Some Civics! In the case of an Electoral College tie…. Fr. Z POLL!


What happens if, in the presidential election, both candidates wind up with the same number of Electoral College votes? WaPo has some scenarios HERE.

Review: Popular vote does not elect a President as it does Representatives to Congress (Senators were once not elected by popular vote… we should go back to that, perhaps).

The Electors of the Electoral College elect the President and Vice President (who are not representatives of the people as much as they are executives of a federation of States). Popular vote, for the most part, designates the direction Electors must go in the actual presidential and vice-presidential election. Electors are in the individual states. They are chosen by the states and Washington DC, and they are “pledged” to cast their vote according to the popular vote in states (except I think in Nebraska and Maine, which are proportional rather than winner-take-all). Each state can have its own method of choosing Electors. Right now there are 538 Electors (the voting membership of the Congress, 435 Representatives + 100 Senators) and three for D.C.).  Popular vote normally determines how the state’s Electors in the Electoral College ought to cast their votes. The Electoral College elects the President and Vice President in two different ballots.  In theory, Electors could do their own thing in choosing for whom to vote.  Some infamous Electors have gone against the popular vote of their states.  If I remember correctly, the Supreme Court ruled that “faithless Electors” could be punished or their votes invalidated.  Thus, if some doofus elector voted for, say, Ron Paul, after Romney or Obama won the doofus’s “winner-take-all Electors” state, that doofus’s vote could be scratched and the doofus could be fined, etc.

My native Minnesota does not by law require the Electors to go by the popular vote, but neighboring Wisconsin does.

In any event, what happens if there is a tie in the popular vote of the states which ought to determine the Electoral College votes?  What then?

Let’s step back.  The Electors of the Electoral College vote on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December after the presidential election. They meet in their own states, not together in Washington. They vote for President and Vice President on separate ballots. The results are recorded on a Certificate of Vote. The state’s Certificates of Vote is sent to the Congress and to the National Archives. Each state’s electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on 6 January of the next calendar year. The sitting Vice President, as President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results.

According to the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, Electoral College ties are resolved in a rather byzantine way, reflecting a different age of the world, for sure, but also a different role for the POTUS and VPOTUS than we sometimes imagine.  Let’s look:

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.


20121030-145004.jpgCan you imagine the squabbles in each state’s delegation?  California has 53 congressmen, but only vote.  The delegations of each state of the incoming, newly elected House, would have to determine among themselves how that one vote would be cast.  They’d go by a majority, I suppose.  Going by the Electoral College, California has 55 votes.  In this tie resolving scenario that number is reduced to 1, which would make California as influential as Rhode Island.  Remember: the President is the executive of a federation of States.

I think the ties for Vice President are handled in the Senate, rather than the House.  That also happened once in the early 1800’s.

Also, since in this tie scenario a party’s candidates for President and Vice President are no longer linked together, as they are on election day for us mere peons at the ballot box, the House could elect a President Romney and a Vice President Biden… or Ryan… or, I think, Obama.

Nisi fallor, the House has only elected the President once. In the early 1800’s there was a square off between Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, someone else whose name escapes, and Henry Clay.  Nobody received enough votes to win outright.  Since the House could only choose from the top three candidates, Henry Clay was not eligible.  The House elected Adams, instead of Jackson, after Clay endorsed Adams. Adams then made Clay Secretary of State. Plus ça change, …. Calhoun was VP.  A lake was named after him in my native Minneapolis, by the way.

I like this system.  First, it underscores that this is a federation of States.  We have gotten away from talking about THESE United States and rather say THE United States.  “These” is, in my opinion, better though I slip on this all the time.

The federal government is encroaching on the sovereignty of States.  The Electoral College process reminds us that President is not the directly elected representative of the people, but rather an executive for the federation of States.  This is why there is an Electoral College and why, in my opinion, there should not be direct popular vote of the President of these United States.

That said, let’s have a POLL!

Please choose your best answer and give your reasons in the combox, below.

How should the President and Vice-President be elected?

View Results

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. edwardswyco says:

    I used to want to get rid of the EC until the 2000 election when I realized that at least with the EC, there is still a way for the rest of America to counteract the will of the cities. NYC, LA, Chicago – the large cities will dictate our presidents every election if we base it on popular vote.

  2. iPadre says:

    I have the same thoughts as edwardswyco. In the past, I though it would be good to do away with the Electoral College. However, as I studied it more closely, I see how places like my home state, Rhode Island, would not need to vote. Our vote would mean nothing. The large cities and states would choose the president. And as things are now, we would almost always have a big lib.

  3. edwardswyco:

    This is similar to that scenario which the Founding Fathers feared, and why they created the College. Personally, I could make the case for or against it, but it galls me that, in 2000, Al Gore actually went around saying that he was legitimately elected President, even though he knew better, regardless of how the popular vote went.

  4. JesusFreak84 says:

    The founders had far more common sense than we do today, Protestantized as they were.

  5. acricketchirps says:

    Should have been an “other” category. Electoral College for the reason given by edwardswyco, but not all or none of electors from each state. [You do your polls on your blog, and I’ll do mine.]

  6. wmeyer says:

    Also note, on the matter of the cities, that California is actually 40% red. The coastal cities are blue, and the rest is red. Now imagine the change if California were to adopt an apportioned EC vote. And consider that nationally, 40% of the 35 million in California are effectively unrepresented.

  7. AnnAsher says:

    Thanks for the mini-civics lesson to share with my teenage kiddos!

  8. JesusFreak84 says:

    @wmeyer Same with Chicago vs. the rest of the state of IL.

  9. I am very much in favor of the Electoral College. There are any number of problems it prevents.

    Consider: if Hurricane Sandy had hit on, or just before, Election Day, it might have prevented hundreds of thousands, even millions, of citizens from voting. In a popular-vote system, that very easily could tip the election.

    However, with 50 state elections, that is far less likely. Chances are, if the turnout were depressed in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island and Connecticut, these states are still rather likely to select the same electors; the outcome won’t be affected.

