An Electoral College is a body of electors; especially : one that elects the President and Vice President of the United States. In the US, we are all guaranteed one vote per person so that we all have an equal voice in electing the people who serve in local, state, and national governments. Every four years, the people of the United States go to polling places around the country in November and vote for the people they want to be President and Vice President.

Right? Actually, they don't. Instead, they vote for people called electors who come together in Washington in December and cast their votes for these offices. There are 538 electors, and theirs are the only votes that count. Together, they are known as the Electoral College.

If you add the number of representatives each state has, which is determined by population, to the number of Senators, two each, you get the number of electors. For example, California, which has the most people of any state, has 52 Representatives and 2 Senators, so they get 54 electors. Wyoming, which has the fewest people, has only 1 representative and 2 senators, so they get 3 electors. If you add the 3 from the District of Columbia, you get 538 total. Anyone who wins at least half of these votes plus one, or 270 votes, is elected President.

Clear and present dangers.

In 1823 Thomas Jefferson denounced the Electoral College as “the most dangerous blot on our Constitution.” When America was a newborn country under the US Constitution one of various problems facing the founding fathers was that of how to elect a president. America was a nation that was composed of states suspicious of any central government, spread across thousands of miles with little connection between them, many believed that any political party was evil, and that people should not have to campaign for office; rather the office should seek them (FEC). Their answer to this proposed dilemma was the creation of a College of Electors. In this college each state would have the number of representatives in the Senate along with the amount of representatives the state has in the House of Representatives. Over the years this system of choosing a president has faced criticism after many controversial elections. Most recently the 2000 presidential election has caused problems with the Electoral College to flare up again.

Is the Electoral College hurting democracy?

Over the centuries the Electoral College seems to have gone with the opinions of the public, but there have been a few anomalies. In 1800 the electors gave Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr the same number of votes, the House of Representatives then settled the dispute as outlined in the Constitution. The relativity of this case is that it was the first to show a flaw of the Electoral College and prompted the creation of the 12th amendment. In the election of 1824 there were four strong contenders for the presidency. None of the candidates received the required majority of electoral votes in order to become president. Thus, once again, the decision was left to the House of Representatives who elected John Quincy Adams even though Andrew Jackson had the majority of the popular vote, this being the first time that a candidate who received the popular majority failed to be elected president.

Tippecanoe and Tyler, too

In 1836 the Whig party attempted to exploit the workings of the Electoral College by sending several different candidates around the country according to regional appeal. The purpose of this strategy was to get the majority of the electoral votes for the party rather than a single candidate and then use the votes to choose the candidate they wanted for president. Although this strategy did not work, it does bring up concerns about how this flaw of the Electoral College can affect the fairness of the presidential election. In 1872 presidential candidate Horace Greeley ran against Ulysses S. Grant but died before the Electoral College convened. Greeley’s 86 votes where left to be divided among the four minor candidates. Although it did not affect the election results, the Electoral College “seriously skewed history, because Grant is credited with crushing Greeley 286-0”(CTD 2000). In 1888 Benjamin Harrison lost in the popular vote but was still elected over the popular candidate Grover Cleveland. However, Harrison had managed a slim majority in a multiple large states, letting him win by electoral votes.

In the previous century there have been a few elections that, had a small group of voters changed their votes, a minority president would have been elected. For example, in the 1976 election if just 5,548 voters in Ohio and 3,686 voters in Hawaii had voted for Gerald Ford instead of Jimmy Carter, Ford would have been elected even though he was behind Carter in the popular vote by 1.6 million ballots.

"I'm sorry I ever invented the Electoral College."
- Al Gore

Along with all of the previously stated problems, in the last century there have been 3 minority presidents elected consisting of: Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and most recently George W. Bush. The most recent problem with the Electoral College was the 2000 presidential election. Bush won the electoral votes of Florida by an amount of 537 votes out of 6 million, thus giving him the needed votes of 271 to become president. Despite the fact that Al Gore had the majority of the popular vote George W. Bush was still elected president.

In addition to the past tribulations with the Electoral College, there are other reasons that many see as justifiable for abolishing the Electoral College. One of the most prominent arguments to remove the Electoral College is that it creates the possibility to elect a minority president. Proponents of the Electoral College argue that since a candidate requires at least 270 votes to win there is no way a candidate can win without a significant voter base. Yet this has already happened several times in the past and occurs in one of three ways: one candidate may lead in the popular vote but the other candidate has secured enough states to obtain a majority of the votes in the Electoral College, a second way is that if a third party candidate draws enough votes away from either of the two major parties so that neither receive 50% of the popular vote which has occurred 16 times before including 8 times this century, the electoral votes are split among three or more candidates and no one can achieve the majority needed , which has happened twice and attempted once; there are two ways to determine who will be elected in a situation like this. A candidate can throw his electoral votes to support one of their opponents or the House of Representatives must decide, yet both of these will result in a minority president (FEC). By creating a direct election of the candidates or having a national run off between the two candidates that received the most votes could solve each of these problems. The most significant caveat to this solution is that it’s very likely that since just nine states hold half the US population, a politician could ignore 41 states and actually win the election, promising massive entitlements for the few.

The Wild Cards

A further problem with the Electoral College is that of “Faithless Electors.” These are the electors that promise to cast their vote for the candidate of the opposite party. There is no constitutional protection against these faithless electors and only in about half the states are electors bound by rules or laws to vote for the candidate they are supposed to vote for (Sidems 2001). For example, in 1948, 1960, and 1976 individual electors cast their votes for third party candidates. If there were to be defecting electors in a close race it would worsen the crisis of confidence in the electoral system.

An additional concern about the Electoral College is that small states are over represented. In many small states the votes of the people hold much more weight than that of a voter in a big state. For instance every electoral vote in New York represents about 550,000, while South Dakota has one for every 232,000 people. To put this in perspective, one can look at the 2000 election where Bush captured 73 votes in 12 small states that had the combined population of California whereas Gore only received 54 votes by winning California itself (Sidems 2001). Moreover supporters of the Electoral College state that since it operates on a state-by-state basis, a majority of the states must support the president and that no region of the country should be able to dominate the election. However this does not seem like a particularly effective way to prevent regional domination and the Constitution already takes steps to avoid this by prohibiting the President and Vice President from living in the same states. In a system in which a majority is required would, nearly by definition, better represent the entire country (CTD 2000).

Conversely the winner-take-all system that most states tend to superimpose upon the structure tends to magnify the importance of larger state voters, thus resulting in candidates to have reason to commit disproportionate amounts of time and resources to the larger states (Goldstein, 34-36). A different problem that the winner takes all system creates is that it produces a huge obstacle for third parties to overcome since it tends to promote the two party system. It is extremely difficult for a third party candidate to ever make much of a showing in the Electoral College. If a third party where to win 25% of the popular votes, it would still be very unlikely for them to get any electoral votes. Even if the party did manage to win a few states, their support in other states would not be accurately reflected. Although proponents of the Electoral College argue that by preserving the two party system that it promotes national cohesion, but by failing to accurately reflect the national popular will and discouraging third parties or independents thereby restricts the choices available to the electorate and can never truly represent the voters (FEC).

