With the election on everyone’s mind, I’ve been answering a lot of questions about the terrible Electoral College. So to make things easier, here I am reading the chapter from my book HOW TO ARGUE THE CONSTITUTION WITH A CONSERVATIVE explaining the concept and why we need to get rid of it (including a discussion of the Wyoming Plan).
A partial fix to the Electoral College: The Wyoming Rule
We currently have 435 members of the House of Representatives.
Nowhere in the Constitution is there a mention of how many members of the House there should be. The number grew over the years as the population increased and then, in 1929, Congress set the limit at 435 and there it has stayed.
Just a quick primer: Every ten years there is a census and the country is then divided up into 435 districts of as equal a population as possible. Every ten years, some states get new House members (California, Texas and Florida mostly) and some states lose them (Ohio and Pennsylvania among them) as the population grows and moves to warmer climates.
Here’s the big problem: You can’t divide across state lines, and you can’t have less than one representative per state. So we end up with some states with only one House member in a district much smaller than the average district.
Wyoming is the least populous state. There are more people living in Washington, DC than in all of Wyoming. Wyoming gets one representative who represents all 500,000 or so of their residents. Meanwhile, the rest of the country divides up the best it can.
It gets worse when you consider the Electoral College. Each state gets one elector for each representative they have in Congress plus two for each Senator. This means Wyoming’s three electors represent about 188,000 people but each elector in California has to represent 677,000. Why should one state’s elector have more power than another state’s?
Well, the easiest solution is just to get rid of the Electoral College (of course) but that requires a Constitutional amendment needing 75% of the states to approve, and guess which states would be against that? Yep. The smaller states who also, not coincidentally, are mostly all Republican. They like the Electoral College because it’s helped them get two popular-vote-losing Presidents into the White House within the past 16 years.
So many are now arguing for Congress to change the number of representatives using the “Wyoming Plan.”
Basically, you would take the smallest district (which is currently Wyoming) and use that as a bottom, meaning all other districts in the country would need to be as close to that size as possible.
This would add an extra 13 seats to California (the largest gainer). Texas would get 9, New York 7 and Pennsylvania 5.
We’d end up with a House membership of 546 instead of 435, and that’s not unreasonable for a country with a population as large as ours. And you wouldn’t need an amendment — just a majority of Congress to pass the law.
Just one more reason for you to vote Democratic in November.
We, the People, rejected you. Stop lying about it.
Look, Trump people. We rejected you. We rejected you by a large amount — almost 3 million votes. On the chart of “winners” of our elections, Trump is the Biggest Loser. The next on the chart is George W. Bush, who lost by half a million.
The people said loudly and clearly that they don’t want you or your policies.
You only won because of an ancient loophole we’re stuck with — something that should have been removed long ago. This is like a baseball team getting the most runs but losing the game because of a 100 year old rule that says that the team who has the best uniform wins, decided after the game by a group of people who are biased in favor of one team.
That is nothing to be proud of, and it is certainly not cause for you to lie and claim that you have a mandate to destroy everything the majority of Americans specifically voted against you not to destroy.
If there is a mandate, it is for the exact opposite of what you claim.
But then again, look at your leader — a lying ass who only cares about himself, who has spent his entire life cheating the system to get what he wants, by declaring bankruptcy as a business strategy and by suing everyone until he gets his way. What did we expect, huh? Of course you have no problem with abusing the system to serve yourself.
And the saddest thing is this: You don’t give a damn. You’re proud of your dishonesty. You’re more than happy to screw over the majority of Americans as long as you get what you want. Hell, that’s basically the platform you ran on.
So don’t act all surprised that we say “Screw you, we didn’t choose you.” And don’t act all pure and innocent when we point out that America rejected you.
We’re not poor losers — we’re the winners. You got off on a loophole, you weaselly bastards, and there’s no way to spin that into support.
The Electoral College and the Founder’s Intent
There is a movement now to encourage the electors to choose Clinton over Trump when they meet next week. “It’s what the Founders wanted,” supporters say, with backing to support it. “The whole idea of the Electoral College was to prevent mob democracy, where the people could elect someone completely unqualified.”
While I agree that “completely unqualified” accurately describes our current President-elect, I have to reiterate what I have said here many times: I don’t care what the Founding Fathers wanted. We shouldn’t be tied to the past simply because of what a bunch of rich white men thought about a world that no longer exists.
My dislike of the Electoral College could not be stronger. My blog post about it a few years ago has generated the largest comment section of anything I’ve posted here, and it still generates lots of hits. And it’s not like the Electoral College hasn’t already changed since its original inception.
If you are in favor of democracy then sure, the electors should choose the person who actually won the popular vote.
