The real problem with the Electoral College.

Sep 2019
84
Seattle
Yes, show me that Madison quote.
It's in his "Notes." Wednesday July 25, In Convention: Madison is the third speaker...he begins by summarizing the choices: "There are objections against every mode that has been, or perhaps can be proposed. The election must be made either by some existing authority under the National or State Constitutions - or by some special authority derived from the people - OR BY THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES" (my emphasis). He discusses each, noting that "The remaining mode was an election by the people or rather by the qualified part of them, at large. With all of its imperfections he liked this best." He goes on...and eventually determines why this would not work either. But, it was certainly discussed and debated.
[Pages 363 - 366, in "Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison," originally pub listed in Madison's Papers in 1840, as republished by W.W. Norten & Company, in 1987.
 
Aug 2016
4,268
Dispargum
Yes. My misspeak above. The founders assumed the electors would be chosen by the state legislatures or by state conventions. They did not consider that there would be two elections held simultaneously - a popular vote and an electoral vote. They only planned on the electoral vote. When there are two simultaneous votes we have the possibility that they might yield different results. And then we have the problem of morally reconciling these two different outcomes. It becomes a more complex problem when most Americans think they live in a democracy and each vote counts for the same.

I can see how the relationship between proximity and political interest (people who live near each other have the same interests) made more sense in the 18th century, but today we have modern communications that have destroyed proximity. I can talk to people across the country. I consume non-local media. I can buy products and services from across the country. My political opinions and interests are no longer formed by where I live. In fact, I have lived in many places. I resent being lumped into a voting block with other people just because they are my neighbors. No one has any right to assume I think like them or share their political opinions. I have much in common with people who live hundreds or even thousands of miles from here. The EC assumes my neighbors and I are one voting block separate and distinct from the rest of the country. It's not true.
 
Sep 2019
84
Seattle
Yes. My misspeak above. The founders assumed the electors would be chosen by the state legislatures or by state conventions. They did not consider that there would be two elections held simultaneously - a popular vote and an electoral vote. They only planned on the electoral vote. When there are two simultaneous votes we have the possibility that they might yield different results. And then we have the problem of morally reconciling these two different outcomes. It becomes a more complex problem when most Americans think they live in a democracy and each vote counts for the same.

I can see how the relationship between proximity and political interest (people who live near each other have the same interests) made more sense in the 18th century, but today we have modern communications that have destroyed proximity. I can talk to people across the country. I consume non-local media. I can buy products and services from across the country. My political opinions and interests are no longer formed by where I live. In fact, I have lived in many places. I resent being lumped into a voting block with other people just because they are my neighbors. No one has any right to assume I think like them or share their political opinions. I have much in common with people who live hundreds or even thousands of miles from here. The EC assumes my neighbors and I are one voting block separate and distinct from the rest of the country. It's not true.
I take Madison's comment about "qualified part of them, at large" to mean white males owning property voting directly. There were substantially more of that electorate in the north, rather than in the south, and yet the south produced more wealth at the time. The fear was that unless the south could find someway to include their "wealth" in slave property, in the count toward House representation, the north would outvote them most of the time. Madison eventually drops his "preference" for a direct popular vote and goes with the electoral college for that reason, understanding, I suppose, that he can't obtain ratification without it...someone offers "the fig leaf" of "electors" (honorable, non-political men...as large a recognition of the corruption of politicians as you might find then , and now) to salve his conscience. He knew better. He had a similar epiphany regarding the Bill of Rights. Anti-federalists used the Constitution's lack of a "bill of rights" as a reason to either reject ratification or to call for a second Constitutional Convention. Madison initially objected on the grounds that one was already included in many State Constitutions and a list of "guaranteed rights" would then pose the problem of "rights" that may exist, but didn't make the list. But, sensing that one would be needed or face rejection or a do-over, he yielded and then maneuvered to be the person in charge of writing the Bill of Rights as a member of Congress, and promising them as a condition for ratification. Madison, as brilliant as he was, was also often conflicted and influenced by those closest to him. Certainly, his friend Jefferson, was hardly a federalist...but Jefferson was in Paris as ambassador during the Constitutional Convention, and perhaps Madison's ear was more in tune to the more conservative voices of Hamilton, et al. And, he most certain ly was aware of the value in having Washington, also a conservative, as head of the Convention.

I completely agree with your second paragraph on the differences in technology, transportation, etc. Having lived and worked in Europe for some time, I found that generally that income and economic status was often more influential than "culture." That could also be linked with a rural/urban divide...rural areas may be the preserves of national cultures?
 
Jul 2019
554
New Jersey
It's time for a real effort post, since my personal debates in this thread have gotten rather sprawling and off the point. I would politely request that you go through the whole thing before responding, even though it's rather long, because I have truly tried to address as many points as i was able to within a coherent framework.

1. Usually the EC yields the same result as the popular vote in which case the EC adds no value to the process.
Here's your big mistake. The reason why the two are usually in accord is because as a general rule political candidates are incentivized to broaden their appeal beyond the area within their densely-populated political monoculture (New England - Tri-state - West Coast, I'm looking at you. In the past 30 years every single one of those states has voted exactly the same way in every election, except for VT which voted R in 2000). The reason why 2016 played out the way it did is precisely because one candidate had the hubris to assume she didn't need to broaden her appeal beyond a narrow cosmopolitan class. And you know what? Because of her popular vote showing she would've gotten away with it if the EC hadn't penalized her for ignoring virtually the entire country.