The Electoral College also disrupts the one vote one-person system that should be the way the President is elected. The Electoral College innately violates this system through the representation of part of a population as a single electoral vote.

Support for abolishing the Electoral College continues to grow. Many organizations and parties, such as the League of Women Voters whom made a proposal on Electoral College reform to the House of Representatives and parties like the Green party support its abolition as well. There are also a slew of past and present public officials that support abolishing it such as: Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Hillary Clinton, and many others.

Toward democratic elections

If the Electoral College is abolished then how should we elect the president? There are currently several proposals of what can be used in place of the Electoral College. The one most sought after by opponents of the College is that of a direct election. In this case each party would submit one candidate and the voters would directly chose who is to become president. This would be ideal because it would implement the one vote one-person policy that is required for a true democracy. Also this would help to increase voter turn out since each and every vote would in fact count. An additional plus to this system of election would be in the case of no candidate receiving the majority of the popular vote by 40% or more, in which the two candidates that received the highest amount of votes would run in a national run-off election.

Achieving a complete abolishment of the College would require an Amendment voted for by 2/3 of each house in Congress and ratification by ¾ of the states legislatures, removing the Electoral College seems highly improbable. As a result others have proposed an added possible solution for the Electoral College and that is one of not abolishing the College but passing an amendment that would significantly change it. If these changes where to be implemented the electoral votes of a state would be divided among candidates according to their share of the popular vote within the state (Sidems 2001). This raises some complexities in distributing the proper amount of votes to each candidate because the proposal suggests a system that is already used in Maine and Nebraska where two electoral votes are given to the state’s popular vote winner and the others go to the winners in each U.S. House District. For instance if the state majority winner of Maine does well in District 1 but does poorly in District 2 the statewide winner would get 3 votes but the loser would still get one (Sidems 2001).

When our Founding Fathers constructed the Electoral College the status of America was significantly different than it is now. In the 18th century communication and travel between states was very limited and the general public was uneducated. Today interstate travel is commonplace and the public is generally better informed. Given that the Electoral College was designed to get around these now non-existent problems the College is no longer needed. What's more America was built on the right to self govern, but the Electoral College itself is an opponent of democracy and until it is abolished America shall never truly be democratic.

Sources:

Abolish The Electoral College:
http://www.sidems.org/electoral.htm

Adams, Christopher. Electoral College. Tucson, Arizona. (Speech presented at Flowing Wells high school 2003).

Electoral College Problems
www.geocities.com/dave_enrich/ctd/ec2000.html

Infoplease:
http://www.infoplease.com/

To vote or not to vote? That is the question. As I write this, there are conversations taking place in several forums on the Internet over the pros and cons of voting in the United States’ upcoming presidential election. Some find it inexcusable to not vote; others think it folly to participate in the process at all. Some believe that voting for Ralph Nader will send a clear message to the government; others believe that not voting at all will send a stronger message. Some see not voting as apathetic; others see voting as perpetuating a failing system. Some say not voting speaks to the disgust of our citizens; others say voting protects us from the greater of two evils.

As far as it can be told, though, to those who are apathetic toward government, a widespread non-vote sends a clear signal of apathy. To those who are disgusted with the government, a widespread non-vote sends a clear signal of disgust. To those who are too lazy to vote, a widespread non-vote only shows how so many others are lazy, too. And to the politicians, who desperately hope that everyone will approve of and like them, a wide-spread non-vote only means that there are those many people out there who don’t approve of or like them.

But when I see people express sentiments that voting will change things more than not voting, I wonder if they’ve actually studied the voting process. I’m speaking, of course, of the Electoral College, a method of election that was originally begun to ensure balance of voice among all the states when casting their votes, but is also under some heavy-duty criticism these day.

Basically, it works like this:

1) Every state is allocated a certain number of electors, based on the number of senators in their state plus the number of congressmen.

2) Through conventions, appointment, or direct designation, each political party in each state submits a list of people pledged to vote for their candidate, equal to the number of electoral votes in that state. Note that at this point, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates have not been chosen yet, because

3) After their caucuses and primaries, the major parties then nominate their candidates.

4) On voting day, we vote, but we’re not voting for the president, we’re casting our votes for the party slate of Electors who represent our choice for president.

5) Whichever party slate wins that state becomes that state’s Electors for the College. In effect, then, all the votes that mean anything coming out of a state will be for one candidate only, because the other party’s Electors lost, so they will not be voting on that state’s behalf for the other candidate.

6) In December, long after the popular vote is run, the state Electors meet in their state capitols and cast their votes for the candidate they’d previously pledged toward (before the candidates were even chosen)

7) The electoral votes are sealed and delivered to the President of the Senate, and on January 6, these votes are read and decide who the president will be.

So, you see, when you cast your vote, if you decide to do so, you’re really electing a party so the appropriate group of Electors can step forward and cast their vote. Part of the crux is, they are not legally bound to vote in accordance with the wishes of their constituents.

It’s been pointed out the Electoral College members have voted in accordance with the wishes of their constituents 99% of the time in America’s history, and therefore one should feel relatively safe with the speaking power of their vote. One may have confidence if one wishes, but the fact is the simple math doesn’t support this. Such thinking has fallen victim to what is known as the Gambler’s Fallacy. If you have repeatedly flipped a certain perfectly shaped coin a number of times and found that it came up heads 99% of the time, it seems natural to assume that the next toss has a 99% chance of also being heads. Alas, the next toss has an even 50-50 chance of being heads, just like any other toss. The casting of the votes by the Electoral College members is no different. A 99% history is comforting, but the next election only holds a 50-50 chance that they will vote in line with the voice of the public.

And those aren’t very good odds, indeed.

There are several instances of curious events occurring with this process, including one in which the Electoral College vote completely overturned the popular vote. In 1888, the people elected Grover Cleveland for a second term. The Electoral College, though, elected Benjamin Harrison, and that was the end of that.


My research shows that 24 out of 50 states now require electors to vote in line with the popular vote. Not quite a "vast majority," but better than nothing.
The electoral college has some issues, particularly when combined with a two-party system. In a worse-case scenario, if everyone in the US voted in a race with only two candidates, it's possible for one candidate to win with only 21.6% of the popular vote, while the other candidate loses with 78.4% of the popular vote.

This could happen if the winning candidate polled exactly one more than half the votes in the following states:
AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, SD, TN, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY

And the other candidate polled all of the votes in:
CA, FL, GA, IL, MA, MI, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TX

Muke (below): Let's do this nice and slowly. If Alaskans get 3x the power with their vote, and Californians get 1.25x the power with their vote, they have to be taking it from somewhere else in the country. In some other state, voters only get .75x the power with their vote. Why? Because it's impossible for everyone to have more than 1x the power with their vote. Your logic becomes flawed when you try to take two examples (Alaska and California) and extend it to the entire country.

Duane Dibbley (below): You say that "a popular vote is not necessarily representative of the entire nation." By counting the entire (voting and nonvoting) populations of counties, you're saying that people who don't vote really would have voted with the majority.

