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  Is there any plausible argument in favor of the electoral college? (search mode)
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Author Topic: Is there any plausible argument in favor of the electoral college?  (Read 58484 times)
Skill and Chance
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« on: August 09, 2015, 07:34:36 pm »

In descending order of strength:

1.  A major natural disaster in a large one sided metro area, like a magnitude 8 earthquake in L.A. or a category 5 hurricane in Houston won't swing the election by itself. Early voting can mitigate this somewhat but wouldn't resolve the problem.

2.  It makes it harder to elect crazies on either side because both sides have to cater to whichever states are the most competitive in that era.  This moderating effect is particularly important during the nomination process.

3.  Were we to return to purely sectionalist elections, presidents would have an incentive to entirely ignore the interests of regions they lost, because they could safely run up near unanimous margins at home.  Winning unanimously in California or Texas shouldn't give you the right to tell the rest of the country off.   
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Skill and Chance
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« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2015, 07:38:29 pm »

One thing that the arguments in favor of the Electoral College ignore is that the Constitution leaves to the states the method of delegating electoral votes. Faithless electors have been possible historically, and states don't have to choose a winner-take-all methodology for vote allocation (though most do). It's a very easily gamed system that happens to have coincided with the popular vote most of the time.

But if we're arguing that one of the virtues of the EC is that it coincides with the popular vote far more often than not, then aren't we implicitly conceding that the popular vote is a good measure that we should value?

For the four times historically when the electoral vote and popular vote did not coincide, can we see arguments for why those specifically are cases where we should consider that the popular vote was wrong and the electoral vote was right? I'm interested in reasons. Why, for instance, was it correct that Bush won in 2000? Would it have been correct if a few hundred thousand votes had switched in Ohio or Florida in 2004 and Kerry had won the EC despite losing the popular vote substantially?

Yes, for at least two of them: the candidate more favorable to black civil rights was saved by the EC in both 1876 and 1888 in a time of blatant intimidation and disenfranchisement in the South.  Benjamin Harrison even got a VRA equivalent measure through the House in 1890.  These are two examples of the EC actually preventing election rigging.  The fact that Democrats would have lost a tied election anytime between 1896 and 1948 was in retrospect a feature, not a bug.
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Skill and Chance
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« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2015, 06:49:52 pm »

One thing that the arguments in favor of the Electoral College ignore is that the Constitution leaves to the states the method of delegating electoral votes. Faithless electors have been possible historically, and states don't have to choose a winner-take-all methodology for vote allocation (though most do). It's a very easily gamed system that happens to have coincided with the popular vote most of the time.

But if we're arguing that one of the virtues of the EC is that it coincides with the popular vote far more often than not, then aren't we implicitly conceding that the popular vote is a good measure that we should value?

For the four times historically when the electoral vote and popular vote did not coincide, can we see arguments for why those specifically are cases where we should consider that the popular vote was wrong and the electoral vote was right? I'm interested in reasons. Why, for instance, was it correct that Bush won in 2000? Would it have been correct if a few hundred thousand votes had switched in Ohio or Florida in 2004 and Kerry had won the EC despite losing the popular vote substantially?

Yes, for at least two of them: the candidate more favorable to black civil rights was saved by the EC in both 1876 and 1888 in a time of blatant intimidation and disenfranchisement in the South.  Benjamin Harrison even got a VRA equivalent measure through the House in 1890.  These are two examples of the EC actually preventing election rigging.  The fact that Democrats would have lost a tied election anytime between 1896 and 1948 was in retrospect a feature, not a bug.

But that's looking from now. What about in the moment? What's the argument you'd make to people at the time?

While very few people in the late 19th century actually believed black and white people were equal, the 15th Amendment wouldn't have passed in the first place if a significant majority at the time didn't believe that black men should at least be able to vote.  And there certainly wasn't national majority support for lynching and other KKK violence.  So I would say my argument holds even back then.

But an issue neutral argument for the modern day is that near-unanimous margins anywhere are inherently more suspect from an election-integrity standpoint because even without a threat of violence, those publicly supporting the opposition candidate in a 90/10 or even 80/20 area often face social ostracism, loss of employment opportunities, etc.  Therefore, they are less likely to turn out or even be registered in the first place.  They would have more incentive to vote in presidential cycles under NPV, but the same issues would persist regarding supporting and/or campaigning for a party that is perpetually shut out of the state/local government.  And because the state/local government is under complete one-party control, mischief would in fact be a lot easier than in a competitive state where it is normal for both parties to have a say in election laws and oversight of vote counting.  Simply put, elections are likely to be somewhat cleaner, with more participation, in closely split states.  So having a unanimity penalty built into the system isn't necessarily a bad thing.     
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Skill and Chance
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« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2015, 06:39:38 pm »

One thing that the arguments in favor of the Electoral College ignore is that the Constitution leaves to the states the method of delegating electoral votes. Faithless electors have been possible historically, and states don't have to choose a winner-take-all methodology for vote allocation (though most do). It's a very easily gamed system that happens to have coincided with the popular vote most of the time.

But if we're arguing that one of the virtues of the EC is that it coincides with the popular vote far more often than not, then aren't we implicitly conceding that the popular vote is a good measure that we should value?

For the four times historically when the electoral vote and popular vote did not coincide, can we see arguments for why those specifically are cases where we should consider that the popular vote was wrong and the electoral vote was right? I'm interested in reasons. Why, for instance, was it correct that Bush won in 2000? Would it have been correct if a few hundred thousand votes had switched in Ohio or Florida in 2004 and Kerry had won the EC despite losing the popular vote substantially?

Yes, for at least two of them: the candidate more favorable to black civil rights was saved by the EC in both 1876 and 1888 in a time of blatant intimidation and disenfranchisement in the South.  Benjamin Harrison even got a VRA equivalent measure through the House in 1890.  These are two examples of the EC actually preventing election rigging.  The fact that Democrats would have lost a tied election anytime between 1896 and 1948 was in retrospect a feature, not a bug.

But that's looking from now. What about in the moment? What's the argument you'd make to people at the time?

While very few people in the late 19th century actually believed black and white people were equal, the 15th Amendment wouldn't have passed in the first place if a significant majority at the time didn't believe that black men should at least be able to vote.  And there certainly wasn't national majority support for lynching and other KKK violence.  So I would say my argument holds even back then.

But an issue neutral argument for the modern day is that near-unanimous margins anywhere are inherently more suspect from an election-integrity standpoint because even without a threat of violence, those publicly supporting the opposition candidate in a 90/10 or even 80/20 area often face social ostracism, loss of employment opportunities, etc.  Therefore, they are less likely to turn out or even be registered in the first place.  They would have more incentive to vote in presidential cycles under NPV, but the same issues would persist regarding supporting and/or campaigning for a party that is perpetually shut out of the state/local government.  And because the state/local government is under complete one-party control, mischief would in fact be a lot easier than in a competitive state where it is normal for both parties to have a say in election laws and oversight of vote counting.  Simply put, elections are likely to be somewhat cleaner, with more participation, in closely split states.  So having a unanimity penalty built into the system isn't necessarily a bad thing.     

Does that describe why the result in 2000 was the correct one?

Yes, actually.  A candidate who couldn't hold his own coalition together lost to one who could.  And neither got 50% of the vote, so neither could claim a true mandate.  It was simply 1912 on a less grand scale.  If an independent is angry enough at one major party candidate to run as a spoiler to their left/right, that says something bad about that candidate and their party at the time. 
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