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How The Electoral College Mistrusts Voters

| November 23, 2016

electoral college

Skewed.

By Martin Dyckman

When the news flashed on Facebook before the election that Queen Elizabeth II had offered to take us back, some people failed to recognize it as one of Andy Borowitz‘s deft satires from the New Yorker.


And some, I’m sure, now wish it were true.

Afterward, a friend in Britain wrote to offer refuge — many thanks, Bob, but not yet — and remarked that “there must be a flaw in a system which produces such an outcome.” He was “rather surprised at how many people failed to vote.”

That flaw is the Electoral College. For the fourth time in our history, and the second in 16 years, it has given the presidency to the candidate who polled fewer votes — 2 million fewer in this case — than his principal rival.

That is hard to explain — actually, it’s indefensible — even to our own people. How can a country that calls itself a democracy tolerate it?

The founders didn’t trust the people.

“Your people, sir, is nothing but a great beast,” Alexander Hamilton is supposed to have said to his bitter enemy, Thomas Jefferson.

“The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God,” Hamilton told the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second…”

So they created a republic, not a democracy. In particular, they didn’t trust the people to elect a president. They meant for the less populated states to have an outsized influence. That had a lot to do with protecting slavery.

There is still no guaranteed right to vote, though it can no longer be denied on account of race, color, gender, or to persons over 18.

In the Federalist papers, Hamilton remarked that presidential selection was the least controversial aspect of the pending Constitution.

It would be “made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station … A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.”

The electors have long since been reduced to ceremonial functionaries (do you know or even care who yours are?), but the mechanism and the malapportion persist. Wyoming’s three electors each represent 187,922 people. A California elector speaks for 677,354. The Wyoming voter has more than three times the weight of one in California.

Among the 16 smallest states and the District of Columbia, Hillary Clinton actually won more electors — 39 — than Donald Trump, who had 29. But those 29 were eight more than his winning margin. The eight small states that he won have barely one percent of the U.S. population, but they accounted for 10 percent of his electoral votes.

Another feature of that founding flaw is that it discourages turnout in any state where the vote isn’t expected to be close. If that Wyoming voter is a Democrat and the California voter is a Republican, their votes don’t matter at all. With direct election, every vote would weigh the same. The presidential campaign would not be confined to a dozen or so “battleground states,” those that neither side can take for granted.

So, what can we do about this?

context florida politicsFor one thing, we could amend the Constitution. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to do that. But this will likely be the last you hear of it. Amendment requires a three-fifths vote in each house (not two-thirds as I erroneously wrote recently) and approval by three-fourths (38) of the states. Democrats are short of even a majority in those categories and Republicans are quite unlikely to favor reform.

That’s because every candidate who won the popular vote and lost the election was a Democrat:

— Andrew Jackson, 1824. With four candidates splitting the electoral vote, the House had to decide and gave it to John Quincy Adams instead. Jackson spent the next four years railing about a “corrupt bargain” and wiped out Adams in 1828.

— Samuel J. Tilden, 1876. He led by some 250,000 votes, but a Congressional commission awarded the electors from Florida and two other disputed states to Rutherford B. Hayes, who promised to withdraw federal troops from the South and end Reconstruction. That really was a corrupt bargain.

— Al Gore, 2000. Florida’s famously fouled up vote-count was decisive for George W. Bush by the official margin of 537 votes

— Hillary Clinton, 2016. Her national popular vote margin and her electoral vote deficit are both larger than Gore’s.

There’s another remedy, simpler and more feasible than a constitutional amendment. The Constitution leaves it to the legislatures to determine how electors are chosen.

Under an active proposal called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, states would instruct their electors to vote for whoever wins the popular vote. Ten state legislatures and the District of Columbia have already agreed to this, but it’s effective only when states representing 270 electoral votes, the majority, have joined. The 11 account for 165, more than halfway there.

But it’s hard to see where the remaining 105 electoral votes could be found. All 11 present members of the compact voted for Clinton. The other states she carried would add only 47 more votes, and most of them have Republican legislatures, as do most of Trump’s states.

What would it take to persuade the Republicans?

A reverse of 2000 and 2016 could do it: A Democrat loses the popular vote but wins 270 or more electors. That’s a long shot, but it’s not inconceivable. A moderate Republican in the mold of George H.W. Bush could hold the Democrats to narrow victories in the swing and safely blue seats while winning by large margins in the others.