    Another problem is that a pure popular vote system would raise the stakes for voter fraud.

    In 2000, a lot of people discovered the messy facts of life of elections. With multiple millions of votes cast from coast to coast, some percentage of those votes are going to be marked in a confusing way, or a voter will erroneously choose the person s/he doesn’t actually want, or ballots will be marred or mutilated in some way. Even without any bad intent, ballots will disappear or be destroyed. If you use machines, machines will make mistakes, or shred a ballot instead of counting it. Add it up, and you have a not-negligible number of ballots that are cast, but never counted.

    Our system doesn’t depend on the assurance that none of this happens; it depends on the assurance that we have enough checks-and-balances to keep it all from going one way. And the Electoral College is one of those checks and balances. Under our present system, stealing a whole bunch of votes in, say, Illinois or Florida, while very helpful, is not guaranteed to deliver the outcome.

    Remember Florida, 2000? Now imagine that it was all about the popular vote. Now you have Bush and Gore lawyers going all across the country looking for uncounted, or miscounted, ballots. In every state; every precinct.

    The other benefit is that while in theory, a president could be chosen by a very small number of states, in practice, a candidate can’t be elected president without appealing to a very large swath of the country. As an experiment, try to figure out the fewest number of states you need to win 270 electoral votes. The answer is 11: and the odds of any candidate lining them all up, but no one else, are very slim. The last candidate to do it was Reagan, when he took 49 states in 1984.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Same with Chicago vs. the rest of the state of IL.

    And true here in the Atlanta area, as well. I am confident that it is a general truth for the country, that cities are blue, and the rest is not.

  11. SKAY says:

    I agree Father Z. The founding fathers had it right once again.
    The explaination of the reason we have the EC and the consequences of what would happen if we eleminated it was a definate light bulb moment for me years ago. My vote would mean nothing
    since I do not live in a large state.

  12. Dr. K says:

    However, as I studied it more closely, I see how places like my home state, Rhode Island, would not need to vote. Our vote would mean nothing.

    That’s the small state perspective, now here’s my large state perspective. I like in New York, and as you probably know, NY is dominated by down-state liberalism. My vote on Election Day is irrelevant except for local races and our congressional seat. It would be nice for my presidential vote to actually matter for once!

  13. Now, about the tie-scenario…

    1. We’ll know once the outcome of each state’s popular vote is determined–most likely, that night or the next day.
    2. I’m wondering if there will be pressure to get some electors to change their votes. After all, we’ll know how the vote in Congress would likely go, because it’s based on which party controls more state delegations. We’ll know that. And, as the Washington Post article points out, it’s very likely that the Republicans will control the House–meaning a President Romney.

    If Romney wins the popular vote–yet has a tie in the college, why shouldn’t one of the electors switch, thus respecting the apparent, popular will? Who would object, particularly if that elector doesn’t break any law? Why keep the nation on pins and needles until early January?

    But…what if Obama wins the popular vote, yet only gets to a tie in the college. That will be an ugly situation. There will be pressure for an elector to switch, out of respect for the popular will; and there will be counter-pressure to leave it as-is, so that the House can choose. The Republicans will say, “that’s the system we have–let it work.” And they will be right. But watch for complaints about how the House “stole” the election from the people.

    And, in that scenario, I can imagine an elector buckling to the pressure. Their names are public. Who knows but that someone may be vulnerable to blackmail? I wouldn’t be surprised if interest groups organized petition drives and letter-writing campaigns, directed to the electors.

    Hmmm…I have an idea.

    Congress should exercise its privilege of expanding the size of the House of Representatives–by one member. Resulting in 436 members, plus 100 Senators, plus three electors from the District of Columbia, totally 539 electors. Tie-breaker.

  14. Weetabix says:

    Remember the recounts in 2000 was it?

    In the event of a tie in the popular vote, with no EC, you’d have to recount THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.

    How horrible would that be? How long would it take? How many lawsuits?

    I’ll keep the EC.

  15. wmeyer says:

    I think the possibility of an EC tie is now much less than a couple of weeks ago. And I pray it remains so.

  16. Weetabix says:

    Also, I’ve read a mathematical demonstration of how the EC actually magnifies most people’s votes, though I can’t remember how it worked at this remove.

  17. Bryan Boyle says:

    also as an aside, it was common before the War of Northern Aggression to refer to the country in the plural, as in “the United States ARE”, rather than the post unpleasantness “the United States IS”. We think it’s bad now, imagine the displacement when the sovereign states, who previously were considered independent, but confederated, woke up to find that they had effectively been reduced to juridical territories of the Federal Government. Lincoln, and his cronies were, in my estimation, not the heroes they are portrayed as, but the first intimation of Federal tyranical overbearing that has not abated since.

    So, can you guess on which side I reenact?

  18. mamajen says:

    I live in upstate NY, and it’s frustrating feeling like my vote doesn’t matter. But I think voter fraud would be much more widespread without the EC. I think it would be nice if we could split up our electoral votes the way Maine does. Another idea I’ve entertained is giving each state the same number of EVs, but I have to admit that really isn’t fair.

  19. Matt R says:

    The electoral college counteracts tyranny of the majority, though I think that proportioning votes might be interesting, since it would better reflect each state’s preferences.
    Wmeyer, I wondered about that freshman year in AP Euro; cities tend to be liberal, and that’s been true in Europe and the US since the Renaissance and Reformation (though a liberal then would be shocked at today’s liberals!).

  20. wmeyer says:

    So, can you guess on which side I reenact?

    Once you said the “War of Northern Aggression”, any guessing became unnecessary. ;)

  21. Phil_NL says:

    As an outsider, but one with a longstanding and keen interest in US politics, I’d say you might as well keep the EC. Yes, it effectively means that the vote of three-quarters of the electorate is taken for granted (it’s not that it doesn’t matter. From a purely statistical point of view, no vote matters, as the chance that it will be the deciding vote is astronomically small. People in Ohio just have a slightly larger, but still very small, chance as those in NY).

