August 28, 2019

Electoral College

Last week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted, “The Electoral College isn’t about fairness at all; it’s about empowering some voters over others. Every vote should be = in America, no matter who you are or where you come from. The right thing to do is establish a Popular Vote.” Twitter

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) replied, “Abolishing the electoral college means that politicians will only campaign in (and listen to) urban areas. That is not a representative democracy. We live in a republic, which means 51% of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49%.” Twitter

See our prior coverage of the issue here. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports eliminating the electoral college, arguing that all votes should count equally regardless of which state they're from.

“Presidential elections are currently decided by swing states, ones that are less racially diverse than the country as a whole and, in 2016, represented only 35 percent of eligible voters. Last presidential election, 95 percent of candidate appearances and 99 percent of campaign spending went to fourteen states. None of them are particularly rural nor, with the exception of New Hampshire, remotely small. The swing states, due to their electoral significance, also have a stranglehold on national policies. The coal industry, for example, has outsize influence because of its prominence in Pennsylvania. So, too, does the ethanol industry because of Iowa. Moreover, U.S. tariffs have disproportionately benefited industries located in swing states, and the battleground states have historically received more in federal grants than the rest of the country.”
Adam Eichen, The New Republic

“A presidential candidate who focused only on America’s cities and urban centers would lose — there just aren’t enough votes. Republicans live in cities just as Democrats live in rural areas. Under a popular vote, candidates would still have to build national coalitions across demographic and geographic lines. The difference is that those coalitions would involve every region of the country instead of a handful of competitive states in the Rust Belt and parts of the South…

“The founders feared ‘direct democracy’ and accounted for its dangers with a system of ‘representative democracy.’ Yes, this ‘republic’ had counter-majoritarian aspects, like equal representation of states in the Senate, the presidential veto and the Supreme Court. But it was not designed for minority rule. Virtually everything was geared toward producing representative majorities that could govern on behalf of the country — to diminish ‘faction’ in favor of consensus.”
Jamelle Bouie, New York Times

“Statewide offices such as governor and senator take place all the time; all of them use a simple statewide vote; and yet lots and lots of statewide candidates nevertheless campaign in rural areas all the time, including in states where the rural vote is just a fraction of the overall vote. Others have noted that there are plenty of rural voters in California and other states – including, at least recently, Texas – that are uncontested and therefore get no candidate attention under the current rules…

“There’s going to be a president elected, whether with a majority or a minority of the vote. It’s bad if the majority is rewarded with absolute rule, but it’s quite a bit worse – I’m not even aware of any vaguely plausible argument otherwise – if the minority is rewarded with absolute rule. And no, it doesn’t matter a bit if that minority is the one that Crenshaw (or anyone else) happens to like. The remedy for majority tyranny isn’t to tabulate the votes in some convoluted way to get a preferred minority to win. The Madisonian remedies for majority tyranny are such things as having multiple branches of government (each with a different form of election), meaningful federalism, separated institutions sharing powers, and so on.”
Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

Many dispute Iowa Senator Jodi Ernst’s "claim that giving voters everywhere the exact same power to elect a president is going to ‘silence’ anyone…  it’s true that the ‘losers’ — relatively speaking — in a shift from Electoral College to a popular-vote system would be closely contested ‘battleground states’ that naturally attract candidate attention more than safely Democratic or Republican states… But the real howler about this is that Ernst is talking about preserving the power in presidential elections of Iowa, for God’s sake. This is the state where caucuses stand at the gateway to the presidential nominating process… Iowa, maker of legends and breaker of hearts. Candidates may secretly hate the Hawkeye State for the time and money it consumes, or for the winter weather, but they are going to pay it attention and hear its voters’ voices over and over again.”
Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine

Dated But Relevant: “The electoral college is, essentially, a vestigial structure — a leftover from a bygone era in which the founding fathers specifically did not want a nationwide vote of the American people to choose their next president…  

“A national popular vote system wouldn’t devalue the votes of people who live in rural states and small towns. It would accurately value them by treating them equal to people who live in cities. Furthermore, small-state interests are built into the Senate’s math (where Delaware absurdly gets as many senators as California), and many House districts are rural. So rural and small-state areas are hardly hurting for national political representation. Sure, candidates might end up spending less time stumping in the rural areas that currently happen to be lucky enough to fall within the borders of swing states, and more time in urban centers. But is that really a convincing rebuttal to the pretty basic and obvious argument that in the most important electoral choice Americans make, their votes should be treated equally?”
Andrew Prokop, Vox

Finally, "many rural states are ignored due to the Electoral College. Candidates don’t campaign in Montana, Kansas, or West Virginia. They spend time in big cities in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The Electoral College keeps candidates away from most states."
Renato Mariotti, Twitter

From the Right

The right opposes eliminating the electoral college, arguing that it incentivizes candidates to appeal to diverse coalitions of voters.

