between John, Joe, and Thad, who then got to vote between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Sometime in the 1800s many states started switching over to the current system, slowly and ad hoc. (Like most everything else in the USA, the system wasn't built to do anything in particular, it arose organically from other elements to satisfy the needs of the moment.) Researcher 16:30, 19 November 2007 (EST)


The articles mentions "factions" twice and red links to them. The article seems to regard them as a very bad thing which should be avoided and it seems that the electoral college is perceived as the way to do this. Could somebody from the US explain what they are, why they are bad and how the Electoral College avoids them?--Bobbing up 05:14, 20 November 2007 (EST)

Most of the US Constitution was set up with the idea of keeping a small cabal of people from wresting permanent control of the government, and to prevent the country from splitting into ideological camps incapable of working together for the common good. (That's why power is so weirdly split in the US, with Congress in particular split in two, with two different methods of election.) However, I've never understood the Electoral College to be part of that design. Instead, as I've noted elsewhere in the talk page, it was just a way of acknowledging the reality of a lack of mass media in an 18th century democratic republic. Researcher 07:17, 20 November 2007 (EST)
I think the dots are easy enough to connect if you look at what Madison says in Fedrealist Papers #10 about how to deal with factions and then look at his description of the way to elect a federal executive in #39 you can see the link of reason. To understand the descendant of what factions means to the US I would encourage anyone to look through Madison's #10 essay. It is short. [1]. tmtoulouse oppress 10:12, 20 November 2007 (EST)

not so sure about this...[edit]

"Another reason it was applied in the United States is that it equalizes the power between states to some degree. If elections were just about popular vote a candidate could run a campaign appealing only to a handful of the most populated states. With the electoral college system a much larger block of states must be won."

If the EC did not exist, with its mostly "winner take all" state-by-state system, there would be no such thing as a big or small state in terms of getting elected President. A candidate would simply have to get over 50% of the popular vote. Sure, that makes advertising and appearing in high population density areas more efficient than barnstorming, but now instead of getting, say, 55 EC votes by winning CA, a candidate might only pick up a majority in CA, say 53%-47%, making all that work less useful.

In other words, the EC actually makes it so a candidate can focus on just the larger states that might lean their way. A republican gains nothing by making sure they get 47% of the NY vote, since they still lose the state. In a popular vote decision, those 47% would really matter, if they could also win, say, TX by 58%.

The one thing the EC apportionment does do is make the small population states proportionately more important or useful than the large ones - one could win, say, five NW states (ID, WY, ND, SD, MT) with a few hundred thousand votes, getting 15 electroal votes in the process. To win a 15 EC vote state might require several million votes.

The question becomes, is this good for the country in the long term (ignoring the occasional election that makes the system look stupid, like 1960 or 2000)? Should the rural residents of small states not only have their interests over-represented in the legislature (by the same ratios as the EC), but also get a disproportionate say in the election of the President? In many areas oif the way the US is run, if something leans "one way" in one part of government, there is usually a lean "the other way" somewhere else. So can we not trust the rural states' Senators to be a sufficient bulwark against a President who may be more dependent on urban and suburban population densities?

This becomes especially important when you consider that, in the end, urban and suburban areas are where almost everyone in the country lives, not the badlands of the northwestern plains.


My big problem with this section is that it confuses post-hoc rationalization with original intent. Originally, the EC could NOT balance states or cause one to campaign in one state but not another--because the states were NOT winner-take-all. That was a later tweak when individual voters began voting for presidential candidates rather than for their own electors. In fact, part of the debate on how the president should be selected focused on whether the President should be responsible to Congress or to the people. Part of the point of the EC was to keep the President from being beholden to Congress for his position, thus making him a "national" figure for the whole country. With the winner take all ("first past the post") systems, he is only beholden to those states that support him instead. This is NOT what the founders intended. Researcher 16:52, 6 December 2007 (EST)
Just a quick note, I'm not a big fan of "original intent", except how we can use it to understand why things were set up the way they were, and also learn from arguments made for and against various solutions. I'm more concerned with the world we live in, and here, relative to whether the EC makes any sense or not. And the current way the system "works", as you say, can leave us with a president who can literally afford to ignore large swaths of the country. humanUser talk:Human 17:31, 6 December 2007 (EST)
I'm not an "originalist" either, but when the section explicitly says something was the original intent when it flatly couldn't have been, it drives me nuts. (Personally, I think the Founders would be pissed that we want to go by THEIR intent, since they worked so hard to make sure it would change with the times. But whatever.)Researcher 17:50, 6 December 2007 (EST)
Ah, gotcha. You meant the "originalistic" cast to the bit I quoted. Personally I think we were supposed to have a Constitutional Convention every ten years or so, to keep the damn thing up-to-date. Now it's been so long that it would become a crisis instead of a good habit. humanUser talk:Human 18:13, 6 December 2007 (EST)
So do we agree it should be reworded or just deleted? humanUser talk:Human 18:14, 6 December 2007 (EST)
Rewording it as an argument given today as to why the EC should be kept would be ok, particularly if the objections are also noted. Removing the originalist cast would be GREAT. Researcher 18:46, 6 December 2007 (EST)
Just to revitalize the debate on this a bit, the framers did intend on the EC to be a method to make the president beholden to the people, but they also made it so that each state had electors equal to their senators and representatives. The purpose behind the distribution of senators and representatives was to ensure that smaller states were not completely powerless to larger ones, so it makes sense that the intent behind that distribution of electors would be similar. Now, I agree that original intent is not a good basis for deciding if a particular system fulfills its purpose (or is even a good idea in the first place), and I support attempts to modernize the EC, such as with proportional voting and mandatory representation (electors cannot vote against the popular vote of the state), which makes each state valuable in a presidential election. However, I don't see how the EC being a buffer to protect the rights of smaller states is a post-hoc rationalization given how the electors were distributed. Reverend Lucifer (talk) 23:24, 18 October 2012 (UTC)