Trouble is, it’s hard to imagine a moderate being nominated by the GOP in its present mode. If the popular vote is to prevail in the near future, the Democrats may just have to nominate stronger candidates, show a more compelling sense of purpose, and run better campaigns than they did this year and 16 years ago.

martin dyckmanMartin Dyckman covered local, state and national government and politics and wrote editorials and opinion columns during a 46-year career with the St. Petersburg Times, where he retired in 2006 as associate editor. He is the author of three books. He lives in western North Carolina. See Dyckman’s previous column on the death penalty here.

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30 Responses for “How The Electoral College Mistrusts Voters”

  1. Ken Dodge says:

    ” . . . but the mechanism and the malapportion persist. Wyoming’s three electors each represent 187,922 people. A California elector speaks for 677,354. The Wyoming voter has more than three times the weight of one in California.”
    Using the very same argument, let’s abolish the US Senate, too. Then we would have a purer form of democracy (mob-rule).

  2. Mark says:

    Let’s go back to white property owners being the only one’s allowed to vote. What would it take for liberals not to be sore losers?

  3. downinthelab says:

    Nope, that’s the rules. Give it up. TRUMP !

  4. W.Ryan says:

    Trump was right about one thing. The system is rigged! I was floored with Gore and dismayed with Trump!
    All the repugnican keep gloating as if Trump actually won the peoples vote. He lost and so have we the majority of Americans who voted our conscience, intelligence and wisdom.

  5. anon says:

    Thank you for mentioning there is no right to vote. Neal Boortz is the only other person I’ve heard mention this. And the lack of voting rights is apparent in closed primaries when independent voters are shut out and you can’t vote for someone in your opposing party.

    Clinton won California by almost 4 million votes. Take that state out and the popular vote is much narrower and the electoral margin is wider.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The Founders just wanted all States voice to matter and have no one State or block of States to dominate/control the others.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The people spoke and Trump won. Get over it!

  8. THE VOICE OF REASON says:

    They didn’t win so we have to change the rules to favor them, is that what I get from this?

  9. NS says:

    Just look at that map. Any time the left talks about their majority think of this map.

    Generally, they live in huddled urban masses and wish to project their force via government. I am all for stakeholders being the only ones to cast a vote. In other words… lets exclude net tax beneficiaries from voting and exempt senior citizens from that requirement . If you cannot run your own life properly you should not be allowed to project your misunderstanding of reality on the rest of the country.

  10. Respond with Love says:

    The people spoke, Anonymous, and 2 million more wanted Clinton than wanted Trump. The majority did not win. The majority spoke and was not heard.

  11. reality check says:

    stop whining. If Hillary would have won this article would not have been written. Bottom line Democrats are sore losers, nothing more and nothing less.

  12. reality check says:

    Stop whining. This article would have never been written if Hillary had won. Lets more on put our differences aside and strive to make America again.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    This is the only way that often the GOP wins just cheating, illegally manipulating the electronic voting machines (the biggest fraud prone equipment invented) by now, also gerrymandering and disenfranchising voters from the elections rolls and or preventing voter registrations or forcing many to vote a provisional ballot that then the canvassing boards may decide to discard.
    We are the laugh of the world right now as over 2 million voters that chose Clinton are booted thanks to the BS of the Electoral College set up by all white slave owners protecting their slavery business when they wrote our election laws. I am all for a recount specially of those electronic voting machines in those WI, MI and PA.
    I will never bother to vote again if they force us to vote electronic only, as is a rigged charade.
    Like I say America is ruled by the GOP unfortunately and unless Trump complies with his promise to bring back jobs, (oh yeah), the middle and lower classes will continue deteriorating financially without hope for the greedy enrichment of the 1%.

  14. ken says:

    The strategies used by candidates are dictated by the rules. If there were no electoral college, the candidates would focus their efforts on the most populous states such as California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, etc. Little or no attention would be paid to the less populated states. This had nothing to do with the Dems or the G.O.P.
    Trump was smart enough to win an election where the electoral votes determined the outcome. He is smart enough to win if a majority of all votes determined the winner. Different rules, same smart player.

  15. Capt. Deployable says:

    Shut Up…Sit down….and drool………….YOU LOST !!!!!

  16. wishful thinking says:

    How many non citizens and ‘dead ‘ people voted and continue to vote in the Popular vote count?? Until voting requirements nation-wide require absolute proof of U S citizenship – just the same as is required to obtain a US Passport by the State Department the electoral college should
    remain just the way as it is! California has more voters than any other state… How many of them are legal and also living???