    However, in any election in a country as big and diverse as the US, many of the votes will be taken for granted. It’s impossible to campaign everywhere all the time – even with the colossal sums being spent already. You have to make choices, and spend your campaign budget as efficiently as possible. While it would lead to a different distribution of those areas where the votes are taken for granted / conceded without a fight than we have right now, there’s not much reason to assume the ratio would be markedly different. No-one will ever campaign in Utah, Wyoming, Massachuchetts or Vermont. With the fierce competition for independents and special intersts / demographics, the barrage would likely focus on suburbia and inner cities. From a partisan 9conservative) perspective, that would even be a bad thing, as it would tilt the national debate even more to the left than is done now.

    So in terms of the political process, and votes that count, it doesn’t matter much if the EC stays or goes. It does have the mild upside that it has symbolic value, as Fr Z reminded us: the US is a collection of states, rather than that the US has several provinces. It should work from the bottom up. In that sense, it’s justifiable that votes in low-population states count a bit heavier than those in very populated ones (you need a lot less votes / elector in Nebraska than in California); one guarantees the states a certain minimum amount of clout – a reflection of the great compromise that characterises the Senate / House division as well.

    But let me finish by adding a sad note to this: the sovereignty of the individual states in the US is more theory than fact. The amount of influence and cash going through DC severely curtials the freedom of the states – either federal regulations prohibit a course of action, or make it extremely costly. Sorting that issue – which by and large follows from the dreadful readings of the Commerce Clause in the New Deal era and beyond – is way more important and relevant than the precise mechanism of how to select a president.

    [And before someone remarks this is a bit gross coming from someone who lives in a nation that is rapidly signing over all sovereignty to a non-democratic non-state (the EU) populated by Brussel’s bureaucrats – leaving a taste far worse than Brussel’s sprouts – I can only reply: “yes, you’re right – let’s hope we fix that next time we have an election…”]

  22. Then there is another scenario. The House picks Romney; and the Senate picks Biden!

    Question: would the Democrats insist on that; or would they decide that having the Vice Presidency isn’t any great prize, nor is having Biden, of all people, in that position, as your sort-of leader? After all, the VP has almost no independent power; and while it’s customary in recent years for the President to give a lot of responsibility to the VP, this might the time that doesn’t happen. Romney could say: I can’t very well ask Mr. Biden to go out and campaign for ideas and plans which he obviously doesn’t believe in. It would be ridiculous. Also: a President Romney could also say: whether we have a D or R as President, it must be clear there is only one commander in chief, and one policy. So VP Biden could find himself getting intel briefings and cutting ribbons at car washes.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats might prefer not to have any ownership of the administration. After all, there will be times when Biden will agree with Romney; it might behoove Romney to try to co-opt Biden. The Dems might prefer to be in clear opposition. They also might want to put Biden out to pasture, not give him a platform.

    So I just wonder if the Dems might say, OK, we’ll vote for Ryan…if…

    What would they ask for? Would Romney give it?

  23. Dad of Six says:

    Keep the Electoral College. Repeal the 17th Amendment.

    Senators had to keep a closer eye on home state issues prior to the 17th amendment, because the State legislature could remove them if they strayed far afield before the next election.

    In Michigan, we’ve had a number of Republican legislatures over the last 20 years, and still have two liberal Democrat senators who are attached hip and thigh to President Obama and the Pelosi wing of Congress.

  24. wmeyer says:

    Keep the Electoral College. Repeal the 17th Amendment.

    I agree. The 17th Amendment was a sad mistake, and not only for Michigan.

  25. Sissy says:

    Father K and mamajen, I sympathize with your plight. But switching to a popular vote would just spread the misery around to everyone in the entire country outside the largest population centers. edwardswyco has it right in the first post. NYC, LA, and Chicago will elect every President if we abandon the EC. No thanks.

    Fortunately, as wmeyer notes, the probability of a tie or split this time is increasingly slim.

  26. chcrix says:

    In 1972 Roger McBride cast his electoral vote for Libertarian John Hospers. The vote counted.

  27. acricketchirps says:

    @D06: Keep the Electoral College. Repeal the 17th Amendment.

    Agreed! And the 18th and 19th as well! (But especially the 18th).

  28. pberginjr says:

    Thanks, Bryan Boyle, for those comments, very refreshing! I was just about to bring up the seventeenth amendment but I’ve already been beaten (twice). Definitely needs to go, give the states there representation and power. I’m not beholden to the GOP but it would lead to a consistently conservative majority (I would think), and the states would certainly get more out of them. As is senators are little more than “High” (as in upper house) Representatives.

  29. Kerry says:

    “…the President is the executive of a federation of States.” Does the Emperor Barack the Last know this…?

  30. ghp95134 says:

    @JesusFreak84 who responded to wmeyer: …Same with Chicago vs. the rest of the state of IL.

    Way-way-way back in 1971~73 the Chicago radio station WLS used to have a jingle that went like this:

    “Just outside Chicago
    There’s a place called Illinois”

  31. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Phil_NL,

    the sovereignity of the United States’ states is not even theory. Federation as opposed to Confederation (Bundesstaat / Staatenbund), at least we learnt in school, means that the sovereignity of the comprised entities is exactly zero.

    That said, the United States is (or, are) still a country where Penal Law is on the States’ level, and the schooling is on the communities’ level with a large possibility of private organization. In this respect, she is (they are) still a subsidiarians’ dreamland. Germany, which likes to critizise herself for all her good points, critizises herself very much that schooling is still on the states’ level. Not the community as in the US, though! It is the only meaningful responsibility left to them. In all the rest of Europe except Belgium, I guess schooling is on the federal level if they are not anyway totally centralistic.

  32. Bea says:

    I chose:

    “By a majority of the direct, national, popular vote by eligible voters”

    because I believe this is the TRUE voice of the people.