All:
In fact, that's the biggest problem with the Electoral college. It converts everybody in the state, whether voter, non-voter, even those voting in the minority, to those voting in the majority. My existance in one state, whether I voted for or against the majority, counts as a vote for the majority. What if I don't agree with the majority of my state? Too bad, my vote counts along with the majority, just because I added 1 to the population of the state. Obviously, the two extra electoral votes each state gets only adds to the problem.

One of the major problems with the electoral college and today's system for election is that if a large state is seen as "locked in", then neither candidate will campaign there, ignoring the issues that that state (possibly a very large one) would bring up. This does not encourage voter turnout in these states and continues to contribute to the apathy with government today - They aren't concerned with me, why should I be concerned with them?

Many states are of the form "winner takes all", in which all the electors for a given state vote for the person who has a majority in the state. This system allows the worst case as seen above and makes it very difficult for any third party to get the majority of a single state, even though they may have a very large following. Furthermore, this "winner takes all" means that the vote of a person in one state that does not tip the balance is worth less than the vote of another person in a different state that does tip the balance. With the electoral college, not everyone's vote is worth the same but rather depends on the state that they live in.

The number of Electoral College votes for each state is determined by their number of members of Congress. Thus, smaller states have slightly disproportionate influence in the EC, as states with only one House of Representatives member (Alaska, for example) have their vote tally tripled by the addition of votes for their two Senators, while large states, like California with 52 House members, receive a much smaller incremental benefit for adding their two senators to the count.

By tradition, most states' electors distribute their votes on a winner-takes-all basis, as mblase wrote. However, Maine's and Nebraska's electors allocate their votes differently. The two votes notionally representing each state's senators are given to the winner. Then, the remaining votes are allocated based on the popular vote winner in each Congressional district of the state in question (currently 2 in Maine, and 3 in Nebraska) -- effectively, a miniature version of the national Electoral College based on the Congressional district map. Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to win an electoral vote this way, claiming the elector representing the second Congressional district of Nebraska (mostly Omaha and its suburbs) in 2008 despite John McCain's statewide triumph.

On watching the coverage of this election, I keep hearing about people wanting to get rid of the Electoral College.

To this I say, bah!

The Electoral College gives your vote more power than it deserves.

Look, please, at Florida now. This one state is deciding the next President. I think it was Clinton who said "Nobody will ever be able to say again that their vote doesn't count." And it's because of the Electoral College that this is true.


'But,' you may interject, 'what about the popular vote? The Electoral College may elect a President the people don't really want!'

To this I say, bah!

It's already been asserted that America isn't really a democracy. The truth is actually much worse than this. America isn't just a country; it is a confederacy. (Hence the name United States.) The states belong to the country, and the people belong to the states.

Notice even the Constitution recognizes this: the people vote for the senators and representatives for their states, but when it comes to the presidency, "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress..."

The national tally of the popular vote is (IMHO) merely anti-Electoral-College propaganda. The popular vote doesn't mean anything because it isn't supposed to mean anything.


Now, as for what I said about the Electoral College giving your vote more power... It's a kind of 'big fish in a small pond' compared to a 'small fish in a big pond' kind of deal.

Take, for example, Alaska, a small state populationwise, with its three electoral votes and about 230,000 people who voted for President this year. An Alaskan therefore has 1/230,000 of his state's electors. If the electors he wants are chosen, he has 3/538 of the Presidential vote. Multiplying these, we find that an Alaskan can have about 1/41,000,000th of the vote. Given that about 126 million people voted this year in the whole country, voters in Alaska had three times as much power as they would have had in a popular election.

For the opposite extreme, we take California, a large state populationwise, with fifty-four electoral votes and about 9,800,000 voters this year. The Californian has about 1/97,000,000th of the vote, 125% more than a popular election would give them.

Why do smaller states have more power than larger states? Well, they get it because of the way electors are assigned: representatives plus senators. The number of congressmen a state gets is based on population, but the number of senators is always 2. This +2 adds more, proportionally, to smaller states than larger states. Also, there doesn't appear to be an upper limit to representatives, but no state can have less than one, so the smaller states get more than they might "deserve" there, too.

And it is important that smaller states have more power. The system requires candidates to have more widespread appeal than just going for the "big states".


Also, I do recommend the article at the URL in dh's writeup here.
novalis: Please do more than just assert that the math is bad. In my writeup I don't 'consider the chance that one person will affect the outcome', because that is not relevant to what I'm calculating, but I'll do it now if you like:
To take your analogy, the chance of mutton is 1, because the sheep's decision can only cancel one of the lions'. But that's a popular, one-vote-one-man-one-vote, which is what I'm saying we're not dealing with. If the sheep's vote is worth an Alaskan's (three) and the lion's vote worth a Californian's (1.25; or two-and-a-half for the both together), then the sheep outnumbers the lions and there will be no mutton, regardless of what the lions decide. If I understand you correctly, this is what you meant by the individual having no chance to affect the outcome--which is true when everyone's minds are made up--but is not relevant to the main issue of this writeup.

novalis: In a perfectly democratic election, or even an election where electors were directly based on population, then you'd be correct: A voter could not have more than 1/Xth of the vote. But our electoral system adds votes to this at the state level: electoral representation is based on representation in both houses of Congress: not merely population figures (i.e., number of representatives) but also an even two added to every state (i.e., number of senators). This makes the state's votes worth more than it would be going by its population, with more power, proportionally, going to the smaller states. A one-congressman state gets three electors: 3-to-1 representation-to-population, while a fifty-congressman state gets fifty-two electors, 52:50 representation:population.
As the state receives more electors, so the voters in the state receive more electoral power (except possibly in the few remaining states without winner-take-all in place). The actual number or percentage of voters is immaterial for this point.

George Dorn and novalis: You both misunderstand me. I don't say that the Electoral College gives more than 1/Xth the vote, where X = the number of voters (which is, as you say, mathematically unsound). I say that the vote under the Electoral College gives more power compared to the popular vote. That is to say, the Electoral College system gives the hypothetical Alaskan voter an equivalent of three votes under the popular vote system.


novalis wrote: All the EC does is redistribute the power. I know you wouldn't support simply giving Alaskans 2 votes each and having a popular-vote election - so why is it different when we hide it in the EC?

Actually, that's the purpose of the EC, to do the equivalent of give voters in lesser states more power. The advantage of "hiding" it in the EC is that the EC's numbers are tied to numbers already in use for representation (i.e., members of the houses of Congress) and automagically update with them.

As a resident of rural America, I'd like to keep the electoral college around. If we ditch the electoral college, do you think the candidates will bother to spend time stumping for votes in the smaller states or areas with low populations? Naw, they'll spend all their time campaigning in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other similarly colossal cities, 'cause that's where the most voters are. Why waste time in Nevada, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, or any of the more rural parts of the country when there's so little benefit to be gained, right?

