The Big Misconception About the Electoral College

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The Electoral College has been very much in the news lately, with many people passionately calling for its eradication or staunchly defending it — usually depending on whether their candidate won or lost. There’s certainly room for debate on this matter, but what’s annoying is how frequently supporters of the institution defend it with the same misconception: the EC, they so often say, was designed to provide “balance” in the electoral process. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The Electoral College, in fact, was designed to promote imbalance — i.e., to give some states disproportionate representation in relation to other states. Specifically, it was designed to give more clout to slave-holders and to advance the interests of wealthy landowners in general. And although slavery has subsequently been abolished, the EC still is doing an excellent job of keeping certain sectors of the populace “in their place” and skewing elections in favor of agrarian communities as opposed to urban communities, and in favor of wealthy white men over everyone else.

Another common phrase you hear from defenders of the EC is that it protects the country from being dominated by California and New York. So does it make more sense to have the country dominated by Oklahoma and Nebraska? Because that’s exactly what’s happening. Under the present system, many states that depend mostly on agriculture are valued far more highly than some states that thrive on agriculture plus the tech industry, publishing and media, banking, insurance, science and medicine. As an extreme example, a vote in Wyoming carries more than three and a half times as much weight as a vote in California.

And it’s getting even more lopsided. Twenty years ago, it probably would have been unthinkable for a presidential candidate to win the popular vote by nearly 3 million, yet still lose the electoral vote. But as more and more people move into cities, their votes for president will count less and less. If the trend continues, the president ultimately may be selected by a mere handful of voters. (Although technically there’s no limit to the number of votes a state can acquire, there’s a practical limit because the total must be 538.) Among other things, this means it’s going to be increasingly difficult for a Democrat to get elected — which is precisely why the system will never change: the last thing Republicans want is a level playing field. (See mandering, gerry.)

Supporters of the present system — or of the candidates most likely to benefit from it — also like to tout maps of electoral results like the one reproduced above.  This, they declare, is proof that the country overwhelmingly supports Donald Trump, even though most of the voters rejected him. Makes perfect sense, eh?

Sometimes they’ll get even cuter by breaking down the electoral map into counties, resulting in a sea of red with only a few little islands of blue. Where the hell are all the libruls lurking?

2016 election results map

Such maps are bad models because they depict geographic boundaries rather than demographic density.  What we are perfectly capable of producing, and yet you seldom see, is a 3-D map revealing that “blue” voters tend to live in more densely populated areas, and often even in high-rise buildings.

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The two-dimensional maps are meant to reassure us that the right guy won, because he’s representing more of the country. But what they actually do is betray the big flaw of the Electoral College: the president is elected by land mass more than by the citizens who live on it. Donald Trump was not the choice of the people, but he had the overwhelming support of cows, coyotes and cacti.

Defenders of the system are fond of comparing the Electoral College to the World Series. Specifically, they often cite the 1960 match, in which the highly favored New York Yankees outscored the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates 55 to 27, and yet the Pirates still won the series — thanks to the storybook finish of a home run by a mediocre hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 7. We accept and even relish this kind of unexpected drama in sports; so why not in elections?

Well, because even though the presidential election has developed into a spectacle in its own right, with its catty debates and October surprises, it was never designed to be entertainment the way baseball was. It was designed to be a way to pick the leader of the nation; and that objective is better filled by honoring what the people want and need rather than honoring where they live. Furthermore, determining a baseball champion with a series of games rather than a single game helps minimize the element of chance; but breaking up a national election into state elections actually heightens the role of chance. In 2000, for instance, the fluke of a confusing “butterfly ballot” was enough to flip the entire state of Florida — which in turn was enough to flip the entire election.

Consider a hypothetical race between 3 candidates. In state A, candidate Jones receives 5 million votes, Smith receives 4 million and Brown 1 million. In State B, Brown receives 5 million, Smith 4 million and Jones 1 million. The totals for these two states then are: Smith 8 million, Jones 6 million and Brown 6 million.  So Smith, the candidate with the most votes, is awarded no electoral votes at all. Repeating this 25 and a half times, we see that it’s theoretically possible for a candidate to win the popular vote, and yet receive ZERO electoral votes for her trouble.