  33. Sissy says:

    “I believe this is the TRUE voice of the people.”

    Except it isn’t. It would be the voice of leftists in San Francisco and other deep blue cities drowning out and overwhelming rural and suburban areas. No conservative would ever win another election. Our founders wisely gave us a Republic, not a democracy. The fact is, the vote IS by popular vote in each of the individual states. With our present system, you get the best of both worlds.

  34. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    The EC actually serves a very interesting purpose, which isn’t to mitigate the influence of large cities (at least mainly). This should be clear by the fact that the majority vote and the EC vote have only been different two or three times in history (2000 being the most recent).

    What it does is give legitimacy to the President. Most presidents have only won the popular vote by a small amount, usually 5-10%. But they tend to win the Electoral College vote by huge majorities. This makes it seem as if the president is more supported, and the country more united, than it may actually be, which is a good thing in terms of national co-operation.

    As an example look at 1984. It was a landslide for Reagan by any count, but he didn’t even get 60% of the popular vote. Yet he got 525 of a possible 548 Electoral College votes.

  35. NickD says:

    I don’t know if anyone else mentioned the fourth name, but that particular election involved 1. Andrew Jackson 2. John Q. Adams 3. William Crawford and 4. Henry Clay, I believe. We just learned about this in U.S. History

  36. Also, if you change the way we elect a president, you change the incentives and the way they govern and campaign. As was pointed out, once it is purely about votes, without having to win most of the country, someone like Mr Obama has even less reason to seek votes except from a narrow slice of the country.

    If you want a surprise, google “2012 election results by county.” What you will see is that the vast swath of this country is conservative. The “blue” areas are mostly–not entirely–the urban centers. Guess where a LOT of our tax money goes? The one corrective is the Electoral College. Take that away, and a Democrat will structure his policies even more blatantly around the argument that he will provide tax-funded goodies. He only needs a bare majority.

  37. Also, remember that we don’t elect anyone from a majority of the people, but a majority of voters. When 2/3rds of potential voters are registered, and then 2/3rds of them actually vote, that’s about 45 percent of Those who could vote, actually voting. Then you need a plurality of that number, at best a bare majority, which is 22.5percent, plus one.

    So the popular vote victory represents the express will of less than 1/4th of the people.

    Add to that the inevitable uncertainties involved in counting “every” vote, and the hope for a high confidence outcome based purely on total votes is very elusive.

  38. The electoral college has problems. One of the biggest problems is that it is rigged every year by only providing two choices, and thus preventing three names from going to congress, because with only two choices one must automatically have more than fifty percent unless there is a tie, which is rare.

    As it is now, the Electoral College is used to deflect blame for a bad outcome to the election.

    To be honest, a direct popular vote would be preferable in that if we have a bad president, we can vote them out of office. If you don’t like the idea of a direct popular election then lets have the legislature of each state decide directly how to use the votes instead of having a group of guys just go through the motions of the electoral process. If we did that and we got a bad president then we could punish the legislature by voting them out of office. Electors in the Electoral College can not be punished for giving us a bad president and that is why they have no fear of voting for Obama.

    We could change things to make the government not only less complicated but also more focused on the federal aspect of our country. There is no reason to be afraid of getting rid of the Electoral College. We could have congress choose the president, and then if we get a bad president then we could punish congress by holding them to account for their vote and voting them out of office.

    In fact, the electoral college system, if it is not changed soon, may actually lead to a direct popular vote through interstate compacts. I understand that only one more state needs to join for it to kick in which might be as soon as the 2016 cycle.

    I see that many don’t like the 17th amendment (though for myself the 16 is far more trouble) but the real question is why there is still a senate at all! All the functions of the senate could be given back to the legislatures of each state. If you think that would cause trouble in making laws then get rid of the senate and just have the house make the laws; but give the states back the power to approve treaties and confirm judges.

    Now the we are talking about amending the constitution, because that is the only way any of this will happen, but so far only congress can propose amendments to the constitution. There is a provision in article V of the constitution that would allow the states to propose amendments without congress but if you look into it you will find that even though the requirements for calling a convention were met over a hundred years ago, and have been met again and again in our history since then, congress has refused to allow a convention to be called in direct violation of their oath to uphold the constitution. Congress wants to keep their monopoly on power over the constitution. All this talk about keeping this or changing that means nothing if the politicians won’t obey the law anyway.

  39. Sissy says:

    Although some folks here would prefer to live in a democracy or parliamentary system, we live in a Constitutional Republic. Our founders knew what they were doing. I seriously doubt we will come up with a superior system.

  40. And another thing:

    If we were to actually get an article v convention, then there are a lot of other good things we could do, like get rid of the whole 3/5 person thing. But that isn’t all. We could settle the status of the territories, or at least give them a way to leave if they want to. We could also settle the status of the states, specifically the question of how to admit new ones and let current members leave. As it is now, states are forced to stay in the US at gunpoint. With Abortion having the status that it has now it is unconscionable to force states that object to it to stay in this country. This can not last forever. Abortion has been legal for my entire lifetime and nothing is being done to get rid of it. Yet, if I say I don’t want to be American anymore because of it I am told that I am a traitor. Well fine, I will be a traitor and stay in the Church rather than be an American with blood on my hands.

  41. If I understand quomodocumque, he is lamenting the two-party system, which is not a feature of the constitution at all, but something that developed and which the two parties have a common interest in safeguarding through state laws.

    That said, I am at peace with the two party system in general, even though I am a party of one right now, and have been for 30 or so years.

    A lot of countries have multi-party systems; how would you rate them for stability? Yes, they are also parliamentary systems, which may better explain their instability, but their being parliamentary systems may be why they have multiple parties.

    In any case, our two party system has, think, been a boon for us overall. In the spirit of conservatism, I am loathe to launch out into a multi party system.