Of course, with zero attention paid to rural areas during presidential elections, the quality of life in those areas would drop. Why bother sending federal funds to sparsely-populated areas when there's no political benefit to be derived? The population of NYC and LA dwarfs the population of most Western states--why not close their WIC offices and use that money to improve benefits to the poor in the Big Apple and Southern California? The votes lost in the West will be more than made up for in New York, and since all that matters is who gets the most votes, who cares about those rednecks, right? If they were worth anything, they'd move to the metro areas where their votes would count, right?

The electoral college may be a leftover from old constitutional battles, but it's the only thing that gets the candidates out to see what things are like out here in the sticks, and as far as I'm concerned, it's the only thing that keeps us country mice from slipping down into the Third World nation status that urban America seems to expect of us...
The article dh mentioned has a serious logical flaw: It confuses the map with the territory. Here's how: it models an election with 60% of people voting for Nader and 40% for Browne as an election in which each person flips a 60/40 weighted coin to choose who to vote for. This is convinient from a statistical point of view - and if you took only a sample of people, this would be a valid model. But in an election, every vote counts - and there's no chance (not a vanishingly small chance, but no chance at all) that Browne's gonna win this one. The law of large numbers (which the article invokes) applies to statistical things, but not to non-random, deterministic things like votes. As a small example, consider the famous case of 2 lions and 1 sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Assuming that the lions (and the sheep) are typical of their species, the chance of mutton isn't just near 1, it is 1.

And y'know how there are all these recounts going on in Florida? If it weren't for the EC, they would be happening everywhere - and the votes of people in Florida *would* count. And Muke's math is bad - it doesn't consider the chance that one person actually will affect the outcome of a state's election (which is zero).

Update: Muke: My logic (above) was confusing you with dh's article (sorry). Here's how your math is bad: You're getting that each American has more than 1/Xth of the vote, where X is the number of voters. So, you're saying that Americans as a whole have more than 100% of the vote. That's clearly not possible - no matter how you divide up 100%, when you add it back together, you get 100%. I looked around a bit, and found the cause - only 98 million people voted this year (for president). So, the Californian has now slightly under 1/Xth of the vote, while the Alaskan has slightly over 2/Xths of the vote.

All the EC does is redistribute the power. I know you wouldn't support simply giving Alaskans 2 votes each and having a popular-vote election - so why is it different when we hide it in the EC? The other thing to consider is that since Alaska is one of those states that goes Republican no matter what (like Washington, DC, DC goes Democrat almost no matter what). In this situation, the EC it disenfranchises the minority party members entirely (their vote has no effect at all on the presidential election).

Further update: I feel the need to clarify that there is no way that, in a system where some group of N people (directly or indirectly) make a decision, that the total decision-making power of those people will add up to greater than 100%. That is, no matter how you slice the political power pie, there's still only one President.
During the summer of the Constitutional Convention, no fewer than 60 ballots were cast to decide how a president would be elected. In Mr. Madison’s Virginia Plan, he proposed that the Congress elect the national executive, so more qualified, traveled, educated, and informed people could elect the president. The executive would be limited since he would not be separate from the Congress. If the President did not please Congress, he would not be re-elected. There would not be an adequate separation of powers or a separate check on the Congress. The plan was ultimately rejected because the executive branch would turn into a puppet of the legislature.

Elbridge Gerry proposed a plan that would fuse the federal government to the states. The governors could select the electors who would, in turn, elect the President, or the state legislators themselves could select the executive. This too was rejected because the president would answer to the governors or the state legislatures. This would be understandable had the founders been creating a government of “We the States” instead of “We the People.”

Many believed the President should be chosen by a method separate from all government so that he could have free agency. One plan was to elect the president through a popular vote, so he could answer to the American people directly. The problem many saw with this was the uninformed, uneducated, backwoods farmers. Who would they elect? Gouverneur Morris felt that the American people would vote according to their national interests. He believed that civic virtue would prevail. Madison felt that voters would play favorites and elect someone from their state to further their personal interests. This favored the northern and larger states.

With a popular majority electing the president, the smaller states, communities, and minority groups would lose all say. Mr. Hamilton’s remedy was an electoral system where by the executive would be elected by electors chosen by the people.

The whole decision was given to the Committee of Eleven late in the Convention. This committee came up with an Electoral College as a practical solution. However, it does not operate as they intended because of the rise of political parties.

During the convention, the founders tried to create a republican government rising from the people that would filter and refine the opinions of the people through elected representatives. Since state legislatures would be elected by the people they would not be left out, thus their representatives would decide how to choose the electors. Likely, these men would be educated and experienced men who would know leaders capable of being president.

By requiring that one vote be cast for someone outside their state, the Electoral College tried to avoid sectional divisions. Electors would be better traveled and better informed and could pick people with civic virtue who could lead the entire country. The final decision was made on August 31 and was based on a committee report, a compromise.

A long time ago, the United States was formed, and thus, true to its name, numerous states joined into a Union. It was quickly noticed that the states were not even, and thus there came a big dispute among how states should be represented in the federal government, either with each state getting the same amount of say (the Senate), or each state getting a say according to their population (the House of Representatives). With the delicate art of compromise, they came up with the current system.

Why is this important to the Electoral College? After the recent recalls in the election of 2000 fresh in everyone's mind, there is a movement to abolish the electoral college, and go to a popular vote. There are two such points made in this debate:
  • The Electoral College members can be "unfaithful": Yes, they can, but it has not happened in any meaningful event in a long time. They are meant as a check in case the people are being irrational in their state, and vote someone in that they should not. In this day of information and education, this is not needed, and all there is left is a formality.
  • The Electoral College can elect someone without the consent of the popular vote. Yes, and this, I believe, is a good thing. To win the popular vote, you need to address the concerns of California, Florida, New York, and Texas... You have then won the election. You will never address the concerns of Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, or many of the other smaller states in the Union.

    Regional causes (those of farmers, the California power crisis, land conservation in the Everglades), are serious issues affecting people's lives, and you cannot address them in a national forum if a politician does not visit the entire country, and try to hit at least 40 of the 50 states. The middle section of the country can outweigh New York, or Massachusetts, or Florida, and can contribute greatly to anyone's campaign, as it stands now.

    To move to popular vote would mean that more broad issues may have more consensus, and that regional issues will be totally ignored, even though they affect the nation's well being. To do away with the Electoral College is to do away with the same reasoning that governs why we have a Senate and a House of Representatives. Even though there was minor outrage that G.W. Bush did not win the popular vote, he did have enough consensus of the country to make him our leader.
There is wisdom underneath the way we run this country that allows us to continue on as we do. Too much messing with the foundation due to a one-time problem is dangerous. If there are serious issues concerning the way the electoral process is put together, we'll solve it the right way. Large-scale demolition of our system would do no one any good.

Electoral College - Affirmative

The Constitution of the United States of America reads:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."

The Electoral College is a simple and basic component of our Constitution. It was contemplated for long periods of time by our founding fathers. It is designed, as all democracy should be, to protect the rights of the minority while expressing the will of the majority. It is perhaps the most effective and efficient institution of our government. It is simply a scapegoat because it has no opportunity to protect itself.

