T Nation

Explain the Electoral College


#1

I would like to know thoughts on the Electoral College. Wikipedia is very discouraging with it’s definition and I didn’t know if anyone could offer a more positive spin. I apologize if someone already inquired about this topic. Thank you.


#2

What are you having trouble with? If its just the general system, I’ll try and condense it as best I can.

Basically, the “actual election” is voted on by members of the Electoral College, who are selected by their party, and for all but 2 states must vote the way the popular vote goes. In this way the president is only indirectly elected by the people, and its possible to win the popular vote and still not become president because of the way the votes are spread out (Happened in 2000 in fact, so its not some weird thing that happened back in the 1800’s even)

Thoughts on it… Well, thats a personal matter. There isnt any real objective way to look at it, although I tend to favor a popular vote myself. The criticisms are pretty obvious, and Al Gore can tell you the biggest one, which I mentioned above (getting the most votes but still losing)

It also gives a slight advantage to small, less populous states. For example the most populous state might have 10x the population of the smallest one, but only 8x the electoral votes (and likewise, they share the same number of senators, and a similarly skewed number of congress members). As before its up to you to determine if thats good or bad.

If you can’t tell, I’m generally against it, and think MAYBE it served some function in the past when information wasn’t as readily available, but today it is antiquated and obsolete.


#3

Thank you Lonnie! That’s basically what I understood it to be too but thought it sounded crazy. So when people say their vote doesn’t count, I guess that’s what they mean. I am trying to learn more about politics and have met many interesting people along the way. The deeper I go with learning the more confused I get :flushed: something so important shouldn’t be this complicated!!


#4

Yeah it’s certainly an unintuitive way to do it. You would think most votes = winner but it’s more complicated.

The “my vote doesn’t count” mentality is more widespread amongst people who tend to vote the opposite of the way their state usually goes. A republican in California would be your typical example.

Although it could also apply to people who vote third party (ie anyone but democrat or republican) as they almost certainly have 0% chance at winning.

Though really so many elections are within 5% or less between the winner and loser so the difference often is which party can get the most people to the polls. That’s what they mean when they say “energizing the base” , making the people who are already WOULD vote for you More likely to actually GO vote.


#5

Think of it as a way to make sure small states have a voice. If we went by popular vote alone candidates would only campaign to big cities, and they don’t have the same problems or culture as rural areas. Popular vote only would be dangerous for a lot of people and would in essence be mob rule.


#6

Mob rule where the vast, overwhelming majority is in the mob :wink:


#7

Tyranny of the majority is okay?

The 2012 popular vote was 51% Obama, 47.5% Romney. Vast and overwhelming are not the words I’d use.


#8

Eh, I dont want to get into the nitty gritty too much here, and you are using the total population versus individual states, but I was more referring to the fact that smaller states get a not-insignificant advantage over more populous states.

Why should my vote count less than 1/4 as much as someone who lives in Wymoing?

If your states has 1/10 the population, you should get 1/3 the vote? I understand the thinking behind why (as you mentioned already) but to me personally (as in there is no objective truth or fact to it) that doesnt strike me as being the right way to do things.


#9

I’ll concede that the Electoral College is imperfect. However, if the only alternative is national popular vote, I’ll stick with the system the way it is.

There are a few options that have been thrown out that we have discussed in PWI before. One being awarding electoral votes by congressional district, but that swings the pendulum too far as well. I’ve yet to hear anyone come up with a better substitute for the Electoral College.


#10

Some problems just dont have great, obvious solutions. While I am in favor of the popular national vote (for president only) I do see its shortcoming and faults. Although I might argue that the small states that would get run over by the larger states in the presidential election are over represented in the Senate and Congress as well, so they get their level playing field there. Again though, tough to say.

Its very similar with super delegates, which I’m not sure I like or not yet


#11

The arguments about votes not counting are myopic. Unless the margin of error in an election is one vote, your vote “doesn’t count,” as it doesn’t change the outcome of the election. That’s true whether we vote on a state level or a federal level.


#12

To understand it, you must first understand the original intent. Originally, there weren’t really parties. People voted on local representatives that then all got together, debated, and decided on a president. So you voted on a representative in the debate and ultimate election process. The idea is that people in the states know their local representatives better and can trust more in electing an educated knowledgeable person with similar local interests to represent them in that actual election of a president. That’s why it’s there and why it started, though in the modern day bastardized version, it no longer serves that purpose.

It also, because senate seats are not weighted by population, slightly increases the say of people in smaller states helping to prevent small rural areas from being trampled by larger denser population centers who have vastly different interests. It does still serve this purpose.


Predictions? Let's Have It!
#13

I use these videos in class:

The Electoral College for Dummies

Does your vote count?

Electoral College Debate


#14

Hey all… thank you for the awesome responses! You have given me a lot to look into and think about. I feel like I will have more questions as I review the information provided. I do have a better understanding of the reasons for it and why it is still used today. I like so many others am going crazy over this election but feel educating myself and speaking directly with candidates in my state has helped a lot.


#15

@JR249 thank you very much for sharing videos of this. A visual is always helpful!!


#16

It exists for the same reason we have a written constitution, three branches of government, and a bicameral legislature. Our founding fathers were rightfully afraid of fickle mob rule. All of these create breaks on sudden and sweeping change, as does our professional bureaucracy. These features have been lauded and cursed by pundits from the time of their very formation. The Federalist Papers are an example.