  42. To sissy,

    Our founders were no better or worse than we are. They didn’t know what they were doing, they just hammered out whatever would pass. That is why they gave us the ability to change the constitution. If we wrote a new constitution from scratch today we would likely do a much better job since we have much more up to date information and a long history to look back on to inform our choices. Also remember that the “founders” were anti-Catholic bigots and I would much rather have a new constitution that faithful Catholics help write. A new constitution would not mean everything goes bad, we take the best parts of the current constitution, get rid of the ridiculous language about 3/5 a person in the old constitution, we keep the bill of rights, we give the states back the powers of the senate, get rid of the senate, and put in protections for the unborn and we would have a constitution literally centuries more advanced than what we have now.

    Let’s stop the hero worship of the “founders”. Christ is my king and I do not put my trust in princes.

  43. bookworm says:

    For all you people who are so hot on repealing the 17th Amendment, you must have either forgotten or never learned the reason it was enacted in the first place — due to a series of scandals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involving Senators who literally bought their seats by bribing legislators. Remember Governor Hairdo trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat and luminaries such as Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (Triple J) coming awfully close to buying it? Well, you’d have that happen a LOT more often if you went back to the old way. It’s an awful lot easier to “buy” a seat when you only have to bribe or arm-twist, say, a few dozen legislators (or whatever number is necessary to get a majority in both houses of your state’s legislature) as opposed to trying to win several million votes.

  44. Fr Jackson says:

    I just wanted to chime in and say that having lived overseas for 11 years led me to a deeper appreciation of the US system of government. Not that we are really so great – we can all see the defects of our human system – but, believe me, elsewhere can be so much worse and illogical. Paradoxically, living outside the USA made me less “American” in many ways, but more appreciative of what our country is.

    Being a student of history, I also want to chime in again to point out how lucky we are to have the system that we have when most of humanity in most periods of history could not ever dream of the level of education and corresponding level of participation in government that we are able to have.

    OK, I’ll stop preaching now. :)

  45. abdiesus says:

    While perhaps it seems impossible from this vantage point to imagine that such a scenario could ever have been deemed to be workable, I would prefer the *original* protocol, which, as I understand it specified that the not only were the US Senators chosen by their own State Legislatures rather than voted on directly, but the Electors themselves were also appointed by the State Legislature as well, and President was the candidate who got the most Electoral votes, while the Vice-President was the candidate who got the next-most votes. Such a system would certainly work to undercut the overly partisan nature of our current political system.

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff H.

  46. Maggie says:

    In video form: Tie-tackular possibilities!

  47. Matt R says:

    quomodocumque, why would you want to get rid of the Senate? The need to represent small states equally with larger states remains. Tyranny of the majority is still a threat. The two-party system is the problem, not the Electoral College (from your first post…). I would rather have a constitution written by Catholics too, but our country is a long ways off from that, and even as I think of what I’d put in said constitution, there are many problems related to structure that have plagued Catholic thinkers for centuries.
    17th Amendment needs to stay so long as we have a Senate, though unfortunately being beholden to corporate interests isn’t much better-in fact it might be worse-than buying a seat from the Legislature.
    Fr Fox, I would agree on parliaments, but the American system of government doesn’t allow for sudden votes of no confidence, and we have been holding regular elections for over 200 years, so the stability issue doesn’t factor in. A multi-party system would purify each party. The marriage of convenience to the GOP for conservative Catholics could end…

  48. Joshua08 says:

    1. It has never really been decided that the states can make a pledged vote invalidated. In the instances where an Elector has voted contrary his pledge (e.g. in 76 one voted for Reagan) nothing happened, as it tends to be moot (the elector does it since the other candidate won already and he wants to make a conscience vote).

    2. I think the electoral college should be reformed in certain ways. Currently, the legislature can determine the electors anyway whatsoever it sees fit, either choosing them itself, by district (Maine Nebraska), by at large popular vote. If it chooses itself, it often gets deadlocked. New York, for instance, didn’t cast any votes in 1789 for that reason. The only two times since the civil war were Florida and Colorado, because they didn’t have the time/money to hold a popular election.

    What I think needs to be implemented is a general ticket system, instead of the short ballot, where everyone votes for three electors, one for his district, and two at large. The two at large are awarded to the top two pluralities, and the congressional district to the local plurality. This would underscore that you actually vote for an elector. Ideally (never going to happen), one would simply vote for the elector absent pledge, basically stating “I trust this man to deliberate and vote on this issue”.

  49. catholicmidwest says:

    I like the electoral college and I’ll like it even if it causes troubles for me this election cycle. I don’t like being pushed around by California and the Eastern Seaboard. The United States is a federation of states and as a Michigander, I think the people of Michigan should be heard for what we are: a discrete state with interests, a long history, and a vibrant subculture. We are not just a batch of people living out in the middle of nowhere who don’t count. Indeed, folks on the coasts like to pretend we’re nothing in particular, but they’d be in hot water without us.

  50. disco says:

    I’m a little disappointed that “Christian monarchy” wasn’t a choice.

    Having said that, I voted direct election only because I know that my vote won’t matter. Barry O will win my state no matter how I vote.

  51. Matthew P. Schneider, LC says:

    Canada has a different system, but in many ways just as weird. You each vote for your local representative (think member of the house), then whichever party has more seats – their leader becomes prime minister. However, we elect leaders only by card-carrying party members ($10 annual membership fee) not primaries, and most parties have historically had each riding (congressional district) vote for local reps who go to a national convention UNpledged and then had successive runoffs till someone gets a majority there.

    I don’t know which is stranger.

  52. Joe in Canada says:

    Father Z, why do you say that “the delegations of each state of the incoming, newly elected House” would decide, rather than the sitting Representatives?