Our constitution is the law of our land and the legacy of our founding fathers. The moment we start to dissect when there is no need is disrespectful and detrimental to our society as a whole.
Many will argue that the idea is outdated. It has been reformed three times! - and as recently as 1961. It is not outdated, but effective and historical. People might argue that since it has been reformed before, it should be again. This is not the case. As the organization now stands, it is the best for the country and it’s people.

States’ Rights are upheld by the electoral college.
In a formal federal structure, important political powers are reserved to the component States. The highest official elected by popular vote is the State’s Governor. This protects the rights of the state, which a direct vote would undermine.

Proposition is futile. The Electoral College is a constitutional aspect and would have to be changed by the senate. Since the senate is run by the small states, which the Electoral College represents, the proposition would be shot down. Minority interests are thence protected.

The electoral college is Effective and Efficient as stands.
The Electoral College meets once every four years, at their own capitals. No travel expenses. Many states don’t even pay for lunch. They cast two votes in an office and send these to Washington.

Contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of a popular support to be elected president.

Thus I stand in the affirmative for keeping and not changing the Electoral College.


Electoral College - Negative

Bush Sr. was a jerk, Quayle an idiot, Clinton was atrocious and disgusting, most of those who persecuted him were hypocritical, Gore is shallow and weak, Bradley is an idealist, Bush Jr. a fool, and all of the independent candidates act like they’re on drugs.” This is in result of the Electoral College being inadequate.

The Electoral College Denies Representation!
Electors or Elector candidates are chosen because of their loyalty to the predominant party, any third or independent party has no chance at winning, if even the popular vote swayed in that direction.

If one candidates support were heavily concentrated in one geographic region, then even if they had a majority, theoretically, the rest of the (less populace) states could have enough electoral votes to NOT elect that candidate.

The system is not proportioned to voters, but to population. Those who don’t care enough to cast a vote should not have the vote of the reigning party forced upon their heads. — California has 54 votes, Utah has 5, and the District of Columbia has 3.

The Electoral College is failing to accurately reflect the national popular will.
The result in 1998, for example, the combined voting age population of the seven least populous jurisdictions (Alaska, Delaware, D.C., North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming) carried the same voting strength in the Electoral College (21 Electoral votes) as the 9.6 million voters in Florida. Each Florida voter’s vote carried 1/3rd the weight a vote in those other states in deciding the president.

In the 1876 election of Tilden vs. Hayes there was a dispute over the electors in four states. The situation emerged where due to the popular vote Tilden needed on of 22 votes to win, and Hayes needed all 22. The house was split upon this decision and created a new form of electoral election, the Electoral Commission. The commission choose Hayes to be the new Vice President. — In the 1876 election Grover Cleveland received the majority of the popular voted, but Harrison won the electoral votes and was the president of the entire U.S. population, not just the electors who voted him into office.

The Electoral College is Outdated.
The major difference between now and when this institution was invented is the media and communication availability. The average U.S. household has at least one television set.

The way the system works completely monopolizes a two party government. No independent party could ever win the election, even if the got the popular vote.

The policy was instated because of an uneducated and incompetent new citizenship. This is no longer the case. Now citizenship is simply competence. It is your infringed rights, even if politicians don’t think you deserve them. You do. Everyone who isn’t in prison or not being punished does. It’s the basis of our country.

Thus I stand Negative for the Electoral College. It should be updated, changed, and enhanced.

I know this node is pretty long, and I hope I'm not blammed for making it longer, but I dug up an old persuasive essay assignment I did in my junior year of high school (probably late 2002). I thought it was worthwhile reading, and there's no better place to put it but here.

If you think it deserves a downvote, please send me a /msg letting me know why.


One Man, One Vote

In November of last year, over 100 million people across the United States went out to cast their vote for the presidency. After all the votes were counted and recounted and recounted again, Gore had received 50,996,582 total votes. Bush had only received 50,456,062 votes; that was over 500,000 less votes. Through some twist of fate, we now call George Bush "Mr. President", while Gore was stuck shuffling through endless piles of Florida ballots. How did this happen?

When people vote in America, they don’t vote directly for the president. The people vote for their candidates’ electors to be given a vote in the Electoral College. Each state is allowed a number of electoral votes that is equal to the number of its senators and representatives combined. For example, Alaska has two senators and one representative. Alaska would have three electors. In each state, the popular vote is tallied up. The party with a majority in the state is the party that gets to choose the electors that vote in the College. The electors must vote for the candidates of the party that chooses them. The winner of the electoral vote becomes president. What do you think about the Electoral College? Do you know how it really works?

Most states have a "winner take all" system implemented. In this system, the majority of the state’s popular vote gets to choose all of that state’s electors. This ignores large minorities. The most notable example is the state of Florida. In Florida, the votes between Bush and Gore were nearly tied: 2,912,790 for Bush and 2,912,253 for Gore. Because of only about 500 voters, all of Florida’s 25 electoral votes went to Bush. The only exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska, who split the electors by district. An elector represents each district that has a representative in the House. The remaining two electors are chosen by the state majority party. This is much fairer, but unfortunately it is not the norm. In the winner-take-all system, a candidate who loses the electoral vote can still win the popular vote by having large minorities in a lot of states. This is an embarrassment to the American republic; the people are not getting represented.

In school, we are taught that every vote counts -- "One man, one vote." How accurate is this? Originally, the electors did not have to vote for the people that chose them. The founders of America thought that the common people at that time were not educated enough to decide the presidency on their own. The Electoral College was designed so that the people’s vote could be overruled if the people voted for someone incompetent. As well as provide a competency test of sorts, the College also benefits the less-populated states. Rhode Island has about 410,000 active voters and 4 electors. Each elector represents about 100,000 people. California has about 11,000,000 active voters and 54 electors. Each elector represents about 200,000 voters. In Rhode Island, the individual voter counts more because it takes fewer people to influence the state’s electors. Both of these reasons were valid at the time that the College was started. In those times, the general populace was uneducated and did not know much about politics, or even about the candidates themselves; on top of this, the most educated, most politically-inclined people were concentrated in the northernmost, smaller states. The education level and partisan system that we have today has changed politics entirely. Now, educated people are found throughout the country, eliminating the need to favor the smaller states and the need for a checkpoint. The parties can and do have much stricter agreements with their electors, so that it is unthinkable that an elector would vote for anyone but their designated candidate. However, the fact that we still have this archaic system in place undermines America’s allegedly democratic system.

How do you feel about the Electoral College? Think about it in the following way. Next year, (my high school) will hold election for class officers. Two hundred and thirty-two seniors will vote. The teachers decide they’re going to have an electoral system by homerooms: every student votes, but each homeroom gets one overall vote per homeroom of 29 kids -- whoever gets a majority in the homeroom will win that class’s vote.

Two homerooms have a unanimous vote for Brittany. In the other six, it's a close call. In one other homeroom, Brittany is ahead by one. In all of the others, she loses by only one or two. In terms of the electoral system, Sunny would win, five homerooms to three. However, nearly twice as many students would have voted for Brittany than Sunny. In an electoral system, a minority can easily trump a majority.

Even though the presidential election was not nearly as dramatic in popular vote differences, one can see the difference between what schoolchildren are taught and the actual state of our nation.

