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The Collective
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the SF Chronicle: Field Poll shows Californians lean toward dividing electoral votes

California voters are inclined to support a proposed ballot initiative that would change how the Golden State allocates its electoral votes in presidential campaigns, but they’re not yet sold on the idea, a Field Poll released today showed.

Currently, California employs a winner-take-all system that awards the state’s entire 55 electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

Under the proposed measure, which could be on the June 2008 ballot, the presidential election would become, in essence, a congressional district-by-congressional district contest. The winner of the statewide popular vote would receive two electoral votes, but the remaining votes would go to the winner in each of the 53 congressional districts.

[…]

The Field Poll found that 47 percent of registered voters back a change to California’s system for electoral votes, with 35 percent opposed. Republicans generally support the change more than Democrats.

I am all for doing away with the Electoral College. However, there is a very serious flaw in awarding electoral votes based on Congressional districts (as is already done in Maine and Nebraska). That flaw is the fact that the congressional districts in most states have been gerrymandered and usually in a way that radically over-represents one of the two parties-this is certainly the case in California, where a large number of the districts are “safe” for either the Democrats or the Republicans. So while smaller units with semi-predetermined outcomes beat large units with semi-predetermined outcomes, it still isn’t exactly democracy at its best.

Of course, this move in CA is one that Republicans would like very much, as it takes a huge number of electoral votes that are currently practically guaranteed to be in the Democratic column and splits off a good number of them for the Republican column.

Really, we need to sit down and hammer out a new primary system and a new electoral process for choosing the president, as there is no good reason to retain the Electoral College, as it distorts the democratic significance of both large and small states and essentially eliminates the important of some votes (e.g., Democratic votes in Texas essentially count for nothing under the current system).

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17 Comments

  1. Nebraska or Iowa?

    Comment by The Commissar — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 12:29 pm

  2. It’s Nebraska (it is hard to keep all those corn-growing states apart).

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

  3. When you said “there is a serious flaw” the first thing that came to my mind was gerrymandering. And you are right, we definitely need a new system.

    Comment by Jan — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  4. California’s Anti-Winner Take All Proposal

    SFGate.com:California voters are inclined to support a proposed ballot initiative that would change how the Golden State allocates its electoral votes in presidential campaigns, but they’re not yet sold on the idea, a Field Poll released today showed….

    Trackback by ProfessorBainbridge.com ® — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

  5. I am not an expert on initiatives, but I recall that those who are say that they almost never pass if they start a campaign at under 50%.

    Once California voters catch on to the fact that passing this would be akin to compensating the GOP for its likely loss of Ohio, they are pretty likely to defeat it overwhelmingly.

    (Of course, it is not even sure yet to be on the ballot.)

    The way to go with reform is the National Popular Vote interstate compact, but The Governator vetoed a bill that would have included California in the compact (which takes effect only when states that combine for 270 electoral votes have signed on).

    Comment by MSS — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

  6. Dr. Taylor,
    I would also add that the electoral college has contributed to voter apathy. The presidential race is the highest-profile campaign in the nation, yet large chunks of the voting populace are already aware, today, that their votes in November 2008 will not matter.

    Comment by MAR — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  7. The electoral college is the one thing that protects the smaller less populated states from being viewed as completely irrelevant to the national political scene. Move to a straight popular vote and it will be even worse. Presidential races will be completely driven by less than 15 states. Here in Louisiana, with a population of only 4.4 million, even if you win the state convincingly your margin of victory will be less than 250,000 votes. But that is a drop in the bucket compared to the potential vote margin in a state like Texas, California, or New York. The margins in the largest 8 or 9 states will likely eclipse the collective vote margins in the remaining 41-42 states. If my vote is not important now, it becomes completely meaningless by virtue of the geographic population distribution and how that will impact the way that campaigns are waged.

    Comment by ts — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  8. ts,

    That is a popular retort to the notion that we should do away with the EC, but the bottom line is that every individual vote, whether cast in North Dakota or Texas has more meaning in a direct election than it does under the EC.

    Do you think, for example, that Democratic voters in Wyoming care well served by the EC? Or Republicans in Hawaii?

    And anyway, how are the small states seen as relevant now? Campaigning is currently on taking place in battleground states, so it isn’t like the current system emphasizes small states over large ones. All that really matters at the moment is whether a state is competitive or not.

    And, ultimately, it isn’t about how much time the candidate spends in your state, it is about whether your vote actually has a chance to effect the outcome of the race.

    Seriously: if I come from a state which almost always/always votes for a specific party, how does the EC serve me? The problem is the same in the large, medium and small states.

    Currently, Republican votes in CA don’t matter, and Democratic votes don’t matter in Texas. And again, Dems in Wyoming don’t matter nor do Reps in Hawaii.

    How is this democratic?

    And, really, how has the EC actually made candidates pay attention to smaller states? The answer is: it hasn’t.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, August 23, 2007 @ 6:30 am

  9. Not every voter can always be “well served” in this sense; however you slice the orange, you can only get so many pieces. In an election, someone will win, someone will lose, and someone will have their feelings hurt because their guy/gal didn’t win.

    PLUS - let’s think about the practical side of the California initiative, since it’s what’s on the table. Let’s say we extend it to every state. Now instead of 50 places where there can be a close vote and a demand for a recount, we have 400. That’s 400 places for people to monkey around with the numbers, the incentive to do which would be much higher under the proposed system.

