The Electoral College

I have found Oval Office 2008 to be a great place to go for commentary on the 2008 Presidential elections. Normally they don’t get into politics outside of the presidential candidates, but today they made an exception. They reported that Maryland had enacted a law which would assign their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of who wins in Maryland. The only catch is that the law will only go into effect if states representing at least 270 electoral votes enact similar laws. There are a number of states that have considered doing something like this. Who knows what will happen.

There is an interesting discussion in the comments of that post about the constitutionality of this move. My own feeling on the subject is that I would always oppose this type of move. I think that the founding fathers did not create the electoral college on a whim and I don’t buy the argument that it was because they could not count the popular vote without a computer. Then again, I think that each state should award their electoral votes proportional to the results of the popular vote in their state rather than block voting. That would make it so that candidates would find some value in appealing to states with small electoral vote constituencies. It would also mean that they could not afford to ignore a large state where they have no chance of winning outright.

I have argued before that under the current system it does not matter if you are from Utah or New York, your vote does not count in national elections because the electors in your state are predetermined. The current system has its flaws, but I’m not sure the system of just going with the winner of the popular vote is better. We are a republic after all and not a democracy. This was by design so lets be careful before we redesign the system.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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3 Responses to The Electoral College

  1. joreko says:

    Proportional division of electoral votes would work in a very counter-intuitive way in practice. No amount of campaigning could realistically affect more than one electoral vote in most states. A third of the states have 2, 3, or 5 electoral votes, where one electoral vote would correspond to between 20% to 33% of the popular vote. Two-thirds of states have 11 or less electoral votes (where one electoral vote would correspond to 9% of the popular vote). If you run through the states, it turns out that 2 electoral votes might be in play in California, 1 vote might be in play in about 18 states, and 0 electoral votes could be realistically affected during the course of a real-world campaign in about 30 states. Any state that unilaterally adopted this system would be virtually eliminating its own influence, as became obvious during the November 2004 campaign in Colorado where voters rejected the proportional plan by 2-to-1. Moreover, even if 49 states adopted the proportional plan and a battleground state, such as Ohio or Florida (with 20 or 27 electoral votes) did not, then the entire presidential election would be controlled by the one hold-out state.

  2. David says:

    I understand those concerns which is why I mentioned the idea rather than pushing for it. The only way it would have a chance of working would be if all 50 states adopted it – perhaps with the same mechanism that Maryland used, activating it only if all other states adopted similar plans.

    If you think about it, the proportional-vote idea would be no worse than our current system under any scenario, even if only 20 states have electoral votes in play. It would be the same 20 states where the outcome is in play. Currently the states that could go either way are the only ones that get attention while candidates pay lip-service to those states they know they’ve got.

    With proportional voting a candidate has some incentive to appeal to California if he can move even 2% of the voters there. If every electoral vote counts (even though not all of them are in play) then gaining one or two in California is a big deal. In those states with fewer electoral votes – let’s say Arizona or Wisconsin, 10 votes in either for easy math here – if a candidate can sway 4% of the voters so that they cross a threshold, like getting 28% of the vote rather than 24% of the vote (assuming rounding is used to determine where votes go), they pick up a seat.

    If someone argues that larger percentages of voters need to move in small states to pick up a seat they should be reminded that those larger percentages do not translate into larger numbers of voters. In theory, proportional voting flattens the playing field and opens it up. In practice it might make little difference. Either way, it’s not noticeably worse.

    Again, I’m not pushing for it right now, just throwing it out to see what people think of the situation.

  3. David says:


    You failed to mention that you are a major voice in the movement to circumvent or abolish the Electoral College. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why it was created in the first place and why you think it should be altered or abolished.

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