  53. Giuseppe says:

    You could have an electoral college where the current head hand-picks almost all of the future electors himself… (wink, wink)

    But seriously, the Electoral College is probably better than any alternative. I like the idea of a popular vote, as it would make it seem like my vote mattered, but I agree that it would result in thousands of contested ballots, even in a landslide. I disagree, however, that it would result in cities swamping the suburbs or rural areas. Each vote is equal. Cities would have more ads, but wouldn’t that actually be a blessing to much of the country who is sick of seeing commercials? I live in a big city, and I have not seen one presidential commercial all year. It’s been heaven!

  54. acricketchirps says:

    @Fr. Z. [You do your polls on your blog, and I’ll do mine.]

    But Father, polls on my blog always end up tied 1-1. At least, that is, in the weeks when my follower logs on. Otherwise, 1-0.

  55. Dad of Six says:

    Bookworm: “For all you people who are so hot on repealing the 17th Amendment, you must have either forgotten or never learned the reason it was enacted in the first place — due to a series of scandals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involving Senators who literally bought their seats by bribing legislators.”

    I do not doubt that corruption existed in the process, just as corruption contributed to the recent election of Minnesota’s junior senator. The original intent was to prevent the Federal government from encroaching into state’s powers as enumerated in the Constitution. Now we have the “Kennedy” seat, the “Biden” seat, and dare I say, should the President be defeated, the “Clinton” seat.

  56. wmeyer says:

    Our founders were no better or worse than we are. They didn’t know what they were doing, they just hammered out whatever would pass.

    Sorry, but that’s not true. Our founders were a much better educated group than many of our current legislators, and especially as regards history. They were realists, as well, and not professional politicians. There is a rather large group of differences, and all of them that I can identify favor our founders over our sitting legislators, as a group.

  57. Fr Jackson says:

    Someone above mentioned the two-party system as a problem. I agree that it has drawbacks, but let’s also point out the advantages: (1) most of the time it results in keeping politics more “centrist”, that is, on average it tends to avoid allowing extreme wings grabbing too much control, and (2) it avoids the “tail wags the dog” problem that many other representative forms of government around the world deal with in forming their “coalition governments” – that is, a minority party dictating terms to a larger party in order to help them get the majority they need to get a workable government going. Overall, I still contend that in the genre of representative government the USA is a cut above the rest: not that we are all that great, but just not as bad as many others.

  58. wmeyer says:

    Fr Jackson, I agree. Having lived for some years in Canada, where multiple parties are active in the parliamentary system, I would say that our two-party system is usually better. On the other hand, one feature I think could be applied here to some benefit is the vote of no confidence. Having a variable Federal term means it is impractical to run a two year campaign. Of course, some would argue that they are always campaigning, but how would that be worse than the circus we see now?

  59. Banjo pickin girl says:

    cricket, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment. i know you are joking though, because surely you wouldn’t want to disenfranchise 51% of the population by repealing the 19th.

  60. Sissy says:

    “Our founders were no better or worse than we are. They didn’t know what they were doing, they just hammered out whatever would pass.”

    A short while ago we were discussing the damage Dewey had done to our public education system (which has now spilled into the parochial schools to some extent). We can call this comment Exhibit A. If the commenter truly believes this, I do feel quite sorry for him/her. Perhaps some remedial education in political history would help amend such a deeply cynical and completely inaccurate view.

  61. Imrahil says:

    The discussion of the two-party system is particularly interesting.

    By upbringing, I cannot help but think that whatever result we get in how good the country is governed, the idea of representation is fulfilled by proportional election only. Now majority election will usually result in a two-party system (Great Britain is a bit special, though). Proportional election will usually result in a many-party system…

  62. LisaP. says:

    The myth of progress has long been taught as unquestionable truth in our public school system; every day in every way, we’re getting better and better.

  63. Giuseppe says:

    Don’t dis the Founders. Think what you will about the 3/5 compromise, but the well-thought out and succintly written U.S. Constitution revolutionized the world. Plus, through the amendment process, it allows itself to change if and only if there is an overwhelming consensus. It is the DNA of democracy.

  64. wmeyer says:

    Think what you will about the 3/5 compromise, but the well-thought out and succintly written U.S. Constitution revolutionized the world.

    Best to consider that the 3/5 compromise was the limit of what was possible, and allowed the process to move forward, and the Constitution to be adopted, with a foot in the door for the future.

    Plus, through the amendment process, it allows itself to change if and only if there is an overwhelming consensus. It is the DNA of democracy.

    Actually, it is the DNA of our Republic. It is not, MSM to the contrary, a democracy. Thanks be to God.

  65. Giuseppe says:

    Wmeyer – you are correct re. Republic. I always get them mixed up.

  66. Joshua08 says:

    Someone mentioned the National Popular Vote Compact. It is not one state away from take effect. Right now enough states have passed it to make up 132 electoral votes. They need 138 more because it would go into effect. And since California, e.g., already belongs to it, we are talking about smaller states. If there is a disparity between the EC and PV there may be impetus for more states to join, but we are not close to such a system

    Even if enough states did pass it to comprise 270 EC votes, it may be deemed unconstitutional without Congressional approval, being a compact/treay/alliance of several states

  67. jhayes says:

    Quomodocumque wrote:

    If we were to actually get an article v convention, then there are a lot of other good things we could do, like get rid of the whole 3/5 person thing.

    it was done away with by the Fourteenth Amendment.

  68. Sissy says:

    “If we were to actually get an article v convention, then there are a lot of other good things we could do, like get rid of the whole 3/5 person thing.”

    History books. How do they work?

  69. acricketchirps says:

    BPG: It WAS!!? Where’s the nearest saloon?!! I gotta do me some celebratin’.

    Oh, and, yeah I guess I’m just dreaming, but just sit back and close your eyes and imagine a world with no Sandra Fluke and no “vote with your lady parts” and… Ahhh, *sigh*. No, I really think it would work. Didn’t have the welfare state until women started voting for the likes of FDR and LBJ.

    Oh yeah, and on that point they oughta nix sixteen as well.

    (Did I mention I’m Canadian?)