    Imagine the lawsuits. Imagine the fights over who won this district or that. If California does this, with its 55 votes, it is singe-handedly doubling the potential places for the loser and his/her rockstar fans to file a lawsuit and make trouble.

    Too complicated. If you’re going to monkey with the EC, you have to subtract moving parts, not add them. More moving parts is more room for things to get ugly.

    I’d sooner have my face sewn to the floor than see this type of system implemented.

    Someone’s always got to win, someone’s always got to lose, and the loser’s voters will always feel broken-hearted.

    Maybe we should give consolation prizes or something. . .

    Comment by Captain D. — Thursday, August 23, 2007 @ 7:33 am

  10. […] The following (from yesterday’s LAT) goes along with the other proposed CA initiative I noted yesterday: California Democrats push popular vote measure Democrats on Tuesday proposed putting on a 2008 ballot an initiative aimed at having California join the movement to elect presidents by popular vote. […] If backers gather sufficient signatures to place one of the Democratic measures on the ballot, and voters were to approve it, California would become one of roughly a dozen states to have embraced the concept of electing presidents by popular vote. The national drive toward a popular vote would not scrap the electoral college system, but would require states to award their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the most actual votes nationally. It would take effect only if states representing a majority of the electoral votes agree to the change. […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Speaking of Ballot Iniatives and the EC — Thursday, August 23, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  11. Dr. Taylor -

    We are not a democracy, and were never intended to be. We are supposed to be a Republic, but too many people have forgotten that. The limits on Federal power have been diminishing and the concept of State sovereignty seems an antiquity. The move towards a national popular vote will do little more than speed the decay of states’ authority and independence.

    Comment by ts — Thursday, August 23, 2007 @ 8:56 am

  12. In the modern sense of the term, we are a democracy: a representative democracy. True, we were never intended to be a direct democracy, but then again such a thing never really existed.

    There is nothing about the EC v. a direct election of the president that would make us more or less a “republic” for that matter.

    How do you see the EC making us a “republic”?

    In all seriousness, what does it mean to you to assert that are a “republic” rather than a “democracy”? I know people make this claim all the time (I know, for example, that Rush Limbaugh is quite prone to making it), but what does it mean?

    Also: aside from over-representing citizens in small states and under-representing citizens in large state specifically ultimately really matter to federalism?

    I would note, by the way that federalism is not the same thing as republicanism.

    And, btw, if we are going to talk about intentions, I would point out that the EC has never, ever worked as the Founders intended. For example, they thought that the Congress would be regularly picking the president and veep. They certainly didn’t expect voters to choose the electors.

    we frequently argue for the EC as though it is a direct reflection of the genius of the Founders. In fact, it was part of political compromise to get the Constitution ratified and it has never worked as designed.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, August 23, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  13. ts says: “The electoral college is the one thing that protects the smaller less populated states from being viewed as completely irrelevant to the national political scene.”

    Uh, the SENATE?

    And the whole “we are a republic” defense of the EC is just so patently absurd. Madison certainly was an advocate of the “republican form of government,” I think you will agree.

    Madison’s original plan was for two houses with population-weighted representation (with the House actually having to confirm candidates for the nation’s upper house that were proposed by the states!), and a president elected by the Congress. No Senate ( as we know it) and no Electoral College. And also no supermajority required to override a veto.

    The notion that the Electoral College is some sacred component of republican/representative (or even federal) government or was the great handiwork of the Founding Fathers is nothing but folklore. Powerful folklore, evidently, but folklore.

    In fact, after the electoral college was thrust upon them, the founders never tried to defend it as part of a coherent model.

    Comment by MSS — Thursday, August 23, 2007 @ 6:58 pm

  14. To MSS - My thoughts were intended to be limited to Presidential elections, but you have a point. Although I have doubts that the Senate would be a very effective deterrent for very long, given the ability of the majority party to set the rules, the agenda, and nearly everything else.

    What seems to be dominating much of this discussion is the current view of a strong, wide reaching federal system, which is not what the Founders wanted, and were largely fearful of. You can certainly argue that the EC is an anachronism, and I would respond that perspective is far more true as citizens and state governments have so willingly ceded responsibilities to a Federal government that was more than happy to consolidate as much power as possible.

    This seems an attempt to make the individual feel relevant in a system where he becomes less so as each day passes.

    Comment by ts — Friday, August 24, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  15. The point is that the elimination of the EC wouldn’t just make individuals feel more relevant, it would actually make them more relevant.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, August 24, 2007 @ 11:02 am

  16. […] To further the discussion from earlier in the week (here and here), here’s the latest from the Governor of CA on the proposal to split CA’s electoral vote up based on congressional districts: Schwarzenegger cool to electoral reforms Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a chilly reception Thursday to a GOP-backed plan to change the way California awards electoral votes in presidential elections — a proposal critics say could tilt the outcome in favor of Republicans. […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Schwarzenegger Unsure About CA EC Change — Friday, August 24, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  17. […] To further the discussion from earlier in the week (here and here), here’s the latest from the Governor of CA on the proposal to split CA’s electoral vote up based on congressional districts: Schwarzenegger cool to electoral reforms Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a chilly reception Thursday to a GOP-backed plan to change the way California awards electoral votes in presidential elections — a proposal critics say could tilt the outcome in favor of Republicans. […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Schwarzenegger Unsure About CA EC Change — Friday, August 24, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

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