  17. W.Ryan says:

    We can go on and on about this election. NS said look at the map. But the map doesn’t show population. It shows color that simply states Dem and Repub state winnings based on the electoral college. If it was based on population then it would show the fix we fell for again as a nation. If we are a Democracy that the will of the people should win over gimmicks then Clinton would be Prez Elect. USA cannot keep talking about fair elections in other countries but here at home we don’t abide by that doctrine. Once again “Do as I say and not what I do”. It’s ignorant people that gloats when they say “Get over it”! Don’t say “I’m not a racist or sexist” but you vote for a candidate that spewed a racist and sexist doctrine. So lets work on our conscience and get real about the “why I voted for Trump”! It wasn’t for jobs, Healthcare, immigration, and qualification. Trump has no qualification, no tax returns, no honor and no jobs created for Americans plus he ships jobs to china. He has lawsuits, sexual assault complaints, Child sex charges pending, official racist alliances, a negative business record, etc,etc.etc. You’ll knowingly bought the Brooklyn Bridge disregarding all facts.

  18. YankeeExPat says:

    I still say there is a Good Chance that once the Donald realizes that the Job requires a Great deal of Time and Work and not Sufficient enough of a Profit Ratio relative for the Effort , he will tire of the position and choose to Abdicate. Sarah Palin will be named Queen

    Ihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02D2T3wGCYg

  19. Richard Smith says:

    If they abolish the Electoral College they also need to abolish Early Voting. Everyone should vote on the same day except for absentee ballots. Oh, by the way, California should become its own country and be thrown out of the union. Those people live on a completely different planet.

  20. Gkimp says:

    Did the Cubs really win the World Series? The total score after 7 games was Indians 27, Cubs 27. I think there should be a game 8!

  21. Madame Defarge of Florida says:

    I have been seeing bumper stickers for quite a while stating to, “Take Back America”……..
    I do wish Mr. Trump Good luck. However, now it’s Our Turn to “Take Back America”, .Tag Your It.!

  22. LB2KOOL says:

    Reality check, republicans spent 8 years obstructing everything Obama tried to accomplish. 8 years of disrespect by a racist party. Now you want to work together ? No f#*king way! Filibuster, filibuster, filibuster everything republicans put forth.

  23. Fredrick says:

    The Electoral College is mean to preserve States Rights which the Liberals continue to try to take away. The founding fathers new exactly what they were doing. Get over your butt hurt liberals. Just as Obama was not the end of the world neither will Trump. It sure as hell cannot be any worse than what the last 8 years have been. At least the message of NO to the corruption on both sides of the aisle and NO to the path that Obama’s has brought us down.

  24. Ken says:

    Look at the map then tell me who has the majority. If we just do the majority vote, California and New York would make all decisions for the whole country.

  25. Ken Dodge says:

    No need for an 8th game, Gkimp, as the Indians truly won the World Series: they scored their 27 runs in 63 innings whereas it took 64 innings for the Cubs to score theirs (Cubs scored their 27th run in the 10th of game 7).

  26. Johnnie says:

    If you have evidence that non-citizens did not vote in this election, please present it.

  27. Gkimp says:

    I knew it Ken! I’m calling for a recount!

  28. DRedder says:

    If there were no voter fraud then why is the left calling for recounts?

  29. AL says:

    This is an interesting viewpoint from the Washington Post: Opinion Section{

    “The framers believed, as Alexander Hamilton put it, that “the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the [president].” But no nation had ever tried that idea before. So the framers created a safety valve on the people’s choice. Like a judge reviewing a jury verdict, where the people voted, the electoral college was intended to confirm — or not — the people’s choice. Electors were to apply, in Hamilton’s words, “a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice” — and then decide. The Constitution says nothing about “winner take all.” ”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-constitution-lets-the-electoral-college-choose-the-winner-they-should-choose-clinton/2016/11/24

  30. Anonymous says:

    “That is hard to explain — actually, it’s indefensible — even to our own people. How can a country that calls itself a democracy tolerate it?”

    “The founders didn’t trust the people.”

    Great quotes from somebody who does NOT understand this Nation. First this Country does NOT call itself a democracy as it is a REPUBLIC. the only ones who call iit a democracy are one of two. either those who look to subvert what it is or those who have been subverted by them. The founders truly did trust the people that is why we have the constitution and Bill of Rights.

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