How do you feel about the Electoral College now?

“One man, one vote?” I don’t think so.

A Banzhaf Power Index Analysis of the Electoral College

The Electoral College, for better or for worse, is the method of selecting the President of the United States of America. Each state is apportioned a certain number of electors, based on its representation in the United States Congress. Thus, for Alaska (the oft-cited example), the state receives 3 electors: 2 for its Senators and 1 for its sole Representative. California receives 54 electors: 52 for its ample House representation, and its token 2 Senators as well.

There are many arguments that claim this is unfair to California. The House has been limited to 435 members since 1911. If we were to divide those members evenly across our approximately 280 million people, it would give one representative for every 730,000 people. States like Wyoming and Alaska do not have this many people living in them, and yet still receive one full representative. In addition, every state has two Senators regardless of population. Thus California's 54 electors is only 18 times as powerful as Alaska's 3 electors, even though they have nearly 50 times the population of Alaska. People use this as an example to prove that the Electoral College is actually more fair, giving a voice to people in Alaska who would otherwise go unheard.

Yet there is a flipside to this argument, and it rests in the Banzhaf Power Index (BPI). Conceived by John H. Banzhaf III, it relies on game theory and the power of critical players to prove that, in fact, states with more electoral votes have more weight and power than smaller states in the Electoral College.

Essentially, a BPI is a set of data that analyzes a voting group for their power within the group on achieving their ends. A simple example would be a company owned equally by 2 people, Bob and Jim. The power set of this voting group would be

 {51: 50, 50} 

Where 51 is the quota the group needs for a motion to pass (i.e. a majority vote) and the two 50s represent each voter's power. Generally these are ordered from highest to lowest, but in this case, both Bob and Jim have equal votes - 50%. In this case, both Bob and Jim must agree on the motion in order to achieve the 51% quota required to pass. Both of them have equal weight and equal power. Their BPI would look like this:

{Bob: .5; Jim: .5}

Note that a BPI always adds up to 1. In total, there is 100% of power to be distributed.

A more complicated example would be a company owned disproportionately by three people. Let's say Bob sells 40% of his stock to his friend Dan. Now Bob owns 30% of the stock, Dan owns 20%, and Jim still has his 50%. Let's also say the group agrees that in order to pass a bill, they must have 75% agreement. The power set is now

 {75: 50, 30, 20}

With this arrangement, we can see a problem. If Bob and Dan want to do something, they must get Jim's approval to reach the 75% quota. And even if Dan refuses to go along with an idea of Bob and Jim, they will still have enough votes above the quota (80%) to pass the motion. To analyze specifically how much power each player has in this scenario, we generate a Banzhaf set of all of the possible voting block for this company:

Voters     Weight    Outcome
{}              0          L
{D}            20          L
{B}            30          L
{J}            50          L
{D,B}          50          L
{D,J}          70          L
{B,J}          80          W
{D,B,J}       100          W

The next step is to identify critical players. A critical player is a person who, if removed from a winning bloc of voters, turns it into a losing block. In the scenario set out above, Jim is a critical player twice, and Bob is a critical player once. Dan is never a critical player. The power index is

{Jim: .67; Bob: .33; Dan: 0}

This system obviously favors Jim. Interestingly, if you converted back to the 51% majority that the company had required before, the system again changes.

Voters     Weight    Outcome
{}              0          L
{D}            20          L
{B}            30          L
{J}            50          L
{D,B}          50          L
{D,J}          70          W
{B,J}          80          W
{D,B,J}       100          W

Now Dan is a critical player once, Bob is a critical player once, and Jim is a critical player three times. The power index becomes

{Jim: .6; Bob: .2; Dan: .2}

Here both Jim and Bob lose power at the expense of Dan. Whether or not this system is desirable is moot - the point is that with certain requirements, the power of voters change, often dynamically.

Application to the Electoral College

Ok, now that we've had our boring vote theory tutorial of the day, let's take a look at the BPI for the Electoral College. First things first, calculating all of those critical players and their values is simply ridiculous. There are 2^n possible outcomes for a set of n voters - so with 51 voters (the states plus Washington, D.C.) that totals well into the quadrillions. Instead, let's use a computer! There is an excellent Banzhaf power generator at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/~ecaae/ipgenf.html which can generate BPI totals for any potential voting blocs - including our EC. (It's even preset for just such a calculation!)

So all of the data is inputted, as well as the quota (270 for the Electoral College) and then the numbers are calculated. Here is the Banzhaf Power Index for the 51 electors in the US Electoral College:

ST EV     BPI 
CA 54  0.1114
NY 33  0.0620
TX 32  0.0600
FL 25  0.0463
PA 23  0.0424
IL 22  0.0405
OH 21  0.0386
MI 18  0.0330
NJ 15  0.0274
NC 14  0.0256
VA 13  0.0237
GA 13  0.0237
IN 12  0.0219
MA 12  0.0219
WA 11  0.0200
TN 11  0.0200
WI 11  0.0200
MO 11  0.0200
MN 10  0.0182
MD 10  0.0182
LA  9  0.0164
AL  9  0.0164
OK  8  0.0145
CT  8  0.0145
CO  8  0.0145
SC  8  0.0145
AZ  8  0.0145
KY  8  0.0145
MS  7  0.0127
IA  7  0.0127
OR  7  0.0127
AR  6  0.0109
KS  6  0.0109
NE  5  0.0091
WV  5  0.0091
UT  5  0.0091
NM  5  0.0091
RI  4  0.0072
ID  4  0.0072
HI  4  0.0072
NH  4  0.0072
ME  4  0.0072
NV  4  0.0072
SD  3  0.0054
MT  3  0.0054
AK  3  0.0054
VT  3  0.0054
WY  3  0.0054
DE  3  0.0054
ND  3  0.0054
DC  3  0.0054

As you can see, California has a better thann 11% chance of being the dealbreaker for a President getting elected, while the 7 states and D.C. with only 3 electoral votes pose a mere .54% (that's 54 out of 10000, folks) chance of actually being the critical vote in an electoral college. In short, California is over 20 times more likely to push the election in favor of one candidate than South Dakota is. Whether or not this is fair, of course, depends on the populations in each of these two states.

Let's return to the voting theory, shall we?

Adding Populations to our BPI

Now in our earlier examples, our voting blocs were controlled by a single person. That is, if Bob voted yes on a proposal, then all of Bob's votes went towards that proposal. In state elections, we have a winner takes all plurality vote. If there are three candidates A, B, and C, with candidate A taking 40% of the vote, candidate B taking 35% of the vote, and candidate C taking 25% of the vote, candidate A receives all of a state's electoral votes, despite not having a majority in the state. (There are a few exceptions here, primarily involving Maine and Nebraska splitting their electoral votes among their voting districts, but we will discount this for the theoretical moment.)