But ironically, that’s not what the people calling for the Electoral College to choose Clinton are saying. They want the electors to choose the popular vote winner but that this is the exact opposite of the will of the Founders. The Founders set up the Electoral College to stop the democratically elected winner from becoming President if he was unqualified.
Even if you accept the argument that the electors should choose who they want no matter what the vote was, that’s not the reason the electors should choose Clinton. They should do it to send a message that we’re sick and tired of an anti-democratic provision in our Constitution and that we reject the Founding Father’s idea that the will of the people can be thwarted by an elite group of electors, following an arcane procedure that rewards states over citizens.
How to Honor the Founding Fathers with the Electoral College
“The Electoral College was set up with a specific purpose in mind and we should do what the Founding Fathers want,” people say to me whenever I argue for getting rid of it.
Well, fine. If your desire is to do what the Founding Fathers wanted, then we’ll need to change a few things.
- Stop having Presidential elections. There’s nothing in the Constitution about them. The Electors are chosen by the state legislatures in any way they wish. They could choose the lobbyists who give them the most money if they wanted to.
- How the state legislatures are chosen is not provided for in the Constitution either. So we should allow states to just appoint these people, too.
- The Founding Fathers also intended that whoever came in second place would be Vice President. Nothing wrong with that, right?
- Even if the states do decide to have elections, those states should only allow white men who own property to vote. Hey, do you want to honor the Founding Fathers or not here?
Of course, in those days where it could literally take weeks to travel from state to state, each state was much more independent and unique, almost like the way the European Union is now. We were less a country than a collection of independent states (which is why we are called the “United States of America” and not just “America”).
That changed quickly. People started seeing the President as the leader of all the people and not as just some figurehead off there in the distance. (Seriously, does anyone know who the leader of the European Union is?)
And the states started having elections to choose this leader. Congress decided on a date for these elections — because that’s not in the Constitution either — and soon, the popular vote winner in that state decided who the electors were. By 1824, this led to the election of Andrew Jackson, exactly the kind of person the Electoral College was set up to prevent getting into the White House. Thus, within forty years of the writing of the Constitution, while some of the Founding Fathers were alive, we had already moved away from the original intent of the Electoral College.
So for those of you who say we should keep it in order to honor what the Founding Fathers intended: You’re 200 years too late.
How the Electoral College skews our perceptions
“This was a clear sign from the people against the policies of the Obama administration!” scream the pundits, as they point out Trump’s win as evidence and pat themselves on the back for such a wise assessment while hoping no one remembers what they had predicted a week earlier.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s lead in the popular vote nears 2 million. Had a few of those million been in a couple of states (or if we never had an Electoral College), she would be the next President right now, and you can bet each of those pundits would instead be saying “This was a clear sign from the people in favor of the policies of the Obama administration!”
By concentrating only on who won, we ignore the big picture. Trump won not because a majority of Americans wanted him in there — in fact, a clear majority did not. He won by a Constitutional loophole we call the Electoral College.
He has no mandate. While there was clearly a movement on his behalf, it was a movement rejected by most of us.
And for those of you out there who are whining and complaining about Trump but who either voted for a third party or didn’t vote at all, I just have one message for you:
The Top 10 Reasons Hillary Lost
Clinton’s loss took everyone by surprise. Even Fox News had predicted her win. And did you see Trump’s expression on election night? Even he seemed astonished.
Everyone has a theory why this happened but the real answer is complicated. Anyone who insists there is just one reason is wrong.
Protest Voters. Many of my liberal friends seem to be only blaming those who voted for 3rd party candidates. There are always 3rd party candidates, and we’ll probably never get rid of them because there is a small percentage of voters who somehow think “This year for sure!” or otherwise delude themselves into believing these votes make a difference. They never do. And this was the year — when you had two candidates whose negatives were higher than their positives — where a 3rd party could have risen and won. None of them came close. If it didn’t happen this year, it never will.
Did this have an impact on the final vote? Sure, but you always expect there will be a few percentage points going to some minor fringe candidate. Blaming the people who are always there and when you knew they were going to be there solves nothing.
They hate the Clintons. The Democrats just really underestimated how much people really don’t like the Clintons. Her negatives were huge. Most of it was unjustified and based on lies and right-wing propaganda, but justified or not, it was there. Nominating an unpopular candidate and then losing the election? Where is the surprise there?
And there were many Democrats who (like me) did not really like Clinton that much either but voted for her over Cheetoface. But there was no enthusiasm there. The enthusiasm gap really hurt us.
We Want Outsiders. Everyone is sick and tired of politics as usual. We’ve had enough Bushes and Clintons running things. On the GOP side, all the insiders lost their primary runs.
One reason Bernie Sanders had a lot of support is because, even though he had been in politics most of his life, he was the one railing against the insiders and Wall Street and “business as usual” — meanwhile, Hillary was giving speeches to Goldman Sachs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the image you wanted this year.