The right opposes eliminating the electoral college, arguing that it incentivizes candidates to appeal to diverse coalitions of voters.

“Ultimately, and as a matter of history, the Electoral College rewards those presidential candidates or political parties that do the best job of listening to a wide variety of voters. Those who decided to double down with their base and ignore the rest of the country usually end up losing… Recent close elections have come about because everyone keeps forgetting these important underlying purposes of the Electoral College. Many have neglected to build coalitions. Both parties are instead catering to their bases. Consequently, the first party to reach out to create broad coalitions will also start winning presidential elections in landslides.”
Tara Ross, Daily Signal

“In our current system, candidates campaign in every state in which there is a close contest, whether those states are large or small, rural or urban, demographically diverse or homogenous. And it’s extremely difficult to become president without building a large coalition of voters from many parts of the country, many of which have very different cultures, ideas, religious beliefs, ideological beliefs and economic interests. The Electoral College system isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly not racist, as Ocasio-Cortez suggested. Sparsely populated racially diverse states – including liberal states like Rhode Island – benefit from the Electoral College just as much as states like Montana do. The purpose of the Electoral College isn’t to help white people; it’s to elevate the power of voters in states that otherwise would be completely forgotten and disenfranchised.”
Justin Haskins, Fox News

Campaigning in New Hampshire is very different from campaigning in California, and representing ‘all the people’ means representing them no less as Texans or New Yorkers than as citizens of an undifferentiated whole. Once the states are removed from the presidential election system, these important and celebrated features of political locale will lose much of their significance. Voters in the less populous states, indeed in any area that cannot be readily subsumed in a mass media market, will be of decidedly secondary importance to presidential candidates… Under direct election, the media mavens will not have to leave their offices in New York, Washington, or Los Angeles to run a presidential campaign. Why should they?…

“As John F. Kennedy said in defending the Electoral College in the 1950s, changing the mode of presidential election affects not only presidential candidates, but the whole solar system of our constitutional and political arrangements—in ways that are difficult to predict but unlikely to be beneficial. With a national plebiscite, the customary ties that bind state and local party units to national campaigns will necessarily dissolve. The national party committees will have to be radically restructured, with state party representatives being displaced by political operatives bearing little or no allegiance to any state. Their loyalties run instead to the personal campaign apparatus of wealthy or powerful candidates.”
Michael M. Uhlmann, The American Mind

Some point out that, “In most states, a candidate who receives 51% of the vote receives 100% of the Electoral College votes. If you’re a member of the 49%, your vote becomes a footnote, and is not reflected in the final national electoral outcome… we can achieve a more representative electoral system without completely abandoning the Electoral College… States should choose to assign their Electoral College votes on a proportional basis, rather than according to a winner-take-all approach. This would mean that if a Democrat carries the state with 70% of the vote, they win most of the electors’ votes, but 30% still go to the Republican candidate, making the minority vote count too.”
Brad Polumbo, Washington Examiner

Dated But Relevant: “What’s essential [about the electoral college] is the ability to have some check on direct democracy and the centralization of power that comes with it

“All extreme political movements are hostile to restraints on their will. This is what unites the progressives who want to pack the Supreme Court, abolish the Electoral College, and ‘reform’ the ‘undemocratic’ Senate with those on the right who celebrate President Trump’s emergency declaration and other attempts to rule by fiat. In a healthy democracy, leaders are answerable not just to voters but to legislatures, the courts, the states, and parties. The decades-long trend has been to dismantle this arrangement to make presidents answerable to no one but the slice of electorate that voted for them. And even there, those voters are increasingly more interested in seeing their leader ‘win’ than in holding them accountable.”
Jonah Goldberg, National Review

“Democrats need to stop bashing the Electoral College when they lose… [the] 2016 election was winnable. You all know this. The Democrats could’ve easily beaten Trump, but their people stayed home. With Hillary Clinton on the ticket, there was just no excitement really. None. Just compare the results from 2012 and 2016 in Wayne County, Michigan (Detroit)—it’s quite stark and decisive. All Clinton had to do was match Obama’s totals and she would’ve won. All she had to do was not tell coal miners that her mission would be to throw them on the street. All she had to do was reach out to rural and working-class voters—she didn’t. When you don’t do the leg work—you only have yourself to blame.”
Matt Vespa, Townhall

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