So, let's make up a new example. Picture an imaginary country - let's call it Acirema. It is made up of 5 states: Aksala, Amabala, Nogero, Saxet, and Ohadi. Its electoral system is comparable to the US - each state is doled out electors, and the majority winner of the electoral college wins the election. Now Aksala has 12 electoral votes, and a population of 601. Amabala has 8 electoral votes, and a population of 361. Nogero has 6 electoral votes, and a population of 301. Both Saxet and Odahi have the minimum number of electors, 3. While Saxet has a population of 101, Odahi has a population of only 21.

So in total we have 32 electoral votes, and thus a candidate needs 17 votes to capture the Presidency. Here are the BPIs for the 5 states.

  STATE EV     BPI
 Aksala 12   0.384
Amabala  8   0.231
 Nogero  6   0.231
  Saxet  3   0.077
  Ohadi  3   0.077

This is pretty kosher with what we've learned so far. But now let's examine things from a population standpoint. And for that, we're gonna need some combinatorics all up in this business. (For those you with a strong statistical background, you can go read The Onion, but no talking!)

First, we must find out how often a person's vote will be the critical vote in a given population of N+1 people. (Our critical voter is the extra 1, and we're assuming that N is even. Bear with me.) The formula for figuring out the number of different ways that you can choose p items from a population n is

n! / p! * (n-p)!

which in our case, p is equal to N/2 (exactly half of the population, minus our critical voter) and n is equal to - well, N. So our forumula is

N! / (N/2)! * (N/2)!

And we know that all of the possible outcomes of the voting in the population is equal to 2^(N+1) from our formula earlier. So the probability that there will be a critical voter in our population is

N! / (N/2)! * (N/2)! * (2^(N+1))

Which we can calculate. Now to make things easier for you, there is an approximation known as Stirling's approximation, which states that a good rough estimate for the factorial of a number m is

e^(-m)*(m^m)*sqrt(2*pi*m)

If we set N/2 equal to our m in the formula and substitute it into our original calculation, we get

e^(-2m)*(2m^2m)*sqrt(4*pi*m) / e^(-m)*(m^m)*sqrt(2*pi*m) * e^(-m)*(m^m)*sqrt(2*pi*m) * 2^m

Which can be simplified to

e^(-2m)*(2m^2m)*sqrt(4*pi*m) / e^(-2m)* 2m^2m * sqrt(4*pi*pi*m*m)

Which can be simplified to

sqrt(4 * pi * m / 4 * pi * pi * m * m)

Which simplifies to

sqrt(1/pi* m)

And plugging our N/2 back in for m, we get

sqrt(2 / (pi * N))

Which works out to be about 4/5 * sqrt(N). So, interestingly enough, all of this goes to prove that the power of the individual voter in a population is inversely proportional to the square root of the population. So in order to find out the power of individual voters, all we have to do is divide the BPIs of each state by the square root of its population. Note this is not the actual voting power of each voter, but merely a scale comparing the power of one voter in one state to another voter in another state.

  STATE EV     BPI  POPULATION  RATIO  NBPI
 Aksala 12   0.384         601  .0156  2.03
Amabala  8   0.231         361  .0122  1.58
 Nogero  6   0.231         301  .0133  1.73
  Saxet  3   0.077         101  .0077  1.00
  Ohadi  3   0.077          21  .0169  2.19

What's this? The state with the smallest population has the most powerful voters! At the far right is a Normalized BPI - the smallest value has been set equal to 1 and the other ratios have been adjusted proportionally. Thus in Ohadi a vote there is 2.19 times as powerful as one in Saxet - even though they have the same number of electoral votes! And although Aksala is almost 5 times as likely to determine the winner of the election as Ohadi is, its voter's powers are still not as powerful as the 21 lonely citizens of Ohadi.

The reasons this is true are fairly logical. Imagine if Ohadi had a population of only one person - say, our old friend Bob. Since Ohadi has 7% of the electoral power, Bob's single vote also has 7% of the electoral power. But for every person who joins Ohadi, the power does not merely get diluted by a linear percentage, but exponentially, because the combinations of votes increase that way.

Now, as it has been pointed out, deriving all of the possible coalitions for the 50 states would be time-consuming beyond all belief. The number of voting blocs in a group with n members is 2^n. For 50 states, this reaches the quadrillions! Instead, data is generated by creating random voting blocs that exceed the majority requirement for selecting the President (270 at the moment) and then determining critical players within that bloc. This is repeated billions of times to create a general overview of how much power each state has. The results, as culled from http://www.cs.unc.edu/~livingst/Banzhaf/ (thank you, Mark Livingston!), are as follows:

STATE POPULATION     ELECTORS    POWER INDICES
   CA   29760021           54           3.344
   NY   17990455           33           2.394
   TX   16986510           32           2.384
   FL   12937926           25           2.108
   PA   11881643           23           2.018

   IL   11430602           22           1.965
   OH   10847115           21           1.923
   MI    9295297           18           1.775
   NC    6628637           14           1.629
   NJ    7730188           15           1.617

   VA    6187358           13           1.564
   GA    6478216           13           1.529
   IN    5544159           12           1.524
   WA    4866692           11           1.490
   TX    4877185           11           1.489

   WI    4891769           11           1.486
   MA    6016425           12           1.463
   MO    5117073           11           1.453
   MN    4375099           10           1.428
   MD    4781468           10           1.366

   OK    3145585           08           1.346
   AL    4040587           09           1.337
   WY     453588           03           1.327
   CT    3287116           08           1.317
   CO    3294394           08           1.315

   LA    4219973           09           1.308
   MS    2573216           07           1.302
   SC    3486703           08           1.278
   IA    2776755           07           1.253
   AZ    3665228           08           1.247

   KY    3685296           08           1.243
   OR    2842321           07           1.239
   NM    1515069           05           1.211
   AK     550043           03           1.205
   VT     562758           03           1.192
   
   RI    1003464           04           1.190
   ID    1006749           04           1.188
   NE    1578385           05           1.186
   AR    2350725           06           1.167
   DC     606900           03           1.148

   KS    2477574           06           1.137
   UT    1722850           05           1.135
   HI    1108229           04           1.132
   NH    1109252           04           1.132
   ND     638800           03           1.118

   WV    1793477           05           1.113
   DE     666168           03           1.095
   NV    1201833           04           1.087
   ME    1227928           04           1.076
   SD     696004           03           1.071
   MT     799065           03           1.000

As expected, the state with the largest population among states with only 3 electors (Montana) gets the shaft and serves as the low point. Wyoming, the least populated state, actually fares quite well, standing as the 23rd most powerful state to vote in. But what is most interesting about this chart are the large gaps between one state and the next, suggesting major disparity in voting equality. For example, at the bottom, Montana voters are 7% less powerful than South Dakota voters, who are in turn 7% less powerful than West Virginia, who are 7% less powerful than Oregon, who are 7% less powerful than Colorado - and so on and so forth. But there is no one between Montana and South Dakota, while there are 14 states between West Virginia and Oregon - suggesting that Montana is even more disenfranchised than you would think, and is thus somewhat inflating the numbers above it. And, of course, it's good to be the king: California, despite its claims of underrepresentation, is a full 330% more powerful than Montana, over 250% more powerful than Alaska, and nearly twice as powerful as Michigan, a fairly powerful state itself. In fact, California is 140% more powerful than second place New York - California is a major outlier here.