  70. Re: the Founders.

    I have a friend–an American who is a monarchist!–who insists that the problem with the Founders, and our whole system, is the influence of Freemasonry; i.e., the whole idea of disestablishmentarianism and the exaltation of “choice” and majority-rule. Mebbe so, but I tend to think that our system is about as good as you can get.

  71. The Masked Chicken says:

    The Electoral College, technically-speaking, is a filter upon the total set of U. S voters (or an ultrafilter for you mathematicians in the crowd). It is a bit of an odd duck, theoretically, however. There is one voter for each house and senate member (plus 3 for D. C), but, in a realistic sense, each state has a percentage-vote based on some filtering scheme and this is not always a good thing depending upon how the filter is designed. Let me explain:

    There are 538 EC votes, but in a winner-takes-all scheme (as most States have), California would have 55/538 = 10.22% of the control of the vote, while Alaska would have 3/538 = .56% influence. Thus, in a winner-takes-all EC, a single voter in California has an 18.25 times greater influence on the outcome of the election than someone in Alaska. In other words, the EC is nothing at all like a uniform filter and hence, highly unrepresentative of popular sentiment. In fact, in a true winner-takes-all scenario, one person over the tie in a state, in effect, controls the course of that state’s EC votes, so in a true extreme case of winner-takes-all, if only one person puts the state in a particular outcome, then, in effect, only 51 people (one from each State) would be determining the fate of the election. This is unlikely to happen, because many states are polarized to the point where a particular party is highly swamped by voters, so this is the theoretical minimum of people who could determine the fate of an election and they would not even be on the EC (!), just that particular voter who put the State over the top for a candidate. In this extreme case, the difference from the actual vote and the EC vote is maximal. One could have a 50.01%/49.99% split in popular vote, but 100% vote in the EC. In fact, it is a problem in variational calculus to figure out the midpoint where popular vote and the EC contribute equally.

    At the other extreme, if zero people vote for candidate A (say there are two candidates), then that State is maximally-represented by its EC vote. If everyone in a State voted only one way, then, the percentages of votes in the EC would be identical to the percent of actual people in the general population voting for A or B. This works out, mathematically, to be roughly the same as the extreme case where the EC members are exactly proportioned according to the vote in the State (there are more EC sets, but the the fractions reduce).

    Thus, in the first extreme, the EC is highly unfair and in the second case, it is unneeded. The sort of muddy counting we get in most cases in most elections is a mixing scheme of uncertain validity (in mathematical terms, it is not Pareto Efficient).

    No matter what they thought they were doing in deciding on an EC, none of the Founding Fathers were mathematicians. Simply put, there are better, fairer ways to determine who should be elected than either the popular vote or the EC, but such fair schemes would take time and voters are not patient. The mathematics of fair voting is actually, impossible, in a rigorous sense, if three or more candidates are involved, by virtue of a theorem called, “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.” For two candidates, a fair voting scheme is possible (proven by May’s Theorem) and there is a number between which is the transition (defined by Nakamura’s Number).

    The Founding Fathers also established the EC not only to preserve State’s Rights of the control over the Presidential election, but, also, because in that period in history, there had to be an Electoral College. In 1789 there were very poor roads, no means of mass communication – heck, many people would not have even known that there were an election taking place nor could they get to a polling place. Having a reduced number of voters was essential to at least attempting to show some representation of the people. This aspect of the EC has been removed, today, because of mass communication and infrastructure.

    I know how the EC college were meant to work, but it is, in reality, actually fairly poor at deciding in any sort of fair manner who the President should be as it is currently constructed. I see no real argument for it, except that this is how things have always been done. Sorry to be a spoil-sport on the discussion.

    The Chicken

  72. Sissy says:

    “I know how the EC college were meant to work, but it is, in reality, actually fairly poor at deciding in any sort of fair manner who the President should be as it is currently constructed.”

    And yet, except in rare instances, the EC comes up with the same result as the popular vote. I think a better solution would be to split California into 2 or 3 states. Problem solved.

  73. Joshua08 says:

    I stopped reading the Chick’s post after he made a fatal mistake in claiming an individual voter in Alaska has less power than one in California than he would without the EC. In point of fact, based on the population of Alaska and that of California, an Alaskan voter has 2.84 times more voting power than a he would in a purely popular vote. The population of Alaska is 723,000, California is 37, 692,000. Populationwise Alaska is 1.92% of the size of California, but in the electoral college it holds 5.455% of the sway of California, thus augmenting its say and the decisions of its voters.

    The EC augments the Alaskan’s voting power over its power in a straight popular contest, and certainly gives more weight to Alaska as a state than would be otherwise.

    The claim about roads and such is a red herring. The fact is most states had went to a popular election of electors very soon after the Constitution. The problem of reads and what not only explains the delay between the selection of electors, their votes and the tallying of them.

    And for all the math, so what? The point is that we do not democratically elect the president in a national race. A fair vote is a red herring. The question is the selection of States as independent entities choosing who should be the president of these United States. A straight popular vote, on a national basis, is an assertion of a certain form of national predominance, anti-federalism. The presumption that “democratic” or “individual choices” are the criteria for a fair selection is simply begging the question.

  74. The Masked Chicken says:

    [Sorry for the grumpiness of the following post – did I mention that I hate Halloween – too many crazies come out of the woodworks doing too many evil things. I lived on a college campus too long. I actually saw the local vampire cult parading around a statue at the main library. I tend to get grumpy about dusk. Feel free to ignore the post. I just hate it when the math isn’t right. I am a theorist in the sciences, so I feel the need to correct and defend, where necessary – it can be tedious and not without some sin on my part (pride and stubbornness). I really have thought about voting dynamics a lot, though, in years past. I wrote extensive commentary at JImmy Akin’s blog back in 2008. Ah, well, on with the post…]


    Having 10.25% of the vote versus .56%, the State of California has 18.25% more control of the EC vote than Alaska. That cannot be debated. Since, in a winner-takes-all vote, only the vote that puts one side over the top really counts, we are not comparing absolute population numbers. We are comparing the impact of that one voter in each State and my analysis is correct as I wrote it, although vaguely worded, since I screwed up in confusing exactly what “one voter” meant (both on the page an in my own head) .