We Democrats didn’t pay attention to this anger. The people on both sides are angry and we ignored them and picked the insider.
This is not to say Bernie would have won. There would have been terrible attacks on him, but I don’t see how it would have been any worse than the ones leveled against Hillary. Had Hillary not run, we would have been in a better position, as there are some very qualified candidates out there who probably could have destroyed Trump.
Now, on the Republican side, the irony is that Trump is not an outsider. The man is a millionaire who knows nothing about what the average man goes through and has never in his life shown the slightest interest in them. But hey, he’s a great con man, and this will go down as one of the greatest cons of all time.
Racists and Bigots. You can’t deny that this was their year — finally, a candidate who stood for hatred! When the KKK and the American Nazi Party endorse someone, that’s a pretty good sign. Their people usually don’t get involved but they saw their orange savior on the hill, and were going to come out and vote for him no matter what.
We’ve already started to see what this means; hate crimes have gone up as these people have become bolder. And it’s just going to get worse — but that’s a topic for another post.
This, in many ways, is what always happens historically. Progress is made and there are those who will constantly fight against it and conserve their precious way of life (that’s why they are “conservatives”). This backlash against progress explains the Civil War, the backlash against the Restoration efforts afterward, the fight against civil rights, the fights over immigrants that is constant in our history, and so on. In the end, progress always wins but there are many battles along the way.
That Woman Thing. Here in Pennsylvania, Democrats swept the state offices that were on the ballot — Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer. The two that we lost? Senator and President — the only ones with female candidates. And we lost those by slim margins.
It’s not hard to imagine that there may be 2% of the population that is still so neanderthal that they won’t vote for a woman no matter how qualified.
Voter suppression. Republicans have done everything they can to keep Democrats from being able to vote. They’ve even admitted as such when they didn’t think anyone was paying attention. There were lots of stories about how the Republican-run states were closing precincts in minority neighborhoods, removing names from voting lists, and otherwise cheating to help their clown win, and they wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t effective.
Basically, Republicans will do everything they can to win an election except get the most votes.
Dirty tricks. Russia has now admitted it was helping Trump win. The FBI Director had a Trump sign on his lawn and did everything he could to discredit Hillary at a time when her chances were the greatest, and then recanted it all on a slow news day when hardly anyone noticed. Wikileaks posted fake emails. These things may not be the reason Clinton lost, but they certainly were a reason.
The Hubris of the Elite. This is a big one. I could write a book about this.
The real divide in America right now is not blue state versus red state — it’s urban versus rural. And the rural folks are being tired of being made fun of every night on the talk shows, tired of people calling them rubes for clinging to their religion, tired of being told they’re bigots. The “fly over” states are resentful of the “elite” who look down on the uneducated masses.
This is not new; it’s a basic populist message that has gained votes for generations.
I am not saying these people are right. A lot of them really are bigots, and deserve to be called that. They stand in the way of progress, wave their Confederate flags and refuse to serve gay couples. Many of them really are a “basket of deplorables.”
But they’re also not all like that. There are some good rural people who feel left out and who think no one stands up for them. They’ve seen their factories and mines close and take all the jobs in town away, and whatever economic progress is made always goes to the cities. They listen to Fox News and believe all their lies about what Obama is doing, and don’t realize that the programs he pushes helps them too. And they’re resentful and angry.
Many could not stand Trump but (like many Democrats did with Hillary) they held their nose and voted for him anyway because it was better than the alternative. And that’s not going to change until the media and political elite stop treating them like idiots — even when they are idiots.
We Just Don’t Vote. The Republicans voted in the same basic numbers they always have, and we didn’t this time. Our numbers were down. So of course we lost. It doesn’t matter if there are more of us than them. If we don’t vote, they win.
In fact, a majority of Americans didn’t vote at all. If you insist on placing the blame on one factor, that would be it.
The government isn’t “them.” It’s us. We, the people. And as a society, we can’t bitch about what the government does if we don’t even do the most basic thing and get out and vote. It’s our fault.
That Damned Electoral College. For the fourth time in our history, the person with fewer votes won the election, and that’s twice now in the last 16 years — both times giving us absolutely terrible Presidents. (Hey, at least now George W. Bush can go down in history as the 2nd Worst President.)
Isn’t it ridiculous that the person the majority of Americans voted against gets to be President? (And, of course, Trump being Trump, he’s now claiming he has a “mandate.” What an asshole. And no, I’m not going to suddenly give him respect just because he has that office. I’ll respect the office, not the man.)
I’ve ranted about the Electoral College before, and if you’re interested, check this post and read the very extensive comments.
And finally, a disclaimer: This is a very basic overview and not the treatise that could and will be written about this terrible election.