Stop the presses![edit]

I want to see some kind of citation for the idea that Nixon won a majority of the popular vote. I understand that the election was super-close, but I've NEVER seen someone argue that Nixon won a majority of the vote. (In fact, I've always seen it argued that the Electoral College has always disfavored Democrats, such as Tilden and Andrew Jackson.) Researcher 18:48, 6 December 2007 (EST)

I'm sorry, I guess I'll have to try and find something. Maybe it was just razor-thin, but I did think I had read that although JFK won the EC, he lost the popular vote - again, by a razor thin margin. I'll see what I can find. humanUser talk:Human 19:17, 6 December 2007 (EST)
Ah, ok. What I "heard or read" was probably that Kennedy got "less than 50%" of the popular vote (like Clinton did in '92). #'s from wikipedia, in whom I will trust briefly:
Popular Vote 34,220,984 34,108,157
Percentage 49.7% 49.5%
Gawd, I hate wikitables! Gotta remove that 1960 mention from article... humanUser talk:Human 19:22, 6 December 2007 (EST)

Proportional Vote[edit]

I think we need more discussion of the concept of proportional voting in the "Does It Have To Be This Way" section. A lot of people who are critical of the Electoral College, but who also don't want to go to the trouble of creating a constitutional amendment to abolish it, feel that moving the states to a proportional system would make the system as a whole more representative of the populace, while not eliminating the safeguards in place to protect smaller states from the whimes of larger ones. It's also a rather interesting proposition from the POV of voter participation, because, for example, being a liberal in Texas or a conservative in New York makes voting in the Presidential election have no impact, which also reduces participation in down-ticket races. A transition to a proportional system would help increase voter turnout because even if you lived in a traditionally one-party state, it would be possible to get at least one or two electroal votes (possibly more, depending on how solidly the state is in one color or the other). Given that the mission statement of RW includes taking a stand against authoritarianism, and a representative democracy is one of the grandest moves made against authoritarianism, and given that RW makes no attempt at being neutral, further discussion of ways to improve our system to make it more representative fits rather nicely within the site's goals, IMHO. Reverend Lucifer (talk) 22:38, 18 October 2012 (UTC)

Presidential accountability to Congress[edit]

"The same idea could have been achieved by having Congress select the President, but this would have then made the President beholden to the Congress, rather than to the people at large." That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. The Constitution essentially acknowledges as much, by specifying that in certain circumstances, the House of Representatives and the Senate will choose the President and Vice-President, respectively. Making the President accountable to Congress would probably help prevent coups or other illegal seizures of power by the executive branch, especially if Congress had power to fire the President at any time, rather than appointing him to four-year terms. "That's too much power for one man to have." Landmartian (talk) 20:23, 24 December 2014 (UTC)

I'm not sure that giving Congress the "power to fire the President at any time" would be a good idea, considering that Congress can already impeach a POTUS for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". Given that this was (at least potentially) broadened to include lying about cheating on a spouse during the Clinton years, how much of a difference would it make to broaden it even further (except allowing the removal of a POTUS if and when a mid-term election swings the majority in Congress against the POTUS' party)? I think the problem is rather that Congress has allowed power to effectively slip from it on such crucial areas as effective budget control (e.g. the "black budgets" of various Pentagon- and intelligence-related areas), has obsequiously given extremely broad war powers to POTUSes such as Johnson and Dubya, and effectively assented to the POTUS assassinating "terrorists" (potentially incl. U.S. citizens) without due process. ScepticWombat (talk) 21:53, 24 December 2014 (UTC)

The Reason We Have It[edit]

If we ran off of only the popular vote there would be many problems. First of all, education and influence is different in different states and in different areas, so in lesser populated areas that vote for one person would be overshadowed by other states and would have almost no say in the vote. If a school with fewer kids and a school with many kids came together and voted on a place they wanted to visit, and the majority of the kids from the bigger school wanted to go to one place but the kid from the other school wanted to go to the other then the smaller school would have no say because the majority from the other school out voted them. When you live in different areas with different economies you need certain things, the system is important because people living on top of each other in skyscrapers which have more people in each square mile that are raised to view in a democratic way shouldn't out vote more spread out people who live on more farmland and have a different view politically.--King RimuruRimuru Slime.png 18:59, 29 July 2017 (UTC)