Does this mean the EC should be abolished? Not necessarily. Because there seems to have been another, more honorable purpose for its existence: to serve as a last line of defense against tyranny. The founders explicitly stated that the institution should be composed of individuals better qualified than the general public for selecting a national leader; and should help ensure that dangerous, unqualified demagogues should not sneak into office just because they happen to hoodwink the voters.

But obviously, the system has failed us big time. The Electoral College has become little more than a rubber stamp; some states even have made it illegal for electors to contradict the choice of the voters in that state.

So perhaps it should be abolished after all. Just don’t hold your breath.

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A Tale For Future Generations

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Once upon a time, kiddies, a once-great nation held this election for what they called a president. And one of the major candidates had no qualifications for the job whatsoever. Furthermore, he actually campaigned on pledges to violate the nation’s constitution and international treaties. in fact, his comments indicated he was totally unfamiliar with those documents.

He repeatedly insulted women, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, veterans and POWs.

He repeatedly called his opponent a liar, even though it was established that he lied far more often and far more severely. Some of his lies were downright hallucinatory; he more than once claimed, for instance, that he had witnessed “thousands” of Muslims cheering in the streets of Manhattan on 9-11.

He relentlessly repeated the silly allegation that his opponent was a criminal, and even threatened to have her jailed if he was elected — something a president would not even be able to do (although a dictator could).

He threatened to sue at least 20 people who dared criticize him during his campaign.

He himself was the target of at least 75 legal actions, including an investigation for rape of a minor. (Most of the people didn’t know about these transgressions because they were all obsessed with something they called email.)

He promoted the outrageous and thoroughly debunked lie that his opponent had been responsible for the deaths of 4 people at a consulate; and he exploited the grief and anger of the victims’ relatives.

He praised the “leadership” of some of the world’s most ruthless dictators.

He had a suspicious relationship with a hostile nation, and openly challenged them to try to influence the election.

He boasted about molesting women, and even snatching their cats. When caught, he responded the way he usually responded — by blaming someone else for causing his deplorable behavior.

He circulated the lie that the current president was not a citizen. When caught, he falsely claimed his opponent had started the rumor.

During what was known as the primaries (they had an extended season of public torture back then) he suggested that the father of one of his opponents had been involved in the assassination of another president, citing the National Enquirer as documentation.

He refused to release his tax returns, claiming it was because they were being audited (another lie) and admitted to dodging taxes for years.

He proposed committing torture, and bombing women and children.

He called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese.

He proposed building a wall between his nation and a neighbor, and insisted that the neighbor would pay for it.

He mocked a disabled reporter.

He condoned violence by his supporters, and claimed that his opponent did likewise. At some gatherings of his supporters, protesters were physically attacked.

He was enthusiastically endorsed, cheered and promoted by the KKK, the American Nazi Party, and other white supremacist groups and “militias”.

When it appeared he was losing, he began protesting, far in advance of the election, that it was “rigged”, and took the unprecedented stance that he might not accept the results. Meanwhile, he encouraged his own supporters to harass and intimidate “suspicious” (i.e., minority) voters at the polls.

He also claimed that media were rigged against him — even though the media literally created his candidacy in the first place, and gave him far more publicity than anyone else — including more positive coverage and less negative coverage.

He had a long history of failed, shady and unscrupulous business practices; evidence indicates that, born wealthy, he probably would have been better off financially had he never gone into business at all.

He faced an opponent who was better qualified for the job than just about any other candidate in the nation’s history — except that she was female.

But golly, he had such a nifty slogan, and he was willing to pander to the religious right by posing as “pro-life”. So he won. And all over this once-great nation, his followers celebrated by escalating their assaults on minorities. Tyrants and terrorists abroad also cheered his victory.

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And he used his power as president to make his struggling business empire great again. And he lived happily ever after even if nobody else did.

No, no, no. This is NOT like the time I told you about the talking pumpkin.