The EC has an unseen effect on every single election, in that it compels candidates to address the concerns of a broader swathe of the country than they otherwise would. YThe very fact that the popular vote and electoral vote so rarely clash is testament to the efficacy of this incentive. Imagine you were a candidate: If you could lock up the vote of a monoculture bloc, you would have no need to appeal anywhere outside that monoculture. For example, per the census records of the 2016 election, the margin of the political monoculture I mentioned (7,676,561 votes) exceeded the total amount of voting age citizens in the next 9 smallest states (AK, WY, SD, MT, ID, NE, NM, ND, HA). And if we only look at the number of registered voters, that number jumps up to 10 states (add in NV). Think about that: the margins of victory in a regionally based political monolith cancel out the total voting population of 9 - 10 other states.

Now let's look at the numbers even closer. HRC won the popular vote by a margin of 2,833,220. If we look at her margin of victory in every single state outside the monolith I've mentioned (CO, DE, HA, IL, MD, MN, NM, NV, VA, DC) we only get a figure of 2,305,471 votes. That means that she could've conceivably lost in every state outside that monolith and still carried the popular vote by over 500,000 votes. I think this data sufficiently demonstrates the stranglehold that those politically homogenous states (who remember, haven't broke ranks once in three decades) have on the rest of the Union. All a candidate needs to do is shore up support in that region and then they're golden. Moreover, a glance at the voting data over the past 30 years will show that, despite our increased connectivity, we remain sharply divided along geographical lines. I don't believe anyone can seriously deny that.

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"Well, so what?" you ask. "Let the majority rule!"

The problem with that is that our Constitution was specifically designed that the majority has a much harder time getting into power than just getting 51% of the vote. That is a feature, not a bug in the Constitution. The founding fathers (wisely) understood that a faction which holds a majority is prone to employ legal means to hound and persecute their opponents. There are many examples of the founders expressing the concern of majoritarian tyranny (including John Adams in his A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America), but none so famous as Madison in Federalist No. 10 (in which he discusses why and how we are a republic rather than a democracy - I urge you all read it):

"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. ..

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens."

So now, having established that the founders did, indeed, fear a majoritarian tyranny, we can move to understand exactly what they did to mitigate that threat. One should note that there is no foolproof solution to the problem that we humans are a rather crooked timber - rather, the founding fathers created a system which was least likely to succumb to such a tyranny. There are two areas in which such a tyranny can manifest itself: in Congress or in the Presidency, since both Congress and the President have certain prerogatives which can be weaponized by a persistent majority. Accordingly, both Congress and the Presidency need to be protected from majoritarian exploitation.

We all know how the founding fathers sought to protect Congress: they agreed on the Connecticut Compromise, in which the House of Representatives' seats were apportioned proportionately and the Senate's seats were apportioned equally, or undemocratically. This gave the more populous factions dominance in the House, but limited them in the Senate. The Electoral College is simply the same compromise applied to executive elections - each state gets to send as many electors as they have in both Houses of Congress, and in order to counteract the dilution of the "Senate" electors by the "Representative" electors, each state was expected to vote as a bloc for its interests. Thus, large states still had an edge in the EC, but that edge was somewhat blunted by giving the two "Senate" electors to each state and allowing the electors to vote along state lines.

The Connecticut Compromise together with the EC (and a bunch of other things, such as 6-year term lengths and staggered elections for the Senate) ensure that it is difficult for one faction to gain control of the executive and both houses of congress, and that even if they do gain it, their hold will be tenuous due to the EC and Senate. I should also note that the periods in history during which one party did control both houses were generally periods in which one of the two parties was "broad-tent" and moderate enough to allow numerous factions to coexist - such as the alliance between Reaganite conservatives and Rockefeller Republicans or Blue-Dog Democrats and Liberals. The only exception to that was during the earlier phases of reconstruction, when the south was completely crushed and without power, and was accordingly unable to resist. And that majoritarian oppression didn't end up working out very well for southern whites or blacks.

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But what about the Bill of Rights? Shouldn't those protect our rights from a tyrannical Congress or President (or both)? Isn't that the Supreme Court's job?

The answer to that is that our Constitutional structure embodies Juvenal's famous challenge, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", or "Who will guard your guardians?" The founders realized that each and every one of our three branches of government is vulnerable to corruption and subversion, and they accordingly created the famous system of checks and balances. The fundamental principle of checks and balances is that we must never place all of our hope in one institution. Accordingly, the founders determined that we must protect ourselves against majoritarian tyranny not only in the judiciary, but also in the executive and legislative branches. Hence, the undemocratic Connecticut Compromise and the undemocratic EC.

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I will write up a fuller post on my thoughts of the morality of our Republican system tomorrow.
 
Likes: Picard
Feb 2015
4,075
Caribbean
Agree...I stand corrected. But Congress selects the "Mode of Ratification." IOW, Congress could determine to by-pass State Legislatures, in favor of State Conventions for ratification.
I don't agree that is an accurate reading. The Article says Congress shall upon application. Not Congress may, Congress might, not Congress retains the right to ignore application.

From Madison's Notes, re Mason's proposal that a second-free mode of ratification, free of Congressional approval, is necessary.
"It would be improper to require teh consent of the Natl Legislature, because they may abuse their power and refuse their consent on that very account."