So what does this data suggest? Well, it suggests that despite the claims that the Electoral College overrepresents smaller states, in general the larger states have much more sway. This holds true with the idea that the "swing states" are more valuable than the smaller states on the totem pole, because they are more likely to be the determining factor. In short, the BPI puts the small states back in their place - nullifying the overrepresentational factor by adding the perspective of their actual contribution to the 270 votes needed. In this way, at least, the old saying is true: bigger is better.


Commentary on BPIs and Electoral Colleges

At the heart of the debate of the electoral college are the ideas of fairness, equality, and representation. There are also a lot of ancillary factors, such as procedural quirks (the faithless electorate), the winner take all state elections, and the problems that might evolve out of a direct election - ignoring rural areas for the heavily populated urban areas. But at the very center of it all is the idea of one person, one vote.

It's pretty foolish to assume that any US state election will be decided by one vote - Florida's 2000 result was the closest one recorded ever, and was still over 300 votes away from being a perfect scale. In essence, our ratios don't reflect a real-world ability of the voter to influence the election. Rather, they reflect the fact that additional electors give more power in the electoral college than additional representation within your set of electors. This is because in power spectrums as wide as the EC - ranging from 3 to 54 - being a critical player becomes virtually impossible at the lower end of the spectrum.

The reason this correlates with the square root of the population is the fallacy of combinatorics. Perhaps you've heard this old chestnut before: A man has two children. He tells you that at least one of them is a boy. What're the odds that the other one is a boy as well? The answer isn't 50%, but merely 25%. This is because there are four possible results for his children's gender: {G,G}, {B,G}, {G,B}, and {B,B}. BPI does not account for the difference between {G,B} and {B,G} because it lumps them all together in determining critical votes. Take the example of a 5 voter election, with Bob, Jim, Dan, Susie, and Lisa - I'll just show you the coalitions of 3, where every vote is critical:

{B,J,D}, {B,J,S}, {B,J,L}, {B,D,S}, {B,D,L}
{B,S,L}, {J,D,S}, {J,D,L}, {J,S,L}, {D,S,L}

In this case each voter is critical 6 times out of 32 possible outcomes. Their BPIs are all .2, but in fact their BPIs should be .1875. This "dilution" of power is due to the binary nature of elections - once a candidate has "won" an election, he isn't awarded any extra bonus points for extra votes. So there is a small (but real) chance that even though you voted for the winning candidate, your vote didn't matter, because he had already secured the votes he needed. This is the combinatoric law clashing with the rule of discrete voting procedures - once a winner has been declared, why count the rest of the votes?

But this gets even better, because it goes back to the heart of our debate: one man, one vote. Let's say we have a 5 state nation - back to Aksala, Amabala, Ohadi, Saxet, and Nogero. Here's a population listing:

         EV1
Aksala  701    12
Amabala 361     8
Nogero  241     6
Saxet   181     4
Ohadi    21     3

Quota: 17/33

Now let's say that a proposal comes up, and here is the popular voting on the proposal:

         FOR   AGIN  EV FOR  EV AGIN
Aksala   300    401               12
Amabala  261    100       8         
Nogero   201    140       6         
Saxet      1    180                4
Ohadi     21      0       3         
Totals   784    821      17       16

So an unpopular proposal still passes. But if you readjust electors to the square roots of the populations in our election:

 
         POP EV1  EV2 EV FOR  EV AGIN
Aksala   701  12  265             265
Amabala  361   8  190    190
Nogero   241   6  155    155
Saxet    181   4  134             134
Ohadi     21   3   46     46
Totals            790    391      399

Suddenly the people have power again. Giving out electors based on the square roots of population minimizes the effect of the minority will, i.e. having an unpopular decision pushed across. There is an excellent paper on this written by a University of London philosophy professor named Moshe Machover, who does a lot of good stuff on game theory. It's called "Minimizing the mean deficit: the second square-root rule", but you can't find it online. It's in Mathematics and Social Science magazine - I used to flip through these all the time for my classes. You can get details on the web.

In any case, square rooting the population creates a system that more fairly awards the state's electors. It spreads the power of the "critical voter" out evenly to every voter, which is good for democracy. The essence of one man, one vote, so to speak.

I usually avoid getting into conversations about politics. I am not a political scientist, nor do not claim to have anything but an average understanding of the detailed workings of our government. My basic opinion of the subject is this: politicians are going to legislate, execute or judge the laws of our nation in the manner which they believe best serves their constituencies. Unfortunately, most of the REAL decisions of policy happen behind-the-scenes between politicians and lobbyists (who often are out-of-work politicians in the pay of some organization) and the public is largely sidelined until an election, where we get to choose between the BLUE plan or the RED plan.

One of the details about my government's system of elections which troubles me is that, with some regularity, our representatives legislate to re-structure our congressional districts to give a greater concentration of favorable popular votes within a district, to win that district's electoral college vote.

In Illinois, for example, state congressional districts were recently redrawn by Democrat representatives which had the effect of running Republican incumbents against each-other in the last election. A look at any state's congressional map will reveal the effects of these partisan motivated manipulations; improbably drawn districts which look like jigsaw pieces cut by someone on LSD.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has endorsed such an agenda for the Republican party to alter the electoral landscape for the 2016 Presidental election. Recently, Republican state senator Charles Carrico of Virginia has drafted Senate Bill 723 which advanced to committee. The senator drafted the bill for his rural constituents whose, "voices are not heard" in presidential elections.

The Huffington Post published an article which includes some very interesting statistical maps about the 2012 US Presidential Election. These maps illustrate a few facts that are well known and some which are maybe not-so widely known.

Democratic voters tend to be concentrated in urban areas. A majority of the people in Illinois live in or around Chicago or St. Louis and vote democratic. Therefore the electoral college in Illinois casts its votes for the Democrats and the rest of the downstate voters feel marginalized.

Take a look at the deep south, at the illustration which shows all the blue in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. These sparsely populated districts have been referred to, somewhat archaically, as the Black Belts. The majority of the people living there are African-American and vote Democratic. I suspect folks down there have a pretty long history of feeling "marginalized," yet I doubt that the politicians there are going to be redrawing the districts in their favor.

On face value, the Electoral College may seem to be an obsolescence in our technological age. In the 2000 US presidential election, Al Gore carried the popular vote, but lost the pivotal Florida Electoral votes on the weight of thousands ballots originating from Democratic voting urban areas which were ineligible due to "hanging chads," or were otherwise mishandled or lost.

Yet if the Electoral College were abolished and the President were elected based on a popular vote, this likely would dramatically marginalize those areas of low population density even further than they are today. Why would a Presidential hopeful have to visit downstate Illinois or the Black Belt in the deep south when catering to the centers of population would ensure victory?

I used to think that the Electoral College should be abandoned in favor of a straight popular vote, but I now see its value. Yet obviously it can be manipulated, as the Huntington Post has illustrated. "Democracy" is a numbers game with often substantial payoffs. Does manipulating our congressional districts benefit those who are in risk of being marginalized, or are we all just being "played?"

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