Oct 132008
 

I have been reluctant to support overhauling the Electoral College in favor of a straight-out popular vote model. The College is undoubtedly flawed, and my enthusiasm for it (never all that high in the first place) wanes by the day. But readers of this blog know that I am always leery of unintended consequences, and replacing an age-old nationwide system with another (even a supposedly butt simple one like “whoever gets the most votes wins”) smells, to me, like it would unleash a tsunami of unintended consequences. Isn’t there a halfway measure… a way to fix the Electoral College without killing it entirely?

James Pontuso has the most interesting idea I’ve seen so far:

There is a simple solution to the problems created by the Electoral College. The elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000 – elections in which the popular vote winner lost the election were all close, decided by five Electoral College votes or less. But if the winner of the national popular vote were awarded eleven Electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, the extra eleven votes (twice the five-vote-margin plus one for good measure) would assure that the popular vote victor would also win the Electoral College vote and become President. The eleven would be too few to “nationalize” presidential elections, and the same dynamics that keep the two-party system intact would prevail.

  4 Responses to “The hybrid model”

  1. On first glance, I like it. I don’t necessarily view ‘keeping the two-party system intact’ as a feature, but it would definitely reduce the outsized impact the electoral college gives low-population states.

    But if we’re going to make sure the popular vote winner also wins the electoral college, then why bother with it? Is there a plausible scenario where the popular vote winner is behind by more than 11 electoral votes at the end of the day, and thus still loses even with the bonus? I may have to go find an election scenario tool and play around with it.

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  2. I’d be worried that election fraud — and false accusations of election fraud — would make it impossible to have a fair national election. The greatest benefit of the Electoral College is that no one’s going to bother, say, stealing votes for McCain in Massachsuetts. But if every vote counted, you can bet there’d be accusations that Massachusetts had rigged an extra million votes for Obama to skew the national tally.

    WHat I *would* like to see is more states doing what Maine and Nebraska do: award each district to its winner, and the two statewide electors to the winner of the state.

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  3. Rhu, if you think redistricting fights in large states are contentious now, just imagine what they’d be like under that electoral scheme. State boundaries, at least, aren’t going anywhere without massive upheaval of some sort. Also, as things are the decennial census is already beset by politics it would prefer not to address (e.g. counting illegal immigrants), and the stakes of those issues are, in general, much lower than those of a presidential election. And the decision to change the number of districts is already heated. Utah still thinks North Carolina ‘stole’ it’s new district in 2000, but at least everyone in each state is impacted equivalently under the existing plan. I’d hate to see the pressure the Census Bureau would come under if the decision to add or subtract a district from a state was going to have a redistributive electoral impact across a single state.

    My biggest complaint about the 11 electoral votes is that it’s a kludge. And not even one that seems designed to solve the problems with the Electoral College in the abstract; just to solve the specific instances of ‘failures’ of the Electoral College in the past. Pontuso thinks that doubling the worst-case past scenario and adding one is probably sufficient to deal with any negative outcomes. But he doesn’t offer any evidence that 11 is the right number, presumably (based on the tone) because he doesn’t have any. In fairness, lots of governance is a kludge, and in many cases for legitimate reasons. But the process of electing a president is a large and important enough piece of governance that if we’re going to make changes I’d like to have it designed in a reasoned manner, not patched together with whatever seems to fit.

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  4. >>WHat I *would* like to see is more states doing what Maine and Nebraska do: award each district to its winner, and the two statewide electors to the winner of the state.

    I think that either all states should use the winner-takes-all method or the by-district method. Otherwise, minority voters in winner-take-all states are essentially disenfranchised because their vote, after being counted, is then cast by proxy (ie delegate) for the person they didn’t vote for, while those in by-district states are not. If all states do it the same way, all voters have the same chance of being implicitly disenfranchised.

    I’m inclined to prefer the by-district method especially because I’m leaning Democrat this cycle, but live in Texas. But its really more important to be uniform. I think that if this election is extremely close and comes down to 1 or 2 ECV’s in Nebraska or Maine (or any of the other by-district states… are there any others?) then next time more WTA-states (especially ones that vote for the loser) will go to that system because it ensures that they get more attention from the candidates next cycle. (Sort of like Florida and Michigan moving their primaries up because they thought they would have more influence, but without the penalties since there’s no rule against going by-district for the main election).

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