The Advantage of the Electoral College
Two years ago, I predicted the Democrats would win this election before we even knew who was running. The Electoral College strongly favors the Democrats (even though I’d like to get rid of it).
I posted this map, pointing out that the states in blue pretty much are in the bag for Democrats right now, and that alone gets the candidate 252 votes toward the 270 needed to win.
Well, I was wrong about one thing — Iowa isn’t necessarily voting Democratic this time. They’ve become more red over the years. On the other hand, Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico can pretty safely be moved to the Democratic side, having been reliably blue for the last few elections and becoming moreso each time.
So if we take out Iowa and add those states in, we get to — oh look! 273.
These are the states that every single person who studies these things will tell you are 99.99% in the bag for Clinton. Currently, they all have Clinton at least 5 points ahead of Trump (according to Nate Silver’s weighed averaging of the polls)
So let’s compare that to the states that have Trump ahead by 5 points. (5 points in an election is a lot.) The uncolored states are the real battleground states.
Even if Trump were to win all the current “battleground states” where the margin is less than 5 percent, he still wouldn’t win. Clinton was already over the 270 mark she needs.
And of these battleground states where the margin is less than 5%, she’s ahead in all of them except Georgia, and even that is moving in her direction. (Trump is ahead of her there by only 2.5%.)
Here, look — this is the map that shows what would happen if the election were held today:
This, of course, assumes that we all vote. If we get complacent and sit on our butts instead, assured of victory … well, honestly, there’s very little chance of Clinton losing at this point but we really need to sweep her in with a huge mandate, as well as elect lots of Democratic senators, representatives, and state house people to really send a message.
Electoral college predictions and voodoo
Predicting who will win the election based on the Electoral College is a bit like predicting who will win the Super Bowl six months prior — there is a bit of guesswork involved because things could change dramatically by the final day, but, at the same time, there are statistics you can use to make your prediction as accurate as possible. Depending on the source, a prediction may be as scientifically perfect as possible or it may be complete voodoo.
I hate the Electoral College, but we’re stuck with it. That’s how we pick Presidents. Suck it up and deal. Let’s move on.
In previous years, I enjoyed using Electoral-Vote.com that takes the map and updates it daily based on the most recent polls. The problem with that approach is that it treats each poll separately, and sometimes they may vary wildly.
More accurate this year is Nate Silver’s 538 map. This website is run by a bunch of math nerds. They don’t just take the most recent poll; they take them all and average them together based on a number of factors including the previous accuracy of that particular pollster, whether it was a poll of all voters or likely voters, how old the poll is, and a bunch of other things I don’t completely understand because math.
According to Silver, Hillary has around an 80% chance of winning the election, which isn’t completely surprising. The problem is that this election has already broken all the rules. Silver had also predicted in the past (like every other “expert”*) that Trump would never be the nominee.
This map is from 270toWin.com and matches Nate Silver’s current prediction
Seriously, Trump’s campaign is a classic example of what not do to in a campaign. The whole thing has gone against everything I ever learned as a Political Science major, a campaign manager, a lobbyist, and a campaign worker. It goes against everything I ever taught when I was a Political Science professor. He’s done everything wrong.
Of course, that could also be why he’s only given a 20% chance of winning.
But hey, the conventions haven’t even happened yet. For all we know, the GOP will find a way to nominate someone else and then we’re back to square one. Hillary, after all, is popular only in relation to Trump. If they nominate someone else, that 80% chance of winning would drop quickly.
Primary Elections vs. General Elections
The way we choose candidates and elect them is really screwed up.
Just because someone does well in the primary/caucus stage doesn’t mean they would be the best candidate to take on the other party in November.
We can see this perfectly in this election cycle. Just about every poll shows that Sanders would be a better candidate in November against any Republican, and Trump would be the worst possible choice for the Republicans.
Clinton is currently doing better with the delegate selection, but many people seem confused at the way the system works and are only paying attention to the number of states won by the candidates. This primary/caucus season is not like the electoral college where the winner of a state takes it all. If you win by a small enough percentage, you could have two candidates coming out of the election with the same amount of delegates.
But there’s something else to consider. Look at this map showing who has won the various states on the Democratic side so far:
When I first started thinking about this, I said, “Who cares that Clinton won Alabama or that Sanders won Oklahoma? Those states are never going to vote for the Democrat in November.”
In November, we Democrats are assured some states but need to win some of the “purple” states that can go either way. On this map (of the states that have already voted), those would be Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Nevada. While all four of those have gone Democratic in the last two elections, they were close and easily could have shifted Republican.
Sanders won two of those states and Clinton won two. So does that tell us anything?
No, not really, and that’s the problem. While I was hoping to show that Sanders has a better chance in November in the purple states, instead I find an inconclusive result.
If we didn’t have that stupid electoral college, things would be much different…
The way we choose candidates and elect them is really screwed up.