    In your comment, you are splitting up the percent equally among each voter and that is incorrect in a winner-takes-all scenario. It would be right in a percent of voters = percent of EC representatives or a State, but that is not what I was writing about in that part of the analysis. Your argument is not based on what I wrote. I specifically said:

    “Thus, in a winner-takes-all EC, a single voter in California has an 18.25 times greater influence on the outcome of the election than someone in Alaska….In fact, in a true winner-takes-all scenario, one person over the tie in a state, in effect, controls the course of that state’s EC votes, so in a true extreme case of winner-takes-all, if only one person puts the state in a particular outcome, then, in effect, only 51 people (one from each State) would be determining the fate of the election.”

    That is true and even though it would look like 51 equally represented people, the fraction of popular voters behind them would be quite unequal. In a strict winner-takes-all election, the situation can arise where a single voter (the deciding voter in a tight vote) can, in fact, have 18.25 times more control of the EC in California than Alaska. That ratio falls, dramatically, in a percent vote = percent EC representation scenario. It becomes what you calculated. I even wrote:

    “In fact, it is a problem in variational calculus to figure out the midpoint where popular vote and the EC contribute equally.”

    So, there can be variations and I was providing the endpoints (okay, I calculated one endpoint and you calculated the other).

    The vagueness comes because I used, “a voter,” which could be referring to each voter in the state or “the tie-breaking voter.” The words, as I wrote them, are correct, although my thinking was wrong, since I did, originally mean each voter, which is wrong, but my subsequent analysis clarified the issue and I either realized that and simply forgot to change the post or got caught up in the later discussion.

    In any case, for the current winner-takes-all scenario, my analysis, as written (and, hopefully better clarified), is correct as is the rest of the post. I really can do advanced math (most of the time).

    “The claim about roads and such is a red herring. The fact is most states had went to a popular election of electors very soon after the Constitution. The problem of reads and what not only explains the delay between the selection of electors, their votes and the tallying of them.”

    No, it doesn’t. They went to a popular vote AFTER the Constitution in large part because they could (the Industrial Revolution took hold and both transportation and communication greatly increased in speed). The point about communication and infrastructure is not a Red Herring. It was contributing factor for the “establishment” of the EC that soon was removed. That was the topic of the paragraph I wrote. I even said that effect was no longer in operation (although I indicated a later time frame).

    The Chicken

  75. bookworm says:

    “We are not just a batch of people living out in the middle of nowhere who don’t count. Indeed, folks on the coasts like to pretend we’re nothing in particular”

    As evidenced by this “Map of the United States As Seen By A New Yorker”:

    On this map, there are four states that “might be Nebraska,” two states that could be Montana, and three possible Dakotas, while the real Nebraska is merged with Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa into “one of the states that has Kansas City” and Michigan is all but submerged in its eponymous lake. And, of course, Illinois = Chicago. Though I have to admit that my comprehension of East Coast geography hasn’t always been what it should be either.

  76. The Masked Chicken says:

    I want to withdraw my last two comments in this post. I need to think about what I was writing about a lot more before I run my mouth off. Also, the vampire cult I saw was not at Halloween.

    The Chicken

  77. LisaP. says:

    Bookworm, that is the BEST map.

    That makes sense.
    True vampire cults shouldn’t like Halloween, Halloween is about scaring away/making fun of the bad guys, not celebrating wanting to be one.
    Now, that electoral college stuff, I have no idea about that. I loved your comments and Josua’s because I like to think someone out there is thinking about this stuff, but I’m lost. But vampires and Halloween I have a firm opinion about.

  78. Joshua08 says:

    My point was that while it may be true that California has 18.25 more times a say in the EC, it has 52.5 times the population of Alaska. As a State, Alaska has more pull than it would without the EC./ I am not concerned about the say of every individual as such, but of the States. One could just as well say that my vote means squat and has no power as I am in a state whose electors are de facto already determined. So maybe we aren’t talking about the same thing, but the fact is the voter in Alaska has more say than he would without the EC, in the ordinary course of things (leaving aside weird hypotheticals of tie breaking)

    As far as roads, again, even in 1789 there was popular voting and most states switched before the great road building of the 1820’s. If you read the notes at the Convention, roads/weather was a chief reason why the electors met in their own state, rather than as a full body. But popular voting was already a local institution, at least among those with property. We already had voting, so it would frankly be very stupid to not have a popular vote on this issue, when we already did on others (e.g. electing state legislatures). The fact is many of the founders did not want to mob picking the president. The EC was an insulator. What changed was not infrastructure (again we already had ballots and voting), but a rise in democratic sentiments, something epitomized in Andrew Jackson for instance. The history here and debates are well documented.

  79. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Joshua08,

    leaving aside weird hypotheticals of tie breaking

    but this is what voter influence, especially in a one versus anotherone decision, is actually about, isn’t it? It doesn’t make an Alaskan voter more influential if he has 3 or so times of a share of an elector compared with a Californian voter. What does make him either more or less influential is his ability to actually change the election according to his wishes.

    Of course that is complicated, which means that math cannot just be left out.

    I believe Poland suggested, for a similar issue (i. e., representation in the European Parliament), a representation by square root of the populace, as being the representation with most equal influence of the single voter.

  80. Imrahil says:

    One could just as well say that my vote means squat and has no power as I am in a state whose electors are de facto already determined.

    Yes one can.

  81. Magash says:

    I’m convinced that 89% of our political problems could be solved by revoking the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution. The 16th Amendment is what gave the Federal government the kinds of cash that allowed it to start interfering in the states and the 17th made the Senate into a club basically beholden to special interests, instead of a creature of the State Government.
    Take away both and we’d be well on our way back to the kind of nation our founders intended.
    Too bad it’ll never happen.

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